Movie Renovation: Left Behind 3-World at War

See original review here.

 

Production Improvements

We will be hard-pressed to find a more impressive internal suspense and action-based production in Christian entertainment than the last installment of the first attempt at bringing the Left Behind trilogy to the big screen.  The production of World at War is not only actually well-funded, but it is also well-utilized.  We analyzed that the only main issues with this production were some editing problems, which are to be expected.  Otherwise, there is little else that can be improved in this portion.

Plot and Storyline Improvements

World at War completely departs from the original Left Behind novel narrative, which is a fact that is its greatest asset.  Actually, the fact that this movie is stuck in the Left Behind saga basically holds it back from being Hall of Fame.  Were this film transported outside of the Left Behind universe, it would suddenly become an epic suspense action film worthy of a high rating.  The concepts in this film, such as the intrigue surrounding the pandemic spread, are more creative than Left Behind ever was.  Also, the complex and non-typical characters who do not appear in the original book series, such as the President character and the character who leads the resistance, are better than the original Left Behind characters.  However, these more creative characters and subplots have little to no buildup from the first two movies, which is a fact that hurts their full impact.  This even more speaks to the necessity of having this movie exist outside of the Left Behind universe.  Also, the ending of this film is very creative, epic, and shocking, but it has no follow-up.  However, perhaps this idea can be extrapolated into a better film in the future.

Acting Improvements

The original cast of this film was mostly professional and well-cast.  There are few errors here, but a cast would always be better without Kirk Cameron.  Otherwise, there aren’t many major improvements to be made here—only small issues that add up.  This rounds out a very close effort.

Conclusion

It’s possible that World at War is actually the film that made it the closest to the Hall of Fame without actually making it on the list.  In reality, only one single thing needed to be done to push it over the edge, but that thing (isolating it from the Left Behind saga) could have possibly caused it to cease to exist.  Nonetheless, the concepts and ideas presented in this film can and should be used in later films to boost a suffering action\suspense genre in Christian entertainment.

 

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A Distant Thunder [2005] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Ann Brown is a successful prosecutor, but when she is tasked with trying a case of a double homicide that involves an unborn child, she begins having strange psychological experiences and attacks beyond her control.  As the experiences continue unexplainably, Ann feels like she is going crazy or being targeted by her opponents.  She has no way to stop them, so she cries out to God for answers, and she gets answers in an unexpected way.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

It is difficult to quantify A Distant Thunder without telling you to watch it.  However, you definitely shouldn’t watch it if you have epilepsy or don’t like horror productions, because it’s a real doozy.  This includes a lot of disorienting and dizzying special effects, with weird sound effects to accompany them.  There are also random lapses in audio throughout.  However, video quality and camera work are surprisingly okay.  The soundtrack is somewhat intriguing.  Yet the editing is fairly poor, which rounds out a confusing experience that is sometimes a pain to watch.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Most of the time, it is very hard to know what in the world is going on in this film.  It makes a strange attempt to combine creepy and off-putting horror elements with an otherwise profound pro-life message.  However, this ‘story’ is just too bizarre and strange to be fully embraced due to its general wackiness and off-the-wall nature.  Yet the legal case therein is interesting and mostly realistic, as are the psychological elements, except that the horror themes constantly distract from anything good.  The ending also has some potential, but the weirdness is too much to overcome.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Despite the other issues in this film, the acting is actually mostly fine.  There are a few overly dramatic moments, but on the whole, line delivery and emotional delivery are on point.  Nonetheless, one can’t help but wonder if this effort was wasted due to the other strange parts of this movie.

