Movie Renovation: Pendragon-The Sword of His Father

See original review here.

 

Production Improvements

Pendragon: The Sword of His Father was one of the most under-funded productions that showed the most potential.  Thankfully, this potential was fulfilled in Beyond the Mask, but there were some things that could have improved Pendragon.  In many ways, it seems like Pendragon was filmed over a long period of time, with each part of the movie having a different level of production quality.  Despite the very low funding, the Burns family did their best to make the most out of what they had, which is all we really ask for.  For example, the construction and engineering of the complex battle sets and props was impressive.  However, video quality and lighting were very inconsistent throughout, and a lot of the audio quality was reworked in post.  Essentially, all this production needed was better funding, which the Burns family had in Beyond the Mask, so they followed through on their potential.

Plot and Storyline Improvements

Pendragon is one of deepest and most complex plots we have ever reviewed, especially since it was based on a long historical account.  Unfortunately, the Burns were forced to cram almost four hours of epic content into two hours, which was still an impressive amount of time for an indie film.  Even so, we feel like Pendragon could have been a two-part miniseries had the funding been there.  The characters barely reach their full potential, and their epic journey across time is barely captured in this limited window we are offered.  There is so much more that could have been done here if the budget had permitted.  The first part could have been about the captivity of Artos and his escape, while the second part could have focused on his redemption.  There are so many possibilities here, so maybe one day, we will get a remake?

Acting Improvements

Unfortunately, the casting and acting is by far the biggest detractor of Pendragon.  Obviously, cast options were limited, so their hands were tied.  The good thing is that casting got a major upgrade in Beyond the Mask, including the employment of an acting coach.  Still, if Pendragon were remade, we would need an entirely new cast.  As a side note, however, Marilyn Burns is a great costume designer.

Conclusion

The Burns family followed the indie film model perfectly: they began with an under-funded production that was rescued by a deep and complex plot and were given a greater opportunity to go further in Beyond the Mask.  Now, all that’s missing is a follow-up film (wink wink).  They are a creative team with loads of potential, just waiting to break out.  If they are ever offered a full theater release and distribution contract, then Christian film will never be the same again.

 

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2015 in Review: The Turning Point for Christian Films

2013 and 2014 were billed as the ‘years of the Bible’ in Hollywood, but this never panned out.  Unfortunately, barring a few exceptions, the Christian movies from these years were largely negative.  Yet they did signal a sign of things to come.  Before 2013, Christian movies were randomly and sporadically produced.  No consistent creators existed save for the Kendrick brothers and other Affirm creators such as the budding Erwin brothers, the PureFlix conglomerate, and the remnants of Fox Faith.  2013 and 2014 also promised Hollywood-driven faith based and inspirational films and many movies crowded to seize on this new label, presumably to capture a consistent Christian audience.  But in the end, little good came out of this push except for a promise of greater things to come and a blueprint on how to do it.

Fast forward to the year 2015, by far the best year for Christian films and the start of a new Christian movie era.  With a record-breaking four Box Office Revolution Hall of Fame movies, it was a year for the books.

 

Old-Fashioned

Early in 2015, rookie film maker Rik Swartzwelder burst onto the scene with a Valentine’s Day alternate to the grotesque Fifty Shades of Grey, which is a move that Christians need to take note of the next time they complain about or embrace all the bad movies in America.  Untested and unproven, PureFlix took a chance with Swartzwelder and cashed in big.  Swartzwelder brought a fresh look at Christian romance, driven by quality production and Jane Austen-like dialogue.  Old-Fashioned not only signaled the possible beginning of a new era for PureFlix distributed movies, but the beginning of a new Christian film era.

 

Beyond the Mask

In the underrated release of Pendragon, the Burns family showcased their ability to do a lot with small resources.  Now, with better funding, better support, and a better cast and crew, they broke out with a rare Christian action adventure screenplay.  Mask not only showcases a new genre but also demonstrates the ability to craft a complex non-typical Christian plot.  We expect it to be the first of many Christian films to break into new genres.

 

War Room

Following their blockbuster Courageous and their exit from Sherwood, the Kendrick brothers’ next release was highly anticipated and highly marketed.  It lived up to its expectations, both in quality and box office success.  War Room proved that the Kendricks are not done any time soon and remain the Fathers of Christian Film Making.

