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.

 

Though None Go With Me (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Elizabeth LeRoy grew up in a small town in the 1950s, but she considered her life to be boring.  That is, until the new young pastor came to town and began spending a lot of time with her.  They eventually fell in love, but as they were engaged, he was called off to fight in the Korean War.  Elizabeth waits for him, but when her father dies and she receives word of the death of her fiancé, she feels like she has no choice but to ask her lifelong friend Will for help.  With everything seemingly falling apart, will she be able to follow God’s plan for her life?

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Made in the era of collaboration among Larry Levinson, Hallmark, and Fox Faith, Through None Go With Me is clearly a quality production.  Video quality and camera work reflect this professionalism, as do historically authentic sets and locations.  Audio quality is fine, except for the stock Hallmark soundtrack.  There is really nothing negative to highlight here except for some editing problems, mostly pertaining to excessive time jumps.  But overall, this is a great effort.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Based on Jerry Jenkins’ novel, the film is mostly fine, though there is a slightly altered plot.  However, since there are excessive time jumps, there is too much content that is passed over due to there being too much to start with.  Thus, information dump dialogue replaces natural plot progression.  Narration also serves as a crutch to bridge the gaps.  Everything is far too rushed as the story just hits the high points.  Character development is left in the dust as dialogue is empty and trite.  However, the plot does portray a somewhat realistic progression of life, even if the ending is slightly predictable.  In the end, it’s great to base films off of books, but don’t do it in such a way that the original point is lost.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Though None Go With Me is a pretty standard early 2000s Hallmark casting job.  As such, there are plenty of good elements but others that weigh it down.  Some acting is effective while some of it is overdone, forced, or lazy.  Also, some costuming and makeup are unrealistic, another typical Hallmark pitfall.  But overall, this portion is pretty average.

Conclusion

Jerry Jenkins is a gifted writer, and thus, his stories should be portrayed on the big screen.  But they should not be done in this fashion, so that they are compressed and chopped up in pursuit of fitting into a comfortable ninety-minute, made-for-TV runtime.  A life epic cannot unfold like this and characters cannot be developed properly in this time span.  So when bringing novels to life, consider that you might need to do so in two parts, not all at once.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

Midnight Clear [2006] (Movie Review)

Hold on, it's another movie calling
Hold on, it’s another movie calling

Plot Summary

Lefty is a drunken no-account who has been fired from his job, is living in his car, and is going through a divorce.  Desperate for money, he begins planning a robbery.  Eva is a shut-in widow who feels like no one in the world cares about her or would miss her if she died.  Kirk owns a convenience store but feels like he’s not making a difference in the world.  Mary is left raising her son alone when her husband has a car accident that leaves his brain permanently damaged.  Mitch is a youth pastor who is tired of going through the motions and wants to impact someone’s life for God.  All of these stories intersect at Christmastime and learn valuable lessons.

 

Production Quality (0 points)

With just under a million dollars spent on this work, there is no reason why it is so poor, but it is.  The video quality is grainy and the camera angles are awkward.  The audio quality is poor and the soundtrack is stock Christmas stuff.  The sets and locations are cheap with nothing special about them.  With so many subplots to juggle, the editing is not very good as it chooses to waste time on blank and empty scenes.  Essentially, there is really not much to say here because the production is so empty and disappointing.  This should have been way better than this for the money spent on it.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

As previously mentioned, there are too many subplots in this storyline, therefore they are disjointed and do not flow together well.  They are all just crammed into the film for the sake of making the film long enough.  Due to the number of them, character development is left by the wayside; we barely get to know any of these people as the movie jumps from one subplot to another.  This leaves the characters flat, supported by uninspiring and boring dialogue.  Also, to connect some of the subplots together, odd coincidences are employed to give it that Christmas-miracle-feel.  While there are some slightly interesting ideas here, there is no heart behind them.  There are too many off-the-wall elements present that come off as abrasive.  The ending is predictable and leaves much to be desired.  In short, Midnight Clear was a half-idea forced to happen because Christmas, of course.

Acting Quality (0 points)

With a small cast of people that have at least an average amount of talent (not sure about Stephen Baldwin), Midnight Clear is supported entirely by its actors and actresses.  However, with no acting coaching, this is not a good thing.  While there are no glaring acting errors, everything about the acting is just like the rest of the film: flat and boring.  There are little to no believable emotions and line delivery is pedestrian.  I suppose that description pretty much sums up the movie.

Conclusion

Of all the Jerry B. Jenkins stories to bring to the big screen, one of the most obscure and boring was chosen.  There are better choices that have nothing to do with holiday cheer.  While the message behind Midnight Clear has some substance to it, this is not conveyed properly in the film.  This one either needed a serious rework in pre-production or it needed to be abandoned altogether.  Just having another cheap Christmas movie on the market is not what this world needs.