Conclusion

The idea behind this film needs a total rework, because as it is, it is not going to have very wide appeal.  The unappealing horror elements will turn off people too easily and will stunt the impact of this important message.  Perhaps one day more improved pro-life films will begin appearing on the market.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

 

The Christmas Blessing (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After becoming disillusioned with his job after a failed surgery, Nathan Andrews decides it’s time to take some time off of work to go back to his hometown to see his dad.  But he decides to hide the true nature of his visit as he goes around town helping people.  He stumbles across a random woman several times, and the two of them fall madly in love.  Nathan also meets back up with his lawyer friend who helped him buy his dying mother a pair of shoes, which are now missing.  Will Nathan be able to make peace with his past and reconcile his work over the holidays?

 

Production Quality (3 points)

Much like the preceding film, The Christmas Shoes, The Christmas Blessing is basically a pristine production with no real errors.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all fine.  The soundtrack is fairly typical, but the sets, locations, and props are good, even if there are a lot of Christmas decorations.  Finally, the editing is standard with no real errors.  It’s rare that we see a perfect production, but at least in this era, Hallmark put their full efforts towards this front.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Also much like the film that comes before this one, The Christmas Blessing is almost a totally pointless plot.  It has a predictable return-to-hometown to stumble upon a random romance at Christmas spiel, all of which seem very forced and manufactured.  This is evident in very obvious and programmed dialogue, which in turn creates one-dimensional characters that only serve as stand-ins for the plot’s inevitable purpose.  There is also a dose of a buying-a-building subplot here, along with a troubled character subplot.  With all of this going on, the progression is very rushed and based on coincidences in route to a predictable conclusion before the television time is up.  The Christian message is also very muted and mostly only based on the previous film.  Basically, the only reason to make these sorts of films is just to have more content to play on TV.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Though this cast is mostly professional, in keeping with Hallmark’s usual standards, there are some moments when the cast members seem to be trying too hard.  Sometimes lines come off as overly practiced, and emotions can sometimes be overly ‘interested.’  But on the whole, this section is above average and is on industry standard.

Conclusion

These two films are made for the sake of having Christmas films based on a recognizable Christian song in order to grab the attention of some audiences for a short amount of time.  In the grand scheme of things, movies like this are extremely forgettable and will be lost in time.  We need films that are dynamic and timeless, not more mindless holiday fodder.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

The Touch [2005] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

As a convicted drug dealer, Hannah has seemingly run out of options as she sits in a prison cell.  However, she accidentally stumbles upon a way for the judge to look kindly on her—a women’s Bible study group offered by a local church.  She attends the group begrudgingly and only to get out of prison, but she feels surprisingly drawn to the leader.  Thus, when she gets out and finds herself in another mess, Hannah turns to the group leader for help.  Despite opposition from within the church, a new shelter has been opened for troubled women, which gives Hannah a new lease on life.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Though this is a small church film, The Touch avoids all the negative connotations that go along with this sub-genre.  Production is good due to professional video quality and camera work.  Sometimes the soundtrack is too loud, but otherwise, audio quality is good.  Sets, locations, and props are good, even though there is some slight room for improvement.  The flashbacks have some odd qualities about them, and the editing tends to be a bit too choppy at times due to some awkward cuts and transitions.  However, on the whole, this is a respectable production and one to be proud of, considering the meager beginnings.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

It’s clear that the writers of this plot knew how to portray real people with realistic struggles and gritty circumstances.  The church people are also portrayed very well.  however, there are times when the gritty elements can be a bit too realistic, such as an overuse of ‘mild’ profanity and some edgy elements.  Though the characters are definitely believable, we could use a little more personality and character development here through more meaningful and less information-dumped dialogue.  Nevertheless, flashbacks are used very effectively to build character backstories.  Yet the issues presented tend to be fixed too quickly to suit the runtime.  But regardless of these small issues, this is a very good plot that deserves applause for not being just some stupid, self-contained church idea.  It’s unfortunate that we were not able to see more from this creative team.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

The acting probably has the most drawbacks of this film, even though there is a lot of potential in this amateur cast.  A lot of the time, emotions and lines are very much forced, as if through gritted teeth, especially from the female lead.  There is a serious need for coaching at the beginning of the film, but the good thing is that improvement is shown throughout.  Also, other cast members are consistently good throughout.  In the end, this is a fairly enjoyable movie that stands out from other church films.