 

Woodlawn

The Erwin brothers have always performed ahead of schedule, with their only three films all being Hall of Fame rated.  They demonstrate expertise in assembling and directing highly talented crews and casts and in amplifying the strengths of individuals.  Not to mention that they write some great plots.  Woodlawn was heavily marketed as well and did not disappoint on the big screen.  The future is bright for these Alabama brothers.

 

 

Honorable Mention: Do You Believe

Following their first box office success God’s Not Dead, PureFlix sought to build on it with another inspirational film about the interconnected lives of individuals in a city.  With increased production quality and interesting plot potential, Do You Believe continued a new era of PureFlix films.  However, it still did not live up to Hall of Fame status.  Nonetheless, it was something to build off of.

 

***

In summary, 2015 was a year that unexpectedly brought Christian movies to a new level—setting new standards for the industry.  No one saw it coming, but it happened regardless.  2016 promises to bring films from new Christian creators to the scene, and we anticipate a fresh wind of creativity to blow across the Christian movie landscape.  It’s time for a new generation of film makers to stand up and redeem the field—the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.

We Need More Genres of Christian Movies

For too long, Christian films have struggled to find identity amidst a sea of limited inspirational plots, small-town romances, slightly true miraculous events, and Amish intrigue.  There are those, such as the Kendrick Brothers, who have mastered the generic inspirational genre, and there are sparse successes that can be discovered from time to time.  But for the most part, there are simply too many typical Christian films—those that include a male or female Christian or soon-to-be Christian protagonist who has an inevitable love interest and who is caught in some type of small-scale conflict with a predictable antagonist that will be neatly resolved in ninety minutes or less.  There are a lot of well-meaning intentions and great messages to be heard from these sorts of movies, but are they making a difference?  Both Christians and non-Christians need to hear what quality Christian film-makers have to say, but sometimes the messages get lost in translation due to stock packaging.  This is not to say that Christian films need outlandish plots and wild special effects like so many run-of-the-mill Hollywood screenplays.  What is needed is diverse genres coupled with solid plots and acting, without forgetting the need for high quality production.  This opinion piece aims to outline genre suggestions for future Christian films.

 

Action adventure

Burns Family Studios has already laid out a blueprint for the creation of great Christian action adventure films, and we fully expect them to continue to produce within this genre.  Action adventure is needed in Christian movies not only because it attracts younger audiences, but it also demonstrates that Christians can do more than just a Hallmark movie.  Box Office Revolution understands why this genre is not often used—more funding than usual is needed and scenes take longer to film.  But we maintain that it is better for make a few standout films than to continue to add to a growing pile of generic screenplays.

 

Epic

Woodlawn is the only modern Christian epic to date.  By definition, an epic movie is a minimum two-hour length film that depicts the entire life of an individual, a lengthy and complex portion of an individual’s life, or a group of individuals moving together across space and time in pursuit of a common set of goals.  Older screenplays such as The Robe and Ben-Hur can be placed in this category.  Epics are very hard to make because they require a lot of time and effort put into a concise portrayal of a long series of events.  They cannot be too rushed or too long.  Well-crafted epics will always be few and far between, but they are worth the wait.

 

Suspense

Hollywood is replete with cheap suspense movies because many audiences like seeing things blow up.  But Christians can do suspense better, if proper effort is put forth.  There are not many strictly suspense films on the Christian scene; Escape, Unconditional, and Courageous all have suspense elements.  The older Left Behind movies attempt to be suspenseful, but not successfully.  This genre is necessary because suspense is realistic, so long as guns and explosions are kept moderate.  Such movies can appeal to different audiences, both Christian and non-Christian, and can drive messages home in ways inspirational films cannot.

 

Psychological thriller

This is a very rare genre, almost like a gift that only some writers have.  Bradley Dorsey has dabbled into the genre in the past, though his films went mostly unnoticed due to poor funding.  The true definition of psychological thriller is difficult to quantify—it mostly pertains to a thriller whose plot rests on an out-of-the-ordinary plot twist or series of plot twists that do not pertain to average reality, such as a parallel universe or someone seeing life through the lens of a mental disorder.  Though this is a hard genre to write, we would like to see more ideas on the table.

