Godzilla Is Not Dead
No, I didn’t get to see the new Godzilla movie this weekend, despite the fact it ranked #1 on the movie charts. I wanted to, but the one chance was on my 32nd anniversary and my wife wasn’t enthralled with the idea of taking in a monster movie. Romance and all. I guess she’s not in love with Godzilla.
We did go see “God is Not Dead.” Not speculative in any way (though I’m sure some atheist would disagree on that point), but there is one thing God and Godzilla have in common. People keep thinking they’ve been killed off, only to watch them come back to life. Thus the title.
Even in film, the monster keeps returning to the silver screen time and time again. About the only other long-running movie series is Bond.
Yet, in speculative fiction, especially science fiction, God has been declared dead on more than one occasion.
For one example: Star Trek. In that universe, no chaplains can be found aboard the ships. Any being with god-like powers is a more evolved species to which humanity will reach some day. While sometimes you’ll find some positive treatments of faith and religion in general (Bejoran, Klingon), it is presented as based in natural phenomena and/or alien influences—not a reality beyond our own nor an eternal God who oversees it all.
In the Star Trek universe, Christianity is, if anything, a footnote in history that died off long ago and God with it.
God Is Not Dead may be trying, ironically, to nail the coffin shut.
Not intentionally, I’m sure. The movie was professionally done. The story, while feeling forced too often, was engaging. It used two veteran actors: Kevin Sorbo and Dean Cain. Most of the cast did a decent acting job given what they had to work with, though there were a couple of weak performances.
If I were to critique the movie itself, it would be the writing. One, there were too many story lines that distracted from the main story. They couldn’t fill a movie length with the main plot, so they threw enough unrelated sub-plots to stretch it out.
Two, while the story was entertaining, it lacked credibility on several key spots. Peter Chattaway, a Christian movie critic, describes the movie this way:
a sloppily written, badly argued, unevenly acted film about a first-year college student who tries to prove the existence of God within weeks of setting foot on campus.
But that isn’t what keeps God dead in this film. Rather, it is the intended audience, and the mixed signals it sends.
The title of the film appears to be an attempt to address secular society’s dismissal of God as a dying idea rather than a vibrant reality. However, the film will mostly appeal to conservative, Evangelical Christians who have no need to be convinced of that fact.
If your standard atheist walked in to see that movie, they would say the movie doesn’t really address their underlying issues, relies upon emotion to answer arguments, the premise—that atheists are such because God let them down at some point in their lives and so they hate God—is as straw man as you can get, and the movie conveniently avoids the more serious arguments.
This movie isn’t intended to reach atheist, but based on content, is focused to reinforce Christian beliefs among Christians.
It is the kind of movie a Christian might identify with, but a non-Christian will tend to shun. Which is sad when the national stage they are playing on provided them with so much more potential for outreach. Instead, it is kept well within the Christian bubble, ensuring few outside of Christianity will watch it or take it seriously.
It isn’t because it has a theme or contains preaching, but that the theme was wrapped and explored in an easy-Christian-answers-and-platitudes manner that provides red meat for believers, but nothing of substance for non-Christians, and thus little witness. That will only keep such movies segregated from most of society, and keep God dead in the minds of many.
As Peter Chattaway laments, this film has proved popular enough among Christians that it surpassed Courageous as the highest-grossing evangelical movie. Rotten Tomatoes puts its earnings at $58.9M as of this date. Mr Chattaway says:
And that’s why it pains me to see that God’s Not Dead . . . has been performing so well at the box office, to the point where it recently passed Courageous to become the top-grossing film ever made by and for evangelicals. If this becomes the standard for all Christian films to come, then the genre is truly in deep, deep trouble.
Can such movies and novels successfully break out of the Christian culture to address such issues in a way that speaks to the non-Christian? Or should we be content to stay in our Christian bubble?
I think I would prefer it if we all agree to pretend that God’s Not Dead never existed. I can’t see any redeeming qualities to that movie beyond proving that Kevin Sorbo still looks good.
If you read the review by Peter Chattaway, I found it funny that the one thing he did get from this movie is how good Kevin’s voice would be for reading audio books. I tend to agree.
Peter does a good job picking apart the problems with the movie. In the end, my wife ended up picking a monster movie to avoid a monster movie. Just a different kind of monster.
My wife liked the movie. My take? Hey, I missed Godzilla. I’d rather I’d watched that if I wanted to see something get laid waste.
I can’t blame the people for making God is Not Dead. Yes, it’s a bad movie that preaches to the choir, but the problem is that only people who make bad movies seem willing to make Christian film. The people with the potential to make good movies seem to want to work in Hollywood and are fine with not making Christian movies at all. We keep blaming the people who try as opposed to the people who don’t even bother to try.
There are Christian movies that have done a better, though not perfect, “try.” Peter mentions Fireproof and Courageous.
