A Dreamer Walking

God’s Not Dead – Part 1

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on April 3, 2014

God's Not Dead PosterFor those who don’t know I work two blogs. One concentrates on my ambitions to understand the technique and art of storytelling/filmmaking and the other covers my views on faith and politics.  Even though both blogs revolve around my pursuit of art and efforts to understand God the subjects don’t usually intersect. However, just the other day I accompanied my mother and sister to the movie God’s Not Dead and I knew immediately I needed to write about my experience. Seeing it was a movie and concentrated on a the issue of faith I have decided to post my views about this movie on both my blogs. I am also going to break my thoughts into two posts. For this post I will try to explain why I chose to watch this movie and my next post will concentrate on what I felt about the film.

To be honest this movie never appealed to me. From seeing the very title God’s Not Dead I was afraid it was going to be another Christian produced film that never really tried to give us something to think about but rather told us what to think. There is an argument to be made I, along with many other secular audiences, had already made preconceived judgments on the movie without being willing to give it a chance. I will not try to suggest I went into the theater with a completely open frame of mind. I tried to have an open frame of mind but I couldn’t help but be influenced by the title, the advertisements, and the second hand comments I had already heard regarding the film.

Lets first look at the title. Why would the title God’s Not Dead turn me off? Well, you tell me the last good film you watched with a title telling the audience precisely what to think? I mean the movie didn’t even want me to think about the possibility God could be dead. I did not need to watch a frame of the movie to know we were going to see a story trying to prove the existence of God. It might just be a malfunction of how I was brought up but I was taught to think for myself. The teachers who really mattered to me allowed me to come up with my own conclusions about what I believed. However, this film with its very title suggested it didn’t want to trust the audience in that way.

The advertising for God’s Not Dead felt just as manipulative as the title. Here is the first trailer I had seen for the film:

Here is another example of the movie not trying to leave anything up to the imagination. Sure the movie suggest the premise is “We are going to put God on trial”. But based on the characters we see in the trailer and the Newsboys song playing in the background with the lyrics “God’s not Dead, he is surely alive” we could tell this premise is only there to thinly disguise a cookie cut message about the evils and dangers of the secular world and the need for us to choose God. The reporter in the trailer even asks about those who don’t believe and the famous Duck Dynasty star Willie Robertson replies, “If we disown Him (God), He will disown us”. The secular world is represented by a power hungry professor who calls himself god. We also see another secular businessman who is asked to visit his mom and replies back, “What’s in it for me?”. They don’t want us to question the story arc of the freshman either. The trailer makes sure to show us a clean cut collage Christian who ends up standing for what he believes and confronting his power hungry professor. I felt like the trailer showed a movie aiming to make the Christian audience feel good about themselves at the expense of the rest of the world. The trailer offended me because it seemed to be further proof of a film interested in talking down to it’s audience by not even giving them the chance to discover any truths for themselves.

Now the title and the advertising of the film are prime examples of why I wasn’t interested in going to the movie. So the big question is, why did I end up going? After God’s Not Dead came out I found the reaction from friends and across the internet interesting. What was most intriguing was the difference in opinion I heard from the Christian base compared to the secular base. There were advertisements all over my Facebook wall where Christian friends were posting statuses declaring “God’s Not Dead” and suggesting I and the rest of Facebook go see the movie. I also saw flyers posted claiming the film was #2 in the Country’s Box Office. I didn’t really understand where this stat was coming from since Box Office Mojo and IMDb claimed it took fifth in the box office nationally. Absolutely none of my none Christian friends claimed to see the movie. I did look on Rotten Tomatoes and out of the few people who chose to review the movie, it received a 20% rotten Tomato rating. For those who don’t know it takes a 60% or higher for a film to receive a “fresh” rating.

So what was this huge separation about? Why were so many outside the faith criticizing the movie and so many inside the faith praising it? Why was an advertising campaign that felt manipulative and demeaning to me seem to intrigue so many of my Christian friends?  I knew I needed to check out the movie for myself to find out these answers. Rather then make this post excessively long I will leave you guys with a cliff hanger and give my thoughts on the actual movie in my next post.

 

Invisable Ink- Is Something There?

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on April 26, 2011

“Why do people tell stories? The stories that tend to stick to our bones are those that teach us something. This, I believe, is the primary reason we tell stories–to teach.”

This is how Brian McDonald started the third chapter of his book Invisible Ink. I don’t think I can open up on this subject much better then the way he did… so I have chosen not to.

Why do we write stories? It seems one big “no no” is to create stories that have a message. I can not tell you how many commentaries and film documentaries I have watched or listened to in which the director and other filmmakers try desperately to avoid saying they are giving us a message through their movie. For some reason they feel if a film is admitted to having a “message” it begins to be more like an after school PBS TV special then an actual piece of entertainment. Why this concept has spread I do not know.

We must not be afraid of embracing the kind of storytelling that will impact our audience in more profound ways then making them say “ooh” and “aw” whenever they see a cool camera move or special effect. Storytelling that lasts is storytelling that impacts. You can not impact someone with your story if you do not have anything to really say. As McDonald says, you need to develop an armature. McDonald explains an armature like this, “For us story-crafters, the armature is the idea upon which we hang our story”.

What is the fundamental idea you are wanting to hit on with your story? What makes the story worth telling? Simply put, what is the storie’s heart? Usually you can explain the heart in a sentence or two. A good example would be Pixar’s The Incredibles. The armature for The Incredibles could easily be, “Family is more important then any possession or title“. At the beginning and through the middle of the film we see Mr. Incredible desperately trying to regain the affections and luxuries of being a Superhero. The heart of the story is about Mr. Incredible realizing his most valuable possession is his family. Everything done in the movie is in support of the overall message of family. We learn from Mr. Incredible’s experiences. Throughout the movie the story teaches us fundamental values in extremely entertaining ways. The values are the things that are going to last long after we leave the movie theater, not the sweet special effects and camera movements (and let me tell you The Incredibles had a lot).