 

Realistic legal thriller

Fiction of all types is replete with cheesy legal thrillers, yet there are those diamonds in the rough that need to be portrayed on the big screen.  Currently, legal ‘thrillers’ on the Christian market mostly pertain to religious freedom issues.  Most written legal thrillers have too much emphasis on evil prosecutors and angry judges.  In legal fiction, proper courtroom and law procedure must be given attention to in order to keep the plot realistic.  Box Office Revolution challenges the Christian faithful to try their hand at good legal thriller movies.  Since it is sometimes difficult to write this type of plot, there are plenty of Christian legal thrillers that are worth adapting.

 

Dystopian thriller

At the time of this writing, the secular box office is saturated with movies that are adapted from young adult dystopian thrillers.  Christians seem to be attracted to this type of movie, but Box Office Revolution has huge caveats about this following due to Hollywood’s usual inclusions of suggestive content and unnecessary violence.  Though there are no dystopian options on the table, this is the perfect opportunity for someone to come along and redeem the genre.  A dystopian society from a Christian worldview would be something to behold.

 

Fantasy\Speculative

The Chronicles of Narnia is the most poignant example of this genre as it pertains to a Christian worldview.  Douglas Gresham, stepson of C. S. Lewis has done an excellent job of preserving the original messages of the books, even though he has dealt with multiple production companies.  There are many ‘underground’ Christian fantasy and speculative works of fiction, so this can be a difficult genre to navigate.  Yet there are good ideas to be found.  New plots also need to be offered, ones that avoid the usual clichés of ‘chosen’ characters and quests.

 

True comedy

Mom’s Night Out is the best Christian comedy to date.  There are many cheap Christian and inspirational attempts at comedy that can mostly be seen on Hallmark and Ion, but not many truly humorous options.  In order to create a true comedy, one must write dialogue that is based in reality and elicit humor from everyday events and from the blunderings of flawed human beings like we all are.  Moreover, it is good to hear that Rene Gutteridge, a comedy genius is now entering the Christian film scene.  Most of her work is worth replicating.

 

Spiritual horror

This is a very difficult topic and it has never been done properly, to our knowledge.  To portray a Christian horror flick properly, it must be bathed in prayer and grounded in firm Jesus-centered spirituality.  Dealing with the demonic should never be taken lightly, but if a Christian horror film that properly portrays realistic spiritual conflict were ever made, it would reach audiences that are never reached by traditional Christian films.  Currently, there are no quality or remotely Christian horror films on the market; films such as The Remaining have unsuccessfully tried to dump Christian themes into cheap horror sequences.  Nonetheless, this genre is still wanting and should not be rushed into.

 

+++

In short, Box Office Revolution maintains that God gives Christians all varieties of creativity for a reason.  No movie genre that has the potential to be morally sound should be passed off as ‘ungodly’.  BOR operates from a worldview that simply states that God owns every jurisdiction and area of human creativity, including genre.  Though many genres have been marred with immortality, they can and should be redeemed by Christian film creators.  After all, Christians have the capacity to make their movies better than Hollywood, and we expect to see more of this in the days to come.

Pendragon: The Sword of His Father (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Artos Pendragon, captured by the barbaric Saxons as a young man, only has one goal in mind: to save his home, the Isle of Britannia, from the invading Saxon forces as the Dark Ages fall upon ancient Europe.  Afforded the opportunity to escape his captors, he is helped by a mysterious seer who reminds him of his family’s Christian heritage and gives him a new hope by telling him to go to a fortress city on the island where King Ambrosia is building a new army to beat back the Saxons from their nation.  Artos begins a new life there are refocuses on the vision God has laid upon his heart: free the people of Britannia from the Saxon oppression.  Little does he know the intrigue, conspiracy, and battles that await him.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

For a very low budget production, Pendragon does the best it can with what it has.  The Burns production crew was quite inexperienced at this point, so they must be given a chance.  The production quality improves as the movie progresses, including the video quality and the camera work.  Some of the battles scenes are well done, but some are not.  The costuming and the sets are very complex and should be applauded when the small budget is considered.  The overarching issue with Pendragon’s production is the large amount of poorly overdubbed lines that are inserted into many outdoor scenes.  Overall, in their debut film, the Burns crew has shown that they have a lot of potential and can do even better with more funding.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