Conclusion

This church really had something going for them—perhaps one day they will resurrect their filming ambitions and show other churches how it’s supposed to be done.  It’s still frustrating that average is a standout in the Christian movie world, but credit should be given to those who put forth the effort to have an amount of quality in their films.  Many film makers could learn a thing or two from The Touch.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

The Goal [2005] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After athletic enthusiast Steve George has a cycling accident that leaves him a quadriplegic, he feels like his life is over.  He doesn’t like the therapy he is forced to attend and he doesn’t like his family fussing over him.  He wants to be free, but is trapped in his wheelchair.  However, one day, his grandmother gives him new hope by introducing him to quad rugby, which he can play in his wheelchair.  This opens up a whole new world for him and allows him to touch the lives of others, as well as discover the faith his family always tried to share with him.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

This film has a relatively low budget, so it’s a fairly good production considering the circumstances.  Yet it seems like some of the issues could have been avoided, regardless of the funding amount.  The odd hazy video quality can be forgiven, as can some of the audio issues, which include some obvious overdubs.  However, the soundtrack is too generic and sometimes too loud.  There are also some odd camera angles throughout, but this area is mostly fine.  The best part of the production pertains to the high quality sets, sports and medical props, and outdoor locations, which are difficult to accomplish on this small budget.  Yet the editing is too choppy to be able to understand the story very well.  In the end, this is an average production, which is good considering what they had to work with.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Unfortunately, while this is obviously a good true story, it is presented in a very poor fashion.  Where the characters should be accessible, especially in their struggles, they are not.  This is likely due to the large amount of underdeveloped characters that exist in this plot.  Also, the dialogue is often too straightforward and unsubstantial.  There is also too much melodrama that makes the otherwise poor circumstances of the characters seem too out of reach.  Besides this, though there is an attempt to craft a predictable sports redemption plot, it doesn’t even accomplish this as the story falls flat and completely lacks any arcs or twists.  This is just face-value information presented in an unintentional documentary form without any real interest evoked.  It’s a shame, because this could be a good film.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

With a relatively large cast, there is a lot going on here.  Sometimes it’s hard to keep track of them all.  Yet most of them are too matter-of-fact and emotionless in their delivery.  However, there are plenty of good moments here and there is some amount of coaching present here.  But overall, this caps off an underwhelming effort.

Conclusion

Low funding for production is one thing, but this crew handled this issue pretty well.  The issue comes in when you have a plot written for you and you are unable to present it in a way that makes sense.  It’s clear that this creative team meant well with this film, but some consulting was probably in order so that it could be as good as it could have been.  It’s frustrating to see films like this, but perhaps it will lead to further improvement in the future.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

 

A Path in Time (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Tom is grief-stricken when his father suddenly and mysteriously dies, but he soon discovers a strange artifact his father left behind that opens up a whole new world for him that he never knew existed.  Using the device, Tom travels back in time to find that all he ever knew is not as it seems and he is caught in a battle that spans decades.  Only he can stop the evil that is coming, if he has enough faith and courage.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

It seems like the entire point of A Path in Time was to show off the professional special effects and animation the production team obviously had access to.  There are also other good production elements to be found, such as fine video quality and camera work.  Audio quality is also on standard, though the soundtrack leaves something to be desired.  Unfortunately, sets and locations are fairly cheap and limited.  Finally, there is next to no editing as scenes are dragged out and expounded upon just to make the runtime reach barely sixty minutes.  In the end, it is clear that some thought was put into this production, but this movie is still only half of an idea.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

While we always welcome different genres of Christian film, time travel plots are always going to be problematic, illogical, and unnecessarily mind-bending.  Sci-fi plots are already hard enough to craft without introducing all sorts of isolating concepts through constant information dump dialogue.  As the characters drone on about ideas foreign to the audience and speculative lingo, there is little chance to get to know them as people.  There are too many convenient turns and highly confusing plot ‘twists’ that are associated with the time travel concept.  This is not even to mention the fact that the concepts and premise presented in this barely-one-hour film are far too expansive and complicated to cram into this time frame.  We need more gradual development of these ideas rather than an uninvited dump of ideas.  Also, was this film meant to be continued?  It’s been twelve years and there is no plan for a sequel, even though the story clearly leaves the viewer hanging.  Overall, this story is far too confusing to warrant any points.