I’m glad people are trying. But if the point was to convince atheist to reconsider their position, it is not unproductive to point out how and why. It isn’t blame for blame’s sake. It is critique so hopefully the next attempt will be better.
If their only intent was a Christian feel-good movie to show Christian films can be profitable, I think they were an outstanding success. I had simply hoped for a more convincing and engaging storyline on content. Something with more meat. A new perspective. But it wasn’t.
Point being, it could have been so much more. It could have engaged the wider audience in an intellectually honest way. It didn’t, and I think that is a shame.
If they give me a ring to write their next movie, I’ll give it due consideration. 🙂
D.M., I think you’ll really appreciate this guy’s take on the movie:
So basically, it’s not about converting atheists, or even about providing good art for an evangelical audience. It’s deliberately bad because that’s what the mainstream expects of an evangelical film, and evangelicals don’t care.
I haven’t seen the movie, but I find this interpretation interesting. Still, I don’t think it’s worthwhile to be deliberately anti-mainstream (just as it would be bad to deliberately suck up to the mainstream). Deliberately bad is still bad.
It was a good article. he’s right about many Christian films being more about the worldview of evangelical culture and for evangelicals than others, but he’s wrong I think in imputing intentional motives to this. They really want to reach people for Christ; it’s just they don’t have the skill to examine life enough to make art that’s true to it. To use those tropes intentionally is a profoundly cynical thing, and I don’t think Christians have that ironic or camp nature in filmmaking to do so.
I would tend to agree, but is our disbelief of the capability of Evangelical artists to be darkly ironic merely a symptom of our own cynicism? What if Evangelical culture really does have the capability to be subtle and even “dark” — just in ways that very few people can understand, at least without being willingly hardcore about the sub-culture without any intention of finding common ground? Maybe everyone here is too critical and “discerning” to really understand the true subtlety of the hardcore evangelical sub-culture. Some of the early Protestants who wanted to tear down cathedrals would hardly be the ones to ask for a substantive critique of Catholic symbolism.
I have no idea — just a thought. If I believed this to be true, it would increase my respect of Evangelical creators, though probably not of the indusrty. However, I would still not want to be part of the sub-culture. I would still be somewhat critical of the art itself, because I don’t think self-imposed isolation is good. (Maybe the isolation is not primarily self-imposed, but I don’t think we’re supposed to exult in isolation.)
I really, really, really don’t think those peeps are self-aware enough to do anything ironic. That would imply that they know how to view themselves from an outsider’s perspective, and the evidence lends the conclusion that they don’t bother to learn about outside perspectives.
Interesting article. An it might be what is going on, but I don’t think so. I rather think it is because of a Christian culture blinders, even to stereotypes among Christians.
One big problem with his evaluation, however. The black community has no mandate to share blackness and convert white people to it. That movement was in part to create an identity apart from main stream culture.
Christians aren’t called to focus on developing an identity within a sub-culture at the expense of alienating people we should be trying to reach. If the article is right, and they’ve done that intentionally (instead of ignorantly as I’ve proposed), then it is even more condemning of the film that I or Peter Chattaway were.
I think making a Christian film for Christians is fine, if it addresses issues within the Christian community that need addressing But when your premise is God is not dead and a debate between an atheist and Christian, you’ve automatically dived into apologetic and evangelistic territory. You either get it right or alienate target groups from the Gospel. By making it an us vs. them type movie, it ended up in the latter camp.
If it wasn’t for that pesky command, “Go, and make disciples of all nations,” focusing on staying in and promoting the Christian sub-culture might be okay. Maybe even at the expense of alienating other groups.
I suppose I’d be one of those Christians who’s working in secular entertainment. Early in my theatre career I worked for a Christian theatre. I have great respect for the work these people did and are still doing, and I would never put them down for the joy they bring to many people who come to see their shows every year. Their productions have great production values (really, you should see when they bring Jesus back at Easter, special effects galore), beautiful music, and are very good people to work for.
But I decided not to continue working for them after my one show. While I had a great experience, I knew I did not share the same theatrical vision as they did. They write toward a very niche audience, which is not rare in this business. I’ve decided not to pursue work at other secular theatres for similar reasons. I have my own specific career goals, and it was simply a matter that I did not feel those goals would be met by remaining there.
I’m certainly not opposed to working for a specifically Christian theatre. But I am not limited to working for them. To borrow a metaphor others have used, I hardly think anyone expects a contractor to only build houses for Christians. If such a contractor, entertainer, or author wishes to do so, I have no problem with that goal, and indeed pray for them as they pursue that calling. It is not a calling I have felt, however.
Even Courageous was onto some things. I haven’t yet seen God’s Not Dead, but will likely need to simply because of my own work. I appreciated what Courageous was trying to do despite its preordained cheesy moments and overt emotional revivalism culminating in the predictable Altar Call that even Fireproof managed to avoid.
