Christian filmmakers plus noted direct-to-DVD actor Nicolas Cage want to snatch you away into an escapist world of eschatological novelty, easy villainy, and evangelical vindication.
Or if you prefer, the Lalonde Bros. want to translate the troubling signs of our times into yet another film adaptation of the Left Behind series, which preaches Gospel while also asking “what if” about actual, literal, could-even-happen-soon end-times prophecy from the Bible.
Either way, Left Behind fiction author Jerry B. Jenkins recently said filming starts in August.
And I’m not sure how I feel about that.
Looking back on ‘Left Behind’
I’m a Left Behind fan, but also a recovering end-times junkie who sees how the series has been used for anti-Biblical ends.1 Most recently I attempted to blog my way through the dramatic audio series,2 which is the best alt-media adaptation of the novels. And like many, I was sorely vexed by the Left Behind movie in 2000. My critiques, in order:
- Jesus Christ got perhaps two Name drops, but without Gospel content. (No, I don’t insist on this for a Christian movie, but it’s required for this story!)
- They released the film on VHS, and then to theaters? What last-days madness is this?
- You never actually saw anyone vanishing in a “Rapture.” Not even in flashbacks.
- The whole thing felt very cramped and limited, whereas the novel, despite its own prose and thematic limitations, managed at least to aim for a global scale.
- Kirk Cameron looks too young for his part. (Of course, alas, he always does.)
- The VHS was advertised on The Jack Van Impe Show. To this day I have a mental MP4 of Rexella Van Impe holding up the VHS cover, excitedly cooing, “Left Behind!”
- The Antichrist’s secret conspiracy managed to get mixed up in a lot of silly nonsense about Controlling the World’s Food Supply. What was that about? Despite the book’s arguably implausible justifications for driving the Antichrist to power3, it didn’t try this oddness.
The second direct-to-video film continued the cinematic claustrophobia, lack of impressive visuals (the Two Witnesses breathing fire on folks was about it) severely local evangelical advertising, and strange non-book additions.4
The only improvement was the addition of more overt Gospel content, possibly because between movie 1 and movie 2, Kirk Cameron got ahold of Way of the Master Ministries. In Left Behind 2: Tribulation Force the “Way” even made a direct appearance. “Have you ever told a lie?” Cameron’s character asks an extraneous pagan character. Then he says that we’re condemned under God’s Law, and must repent and receive Christ’s forgiveness.
It’s true, yes, but here’s the difference: even in the LB book series, Gospel presentations and conversions were, by comparison, more organic to the plot. Rather than witnessing to a bit character, Buck Williams shares his story with a Jewish rabbi who was already planning a “who is the Jewish Messiah” TV presentation. This comes after the two leads’ meeting and confrontations with supernatural prophets, and during the story’s action. The story doesn’t need to come to a screeching halt, as if the tellers are saying: Okay, now that we’ve had our fun, it’s time for the Lesson, and after that we’ll play some more.
The third movie I never even saw. I understand it wildly departed from the books and went off into its own Lalonde Brothers-esque storyline about virus-contaminated Bibles.
So why remake ‘Left Behind’?
Perhaps I’ve been absent certain circles of Christianity for a while — but is dispensational end-times theology on the rise? Are people rediscovering the Left Behind series for reasons other than my own (nostalgia?). Is it dislike for the current presidential administration that, as in the Clinton years, leads some Christians to conclude The End is Near?5 Was there an online petition for the same filmmakers to remake this and cast Nicolas Cage in the lead role?
By the way, this isn’t a reboot. A reboot takes the same character, usually a superhero, and acts like the previous franchise never existed. A remake does the same story over, and is usually never as good as the original.
If Left Behind 2014 ends up reversing that rule over Left Behind 2000, it would be a miracle.
And if more Christians quit “allowing” speculative enjoyments only in the field of “it could really happen!” end-times genres, that may be even more miraculous.
Still, this is a touchpoint. Instead of lambasting Left Behind, remakes, and yes even Nicolas Cage, let’s try something like this: “So you like supernatural villains, sci-fi and fantastical worlds? Guess what. Christians have more stories for that. Here’s where you can find them. And you don’t even need to freak out over barcode scanners or donate to Jack Van Impe.”
- But people also abuse the Harry Potter series, the Bible itself, and pretty much everything else. ↩
- My speed of listening, plus lack of reader response, put that project at least to a temporary halt. ↩
- E.g., “The Rapture just happened. They were really scared.” ↩
- Insert comment about how certain end-times theology adds to the Book. ↩
- For filmmakers like Roland Emmerich, you know the end is near when the Hollywood sign gets destroyed. And for some American Christians, you know the end is near when American bureaucrats want to force American businesses to pay for abortions, in America. (Which is still bad and should be opposed, by the way.) ↩