Acting Quality (1 point)

All too often, this cast exhibits very lifeless emotions and monotone line delivery.  While the performances are certainly not all bad, they could also use a lot of work.  Some effort was put towards historical costuming at least.  It seems like this cast has potential, but it goes untapped.

Conclusion

It’s very hard to determine exactly what the purpose of A Path in Time was.  The creators had a vague idea and some special effect software, so they charged right ahead to make a beta test.  Perhaps they were just experimenting, but was this really worth releasing to the public?  It seems like they could have built off of the ideas here over time and not rushed through them.  There are certainly many struggles to independent film making, but time and consistency are almost always on your side.  If God wants to make a film, the provision will always be there.  We just need to make sure we aren’t rushing things.

 

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

 

The Perfect Stranger [2005] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Nikki, a lawyer living a fast-paced life, gets a strange invitation to go to dinner with a man who claims to be Jesus Christ, she decides to take him up on the offer, if only to prove him wrong.  Throughout the course of the evening, as their conversation ranges on a wide variety of topics, including world religions and the nature God, Nikki begins to see this man for Who He really is, but will she let Him into her heart?  By the time the last course comes around, who will she surrender to?

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

For 2005, this is a very poor production effort.  Though the sets are very limited and the budget seems adequate for this small scale of a production, the Kelly’s Filmworks team did not deliver.  Video quality is grainy and there is a lot of poor lighting throughout, including some cheesy-looking soft light.  Though most of the props are okay and audio quality is decent, the soundtrack is very cheap sounding.  The editing is very basic, but there is not that much content to work with here anyway.  In the end, this is a disappointing effort that should have been easy to execute.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

As the original proprietor of the Encounter-style movie, Jefferson Moore was definitely on to something interesting in The Perfect Strange.  This was an original idea that had a lot of potential, yet we feel like it did not reach its full potential.  Though there are very few characters that have long monologuing dialogue, we don’t really get to know them all that well.  The portrayal of Jesus is pretty good, but Nikki just seems like a cardboard cutout.  She talks a lot without every really saying anything substantial to build her character.  There are some interesting issues raised in this plot, but the plotline is fairly linear and lacking in deep content.  It’s all very surface where it should be deep and concludes predictably.  Basically, where The Perfect Stranger could have been truly dynamic, it only scratched the surface.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

This small cast is mostly average, yet they are the brightest spot of this film.  There are no real embarrassments or glaring errors, but they also seem like they’re holding back.  Jefferson Moore is fine as Jesus, but other cast members seem inhibited for some reason.  Emotion doesn’t really come through properly.  But in the end, this section is just average.

Conclusion

The Perfect Stranger is a good concept that needs deepening and more creativity.  Having two people talk over dinner about pertinent issues is not really the best way to present this otherwise good idea.  Monologuing becomes old and wearing, thus boring the audience.  Unfortunately, the entirety of this film doesn’t hold the attention very well, so important points will be lost.  Christian film makers need to make sure they are packaging their good ideas properly so that their messages can be properly conveyed.  This is the biggest movie lesson one can learn from this film.