The plot of Pendragon is extremely complex.  In a noble effort to avoid narration, there are a lot of understated elements that need to be explored more.  Though the film is over two hours, it could have been longer due to the sheer amount of content that is portrayed.  Multiple characters have interesting arcs that need to be further developed.  This is not a simple action plot, as it is filled with twists and turns.  The ending is justified due to its historical genre.  Overall, the driving point of the film needs to be better highlighted and the plot needs to be expanded, if at all possible.  Once again, this is difficult to do without proper funding, and Box Office Revolution feels that Burns did the best they could with what they had.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

This is the most detracting element of the movie.  If the acting was improved, this movie would greatly improve.  It is evident that many of the main actors are members of the production crew and that this is their first major acting venture.  While there is little to no acting coaching and the best actor has a very small role in the film, they must once again be given clemency, given that they had little money to work with.

Conclusion

Pendragon has a mammoth potential, enough to be a two-part epic movie or multi-part miniseries, due to its highly complex plot and untapped character arcs.  But alas, poor funding often derails great intentions in the world of independent Christian film-making.  However, the good news is that Burns did not settle for less in their sophomore film, Beyond the Mask, which indicates that we can expect even greater things from them in the near future.  The Christian movie scene desperately needs studios like the Burns, who will flip the script and bring new genres of Christian films to the table.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

Beyond the Mask (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

William Reynolds is not a good man.  As an unofficial contracted ‘enforcer’ for the East India Company, he has committed many undocumented international crimes.  That’s why his boss, Charles Kemp, enlists him and his partner to steal and replace an incriminating Parliamentary report that could shut down the entire company for unethical business practices.  However, after this mission is complete, William intends to put his criminal life behind him.  Little does he know that Kemp has other plans for him.  After secretly surviving a failed attempt on his life, Reynolds is forced to take on the identity of the man who foiled the murder—a young vicar headed to a local parish.  It seems easy until Reynolds must fabricate a knowledge of the Scriptures and come to grips with his newfound love for a local girl who has no idea who he really is.  What Reynolds learns is that life in hiding is anything but straightforward, especially during the tumultuous political times of pre-Revolutionary War England and America.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

Burns Family Studios did an excellent job on the production of this adventure epic movie, including camera work, special effects, and historical costuming.  It would have been very easy for this type of large scope movie to be cheaply produced, but this was not the case.  The editing must have been very tricky, given the time that the movie covers, but it is done fairly well.  There are virtually no errors here.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

However, the same cannot be said about the plot.  Box Office Revolution believes talented writer Paul McCusker bit off more than he could chew with this historical epic.  The movie covers at least two years of highly important content, and it walks the line of being too fast paced and being just good enough.  In some respects, the plot moves too fast to develop the characters, but in other respects, it is a very exciting movie full of intriguing plot twists.  It is creatively woven around historical events, yet BOR wonders if Mask should have been two movies or even a miniseries.  At the same time, BOR realizes that money is always an issue with independent Christian films, so it is likely that McCusker and Burns Family Studios did the best they could with what they had.  In short, the only real errors in this aspect of the movie are the fast paced plot and some small yet unrealistic action scenes.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Andrew Cheney and Jon Ryhs-Davies are obviously well-seasoned actors, and they are coached well.  However, the ‘amateur’ actors are also coached very well.  BOR noted that staff positions on the production of this movie were devoted to acting coaching, something that other Christian productions need to take note of.  There are virtually no acting errors in Beyond the Mask.

Conclusion

In short, there are two ways of looking at Beyond the Mask, much like the masks of William Reynolds.  Either McCusker and Burns Family Studios did the best with what they had or they did not do enough.  BOR chooses to adopt a position in between these two options.  Beyond the Mask is clearly above average and Paul McCusker has always been known as an excellent story writer.  The movie is a breath of fresh air in the Christian movie industry and has made BOR very excited to see the future movies of Paul McCusker and Burns Family Studios.

 

Final Rating: 7.5 out of 10 points