Friday, October 3, 2008

Fireproof: Good Message, Bad Art

There are several posts embedded in my day's events, but only two make the short list: the Vice-Presidential debate and my last minute decision to see the Christian flick, Fireproof. VP or Fireproof? Fireproof or VP? In the end, I figure everyone else will be chatting up the debate. So, if you wanna hear about that check out the debate coverage from CNN or Fox News, according to your political bent. I'm taking on the Christian flick.


I love good music. That's why I typically stay away from Christian music. I love good films. That's why I don't watch many Christian movies as a rule. Today, however, I broke that rule and went to see Fireproof, a movie produced by a baptist church in Albany, GA that has already grossed over $7 million. (Coincidentally, it was produced by the same people who brought us Facing the Giants, a movie which grossed over $10 million that you may also never have heard of.) 

The movie exceeded my expectations, though I must admit my expectations were pessimistic bordering on despondent. On the one hand, there were moments of genuine emotion and times filled with true humor where I laughed out loud. The leading roles were filled with serious actors who carried a plot that was well-written in places.
On the other hand, the cinematography was often made-for-TV poor to the point of distracting and the supporting roles were filled with actors for which the adjective "B-list" would be a compliment. But, most of all, the movie was awkwardly filled with spirituality at the expense of the plot. (And, I can say that as a passionate Christian.) In one scene, which would have likely been the climax, the sense of romance and reconciliation was ruined by out-of-place comments about salvation. As I told a friend following the movie, a good joke is marked by a strong and unexpected punchline. The punchline for this joke was shamelessly smattered throughout and left no one guessing.

I don't understand why we, as Christians, can't just make good art (like Dot and Cross, the people who produce the nooma videos)! This movie, while a big improvement over its predecessor, suffered at the hands of the message. That is truly a tragedy because the message is so timely. I give Fireproof 2 stars.

Did you see it? What did you think?


Anthony said...

I haven't seen it yet, but it's pretty much a phenomenon around here. If I don't see this movie with my fiancee, I was told, someone will pay me to. The character in the movie has discovered how to save his marriage and unless you see this movie you may not. Okay, that was an exaggeration, but it is pretty intense.

Marty said...

Brother man... What movie did you see?
Seriously, I used to say the same thing about Christian music... how it used to be boxed... and really not very good as compared to secular music out there. Now, today, there is some very good music out there that can be played anywhere on any station.
The thing that we have got to keep in mind is that with a film like "Fireproof", it's not about art... it was truly about the message... about the importance of saving marriages... and Jesus Christ as the foundation of that relationship... of that marriage.
Sure, I would love to see Christian filmmakers be able to make movies like we see roll out from Hollywood. And one day, like our friends in Christian music, there may actually be films that are out there that win awards... made by Believer... written by Believers... even enticing actors wgo are Believers to be a part of them.
Fireproof was made in Albany, Ga. by a church. All but one of the actors (Kirk Cameron) are members of that church and that community. They had a budget of some $500,000 and made a film that is making a difference in the lives of Believers and non-Believers alike. It's not out to win awards... or be classified as "art", but to minister to people who need a Savior... people that need to make their marriages a priority.
My question to the critics and the pundits is this: "Why can't Hollywood make movies like Fireproof - with a positive message... at a lower budget... making a difference in the world... award winning art or not.
Keep the Faith... Carpe Diem

Peter Davis said...

I'm with you Jonathan. I've struggled for so long to find good art and music with a Christian message. The music is getting better, but it always seems to be playing catch-up. Thanks for sharing the Dot and Cross link! I'm headed there to check it out now. I just discovered your blog and I like what I see so far! Thanks for sharing.

Sam said...

"I love good music. That's why I typically stay away from Christian music. I love good films."

That was a fair statement to make in the 90's, but it's simply absurd to say today. Quality Christian music (which there is plenty of) is equal in caliber to any secular music you put it up against.

I also wouldn't call it a very "helpful" statement either. (That may not be altogether clear, but I'll leave it there).

Jonathan Merritt said...

Let me clarify something for Sam and others. You will notice that I said I TYPICALLY stay away from Christian music. That doesn't mean I never listen to Christian music. (Just today, I was listening to Phil Wickham. He is a beautiful lyricist and a heart for worship.) But overall, Christian music is still sub-par to secular music. Part of this is due to the different level of resources in the Christian music industry. Part of it is because we have created a medium where you don't have to be quite as good.

The same is true for Christian books, and I can say this as a "Christian writer." Most of the books in LifeWay wouldn't sell in Barnes and Noble, and it has nothing to do with the message. It is because it is just badly written.

I'll grant you that there is some of good Christian music out there. But, you won't hear most of it on any radio station anywhere.

Anonymous said...

I know, it's so much focus on ministry that they forgot to make good art. I love it when movies and music can carry a positive message, but if the art isn't done well, then you might as well just read a tract.

I think Bach's cantatas are some of the best examples of good Christian art.