 

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

 

Left Behind 3: World at War (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

With Nicolae Carpathia increasing his grip on international politics, President Fitzgerald of the United States is highly skeptical of the United Nations leader.  The President’s suspicions are only raised when his vice president is killed in a sudden car bomb.  He also receives an anonymous tip about secret plans that threaten to overturn the delicate balance of the world.  Elsewhere, the Tribulation Force continues to seek converts and spread the gospel as the world becomes darker and darker.  When an unexpected evil strikes the planet, they must dig deep in their faith and band together under the banner of Christianity.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

After two previous productions failed even though they had money behind them, this creative team finally put the money where their mouth was and spent it correctly on World at War.  The camera work and video quality are excellent.  Props have a major upgrade and appear very realistic.  This movie finally lives up to its international intrigue expectations by providing wide ranging sets and locations to the viewers.  It also delivers on this franchise’s previous claims of action entertainment by pulling off action scenes very well, including professional use of special effects.  Watching this movie actually makes you feel like you’re watching an apocalyptic film with international ramifications.  The only complaints to bring up here are some minor editing issues.  Otherwise, this is a production to be proud of for once.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

World at War is actually an engaging apocalyptic plot that holds the attention, which is an unfortunately rare find in Christian film.  Subplots built up from the two previous installments are used very well, and even though this storyline departs greatly from the novels, it is still enjoyable.  New subplots are complex and hold the viewer’s attention until the end.  The dialogue is finally well-constructed and the characters are finally believable.  The apocalyptic concepts and surroundings are finally realistic and highly possible in the real world.  Although there are some unnecessary elements, there are not a few suspenseful twists that make this an apocalyptic plot to be proud of.  Finally, World at War packs perhaps the most epic action ending in Christian film to date, putting many other action film attempts to shame.  Yet two things derail this movie from being Hall of Fame: the lack of buildup from previous films and the lack of continuation.  The writers set us up with an engaging franchise reboot, if you will, yet did not deliver with a follow-up.  What happens next?  We may never know.  But for now, this is one of the most applaudable Christian action films on the market.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Acting also greatly improves in this installment not only because of improved coaching but also because of better additional cast members.  Once again, Kirk Cameron posts one of his best (probably his last) acting performances.  Line delivery is effective, but sometimes emotions are over the top.  In the end, there are only minor errors here.

Conclusion

It’s so frustrating to watch films that barely miss the Hall of Fame because of the potential they did not live up to.  World at War had everything going for it—except for better predecessors and a real follow-up.  If the franchise was going to be dropped here, it would have been better for World at War to either stand alone as a separate apocalyptic film outside of the series or for the absurd Left Behind reboot of recent to become the fourth movie rather than just a rehashing of the first installment.  It’s unfortunate, but it’s unlikely World at War will be remade for a myriad of reasons.  But it can at least serve as a testament to what can be done in Christian film if proper money and effort are applied.  We need many more films like this one on the market.

 

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

 

Love’s Long Journey (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Following their marriage, Willie and Missy LaHaye set off further west to begin a life of their own by building their own cattle ranch business.  They set out with no one but each other to lean on and begin forming relationships with people in the small settlement near their land.  Willie assembles a team of castoff ranch hands while Missy seeks to assist local Native Americans in their educational pursuits.  They are surrounded by hurting and hungry people who need what they have to offer, but little do they know that evil also lurks around the corner, wanting to steal what they have worked hard for.  The LaHayes will have to dig deep and cling to everything they learned back home in order to weather the storm.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

Love’s Long Journey marks the high point of the Love Comes Softly series in multiple ways, and especially in production quality.  The camera work, video quality, and sound quality are all solid.  This is the most authentic-looking Love movie when it comes to props, costuming, sets, and locations.  Great care was obviously taken to make this film as realistic as possible, and it shows.  Constantly dealing with farm animals on set is neither easy nor something you see often in Christian films, but Long Journey pulls this off without errors.  In short, the production of this film is flawless.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

While it is still not entirely accurate to the novel, Long Journey is the best flowing and dynamic plot of the film franchise.  The characters, although they still need some deepening.  It’s refreshing that there are some different characters in this plot that are not typical frontier romance characters.  In that vein, there is no new romance\courtship, but an actual portrayal of married life—what a concept!  While the dialogue as a whole is just average, there is some truly good humor throughout.  The end of this plot, though slightly predictable, is actually epic and has a unique twist to it.  However, the villains in this plot are extremely cheesy and unrealistic.  Also, we felt that the subplot between the two brothers needed to be explored further and to take on a larger role in the film.  But besides these small issues, this is a solid plot that deserves recognition.