By the way I wrote more thoughts on Courageous and Christian movies here.
Hey, you kiped my Facebook post for a blog title! 😀
I would say that God Is Not Dead is influenced by the principals’ experiences. When you see mostly atheists who seem to be intent on punishing very gifted actors (or at least, even if you disagree with that description, undeniably successful at making money) like Sorbo has experienced, and being as rude as possible, that’s who you mistakenly think atheists are. Just as some atheists have seen only the worst of Christianity and thus view us as caricatures, so here. Sorbo is used more to the caricatured version of radical atheism in Hollywood, so that’s who the movie answers and views as the “average” atheist.
I’ve seen him interviewed, and Sorbo seems to be very sincere in his faith, a very nice man, and seems to view atheists as so radical based on his experiences. Most Christians are not Pat “the unbiblical” Robertson celebrating 9/11 and other crap, and most atheists are not like the radicals in Hollywood or the so-called Freedom from Religion Foundation extremists, but too many, based on experiences, of both groups view each other thusly.
Speaking of Pat Robertson, has anyone else heard of his denouncing Ken Ham and YEC? So much potential schadenfreude, so little time and popcorn.
My mom wants to buy God’s Not Dead. She’s aware that it’s not the highest quality, but she believes we need to support Christian filmmakers so that they have higher budgets in order to make better-quality films.
Personally, i am much less convinced. Some of the most moving art i’ve seen/read has been drawn with stick figures, filmed in a video game by a bunch of guys in a living room, written in someone’s free time for zero money. I’m concerned that putting money toward a movie like God’s Not Dead merely sends the message that this is the kind of film we want to see.
I don’t fault the makers’ intentions, whether it was to witness to the unbelieving or encourage the believer. I do wonder, though, how someone seriously interested in doing either could fail to look seriously at the issue at hand. There are so many books, papers, lectures, debates, etc. available, so many for free on the Internet, with better explanations on why people are atheists and more solid arguments for Christianity than showed up in this film.
The movie was shot well. Some questionable issues there, but overall professional and decent quality. Acting was mixed, but okay overall. In my opinion, production quality and hiring experienced actors are where bigger budgets will help. Could potentially help the writing if they hired some talented writers. The plot content is what bit them on quality.
Buying the DVD would only help them get a bigger budget marginally. It is the box office ticket sells at the theater that will do that. If a movie doesn’t justify its budget there, DVD sales are not likely to offset that in most studio executives’ minds.
Kevin Sorbo was the executive producer on this film as well. Its good showing likely means another of like mind is in the works.
IF they hire some decent writers. That’s a pretty big if, especially since Hollywood and their GDP-of-a-third-or-second-world-nation budget is still hit-and-miss on that.
Bring on the stick figures. Maybe a Red vs Blue-like startup is a bit much to ask, but xckd is hugely popular and also stick figures. Allie Brosh is hugely popular and she works with a MS Paint-like program drawing intentionally crappy illustrations. I’ve seen a stick-figure puppet show that was at least mildly entertaining. Thug Notes on YouTube seems to work mostly with clipart, and it’s entertaining. I think we can work with crappy budgets if we had some good stories and good storytelling talent. People have made it work.
The plot content is what bit them on quality.
On that note, the main problem I see with these kinds of movies is the lack of conflict; not so much that there isn’t conflict, but it’s not developed beyond the basic argument level (we have a premise, but not a complete plot).
As an example: in Chasing the Giants, I don’t recall them ever losing a game once they began their winning streak (I may be wrong, as it’s been some years since I watched it). Compare that to Angels in the Outfield, which is by no means a stellar movie, but aims for the same general target audience: even with angels on their side, the movie allows the team to go through the challenge of doubt and uncertainty in the face of a defeat just before the soaring finish.
Similarly, in Courageous, once the lead protagonist makes his choice, he never once looks back or has any moments of defeat going forward. (Spoiler alert!): The movie did attempt to rattle him with the challenge of his dishonest coworker, a personal friend, which I thought was a good choice, but it was not developed enough for me to really understand what that dilemma meant for either man.
I found Fireproof to be their strongest film to date on this point, since there is a real conflict between the husband and wife that went beyond external impediments (in fact, the movie did wink at the audience a bit when the man’s first attempts at “wooing” his wife were so clearly a “Guide to a Happy Marraige” by rote kind of thing), and the conflict wasn’t resolved immediately simply because of his decision to reach for Christ. I’d rate it at made-for-TV level in terms of storytelling.
Again, I’ve not seen God’s Not Dead, but I’d guess that lack of legitimate, personal conflict could be a problem here to. If the only challenges a person faces are easily scalable, it doesn’t make for a very engaging story, no matter how well packaged.