In essence McDonald explains the armature as the theme of our story. One crucial detail to understand is a theme is not a word, it is a sentence. Our theme can not be something like “Anger”. Theme is not a subject like “Baseball” or “Hacking”. The theme is the moral or point of our story. It must be explained. An example would be, “Anger will lead to destruction” or, “Baseball is a game of discipline”.  Everything else in the story we are telling must be built to support our theme. If a character or a scenario is not contributing to our overall theme, there is no reason to have it be in the story.

A good way to study theme is to study Pixar and Disney animated films. Animation usually tries to simplify everything. In animation usually there is a clear antagonist and clear protagonist and the story has a clear and usually simple message. All the extra weight is cut off to create a simple 90 minute film that will entertain all age groups. In no way am I trying to demean the significance of family films. I find the simplest of messages are often the most profound. Finding Nemo, Up, Beauty and the Beast, and Pinocchio, are some of the most influential movies I have ever watched. They are also movies that have a message the rest of the elements of the story are supporting to the highest extant possible. As I started to explain in my last post, the hard part of movie making is not making the story more sophisticated but rather making the movie have meaning that is supported by all the elements of cinema. This is what takes a overwhelming amount of effort, dedication, and time. But I guarantee you it is worth it!

Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on January 8, 2011

Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, is a perfect example of my last blog and my point of not making the message become more important then the actual story or vision of the film.

Yes, there are some very powerful messages in this movie. We are taken to a land that is very interesting and are introduced to characters that have a huge amount of potential. However, all they needed to do to create these things is read the book. In the movie I found the story, the conflict, and the characters all underdeveloped and hardly worth paying attention to.

It might be the love I have for the book that makes me so frustrated with the movie. I do not care if a movie adaption of a book goes away from some of the plot or takes away characters. I know the requirements of film and know that most books would take numerous movies to fully express. Cutting is just part of the process when it comes to adapting books to film. However, when I feel that a movie has not done a good job capturing the spirit of a book I have read, or worst yet, when I feel a book has not captured much of a spirit of anything, I get extremely frustrated.

In The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, we hardly see a spirit at all. There were whispers and hints of a vision for the film, but most of that was drowned out by sub par acting and too complex of a plot. Believe it or not, the CG character Reepicheep was the most believable and interesting character in the film. The other characters hardly seemed to believe in the land they were in and the task at hand.

There was Prince Caspian who wanted to reunite his kingdom and bring honor to his dead father. However, we did not experience the burden he was under. We did not see much of a struggle on why he felt the need to unite his kingdom and bring honor to his father. Because we did not see the struggle, the redemption at the end was not very fulfilling. It was one of the many cases of moments that did not feel deserved. This film relied on the audience feeling for the characters because the film said we were supposed to, not because they earned our love and affection.

There was a new character in this third installment of The Chronicles of Narnia, in Eustace Scrubb. Eustace experiences Narnia for the first time in this movie. Eustace is a character who seems to hate everyone he is around. He treats his cousins Edmond and Lucy like dirt and cares little for the welfare of others. The big problem is that there is no explanation why he hates the world and all who lives on it. Will Poulter, the actor who played Eustace, did not seem to own the character he was portraying. With characters like Eustace, it is okay for the audience not to like him or her at the beginning of the film. In fact some of the entertainment comes from loving to hate characters like Eustace. He is a snot, but with all well known and loved “snots” in film, there is always a reason for their snobbery. Knowing the reason for the snobbery is the key to buying into the character and eventually believing in the change. This was not the case with Eustace. Eustace, like many other characters in the movie, seems to insult others because that is what is in the script and at the end he changes to become good because that is what the script requires him to do.

With each scene that went by felt like a scene that was cut too soon. I did not get what I felt I needed to get out of the scenes. We were given enough to move the plot along, but not enough to buy into the characters and why they were on their adventure. Lucy wants to be like her older sister. Edmond wants to be taken more seriously and not always treated like “second best”. The big question is WHY do these characters want to change? Why are these characters not comfortable with who they are? It is never really explained, and we never really see it in the characters eyes. I could not buy into the characters and because I couldn’t buy into the characters I could not by into the journey they went on.

There were some powerful messages in this film. Reepicheep makes a point of faith being one of our greatest gifts. Aslan the Lion and Lucy make a point about believing in yourself, rather then striving to be someone you are not. The problem is that most of these messages felt forced. They did not come from the heart of the characters or the story. The journey that the characters went on was supposed to be epic, but did not feel that way. The characters never seemed to be suffering from not having enough food or being at see for weeks on end. We went to plot point to plot point without discovering anything more about the characters or the land they were exploring.

The only critics that I have seen that give this movie a great amount of praise are those who are interested in the underline meaning of the message. Many know that the Narnia books and movies in a whole deal with a lot of biblical issues like Christ Jesus and redemption. It saddens me that Christians seem more interested in the message then the way the message is expressed. The reason why Christianity is ignored so easily is because of movies like Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader. The movie was not really bad. It wasn’t one of those movies that was appalling to watch or something I wanted to walk out on. However, it did nothing to demand my attention. It did not grab a hold of me and give me something that I felt I needed to think about and consider. It was just mediocre and thus it was (and is) easy to ignore.

If we want the message of Christ to be seen, then we need to go beyond the message and concentrate on who the message is for and why we are supposed to express it. We need to demand the attention of the public, by giving them stories full of life and characters who are believable and are devoted to whatever journey they are going on.

In my opinion, we have a long way to go.