Acting Quality (1 point)

This is where this movie loses Hall of Fame momentum.  Changing actors and\or actresses in the middle of a franchise is rarely a good idea, especially when it’s a downgrade.  We realize that sometimes you can’t retain actresses, but January Jones was a much better missy than Erin Cottrell.  Unfortunately, a majority of Cottrell’s lines seem forced and strained—she is the main reason this movie is not as good as it could have been, especially since she plays the central character.  But even still, this is the best acted movie of the franchise, with just average acting.  On a brighter note, Long Journey has an actually fair portrayal of Native Americans by using real Native American actors—another novel concept.

Conclusion

Love’s Long Journey is another one of those movies that really could have been something great.  It had all the tools—originality, great production, honest portrayal.  But one poor starring actor or actress can really spoil a movie; this film is an unfortunate example of this.  Regardless, this is an enjoyable movie that many people will find acceptable.  It was a symbol in its era of better Christian movies and it can be used as a blueprint today on how to—and not to—revive a franchise to greatness.

 

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

 

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe [2005] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Torn from their parents and hometown due to the rage of World War II, the Pevensie siblings must make their new home in the mansion of an eccentric elderly man and stay out of the way of his picky housekeeper.  Little did Lucy Pevensie know that choosing to hide in a wardrobe during a game of hide and seek would give her entrance to a mystical world called Narnia.  After meeting a new friend, Mr. Tumnus, Lucy soon discovers that all is not well in this land where winter is year-round.  After being mistreated by her brother Edmund, who also found his way into Narnia, the four siblings are forced to enter through the wardrobe, and are surprised to find that the creatures of Narnia have been awaiting their arrival, along with the coming of a legendary lion named Aslan.  Together, the siblings must band together and dig deep in order to fulfill an ancient prophecy and to save an entire land.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As is to be expected from the production crews involved, the production is professional and obviously well-funded.  The classic children’s series from C. S. Lewis was long awaiting a high quality rendition, and it was providence that his stepson Douglas Gresham was allowed to be an executive producer, so to preserve the original intent of Lewis’ work.  The camera work is great, as are the video and sound quality.  Fantasy productions are expensive and hard to do well due to difficult sets and costuming, but this one pulls it off well.  The only issue to raise in this film is some obvious green screens and CGI in some parts, but it is not glaringly obvious.  In short, this is finally a quality film based on the timeless work of Lewis.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

The book’s plot is adapted very well, even enhancing the original plot without losing the allegorical message, which is surprising with Disney involved.  Douglas Gresham can be credited for this preservation.  The character development is decent and the dialogue is both realistic and character-building.  The twists involved are true to the book; no extreme creative license is taken here.  The one issue to raise here is that some parts of the plot tend to be overly dramatic, no doubt a Disney contribution.  But the bottom line is that this is a solid plot that does not compromise the novel’s purpose.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

The funding paid off—the acting is overall professional and well coached.  Though it is largely a mainstream cast, they demonstrate great acting skills, taking on the book’s characters well.  One caveat to bring up is that a few lines fall flat in an attempt to be sensational.  But this is not really a big issue and is easily forgotten.

Conclusion

A lot of things could have gone wrong with this film: Disney could have run away and destroyed the plot, the acting could have been deemphasized in favor of action sequences, or it could have been another cheap puppet production like so many Narnia movies before it.  None of these scenarios occurred, and thus, this movie lands in the Box Office Revolution Hall of Fame.  It is not a perfect film, but it was a great start to the unique Narnia movie saga and must be recognized for its strengths.

 

Final Rating: 7.5 out of 10 points