 

Final Rating: 0 out of 10 points

 

Hometown Legend [2002] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

In a struggling small town in rural Alabama, a high school is struggling in many ways, not only financially, but also emotionally.  But now that a famous football coach is back in town to revive the team, locals have a new reason to hope.  A teenager running from home finds sanctuary in this town as he uses his work ethic to get onto the football team in route to turning his life around via a university football scholarship.  But when trouble strikes again, the townspeople will have to decide whether or not they will give up or rise up.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

With a modest budget behind it, Hometown Legend certainly spent the money pretty well.  Sports movies have to be able to nail the action shots and the outside scenes, and this film does that, including respectable camera work.  As usual, the video quality and audio quality both pass the test.  The soundtrack is a bit too pedestrian and borderline Hallmark; this is something that needed a change.  Another common theme in these types of films is weak editing, and Hometown Legend also has this attribute.  A movie like this one needs a strong edit, and this simply does not happen, as some scenes carry on longer than they should while others are underdeveloped.  In short, Hometown Legend is a very average film in pretty much every way.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

While Jerry B. Jenkins’ original novel is memorable, the film adaptation does not capture its authenticity.  Where the characters are down to earth in the book, they fail to be in the movie.  The underdevelopment of these characters is likely due to the number of flat scenes throughout the film.  The storyline of Hometown Legend is neither cheesy nor dynamic—it’s very static and safe.  A plot like this one needed to have an abstract yet down-to-earth feel to it, but it does not.  It’s too generic and does not stand out in a crowded genre.  There aren’t enough plot twists and the ending is anti-climactic.  In short, where this plot could have been great, it falls short.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

This movie is cast fairly well; people are placed in appropriate positions.  Emotions are fairly believable and line delivery is pretty good.  However, in keeping with the other aspects of this film, there is really nothing dynamic here, even though there could have been.  This is really the theme of the movie.

Conclusion

Hometown Legend portrays the simplicity of small town life in Alabama—with a stereotypical diner and a high school football team to cheer for.  It lives up to its simple message in every way, with a simple production, a simple storyline, and simple acting.  There’s nothing wrong with simple.  In fact, simple can be groundbreaking and profound.  However, this movie is a little too simple and does not touch the authentic thread that it needed to.  Many will find it enjoyable and it’s not half bad, but we would love to see a remake, because it can definitely be greater than this.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 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

 

Left Behind 2: Tribulation Force [2002] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

With the world still reeling from the Rapture, those left behind who became Christians band together to form what they call a Tribulation Force to stand against the forces of evil.  Their leader, Bruce, encourages each of them to not hide from the new evil world but to find a way to reach other for Christ in it.  Rayford struggles with a decision to pilot the plane of Nicolae Carpathia, the suspected antichrist.  Buck Williams chases down a story regarding a messianic prophecy expert and two mysterious men at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.  In the strange new world they live in, they also discover everyday struggles and the realization that following Jesus is no longer easy.

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

The second installment of the original Left Behind series is a low point.  While video quality and camera work are okay, there are a host of other production errors.  Special effects are cheesy, especially when it comes to action scenes.  Many scenes have very poor lighting.  The sets and locations are pretty good, but they are littered with cheap looking props.  The soundtrack is pedestrian.  Furthermore, the editing is very sub-par and fails to cut down quite a few long and drawn out scenes that drain the viewer’s attention span.  Essentially, not much effort was put into this creation.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Once again, for an apocalyptic thriller, there’s not much apocalyptic or thrilling about Tribulation Force.  The film takes a very melancholy tone, choosing to spend time on silly conflicts like lover’s spats and peripheral character issues.  There is little central focus as the plot meanders from job decisions to church services to turning the church into a hospital to chasing leads in the Middle East.  There is also not enough suspense or plot twists as the monotone dialogue centers on theological discussions and information dumps.  There are attempts at twists and psychological\spiritual elements, but they fall flat.  There are too many one-dimensional characters that are juggled and we can’t really get to know any of them.  Like its predecessor, Tribulation Force just gets ready for the inevitable next film without giving the viewer any reason to watch it except for the book series popularity.  The actual end of the plot is quite cheesy and non-suspenseful.  In short, if you missed this film, you didn’t miss much.

Acting Quality (1 point)

At least they returned all the same cast members.  I hate it when movie franchises try to change out actors and actresses and pretend you didn’t notice.  There is slight improvement among this cast and Kirk Cameron delivers arguably one of his best career acting performances.  My how time has flown.  This cast could have actually been great with better coaching.  Alas, what could have been.

Conclusion

Unfortunately, John Patus and company elected to follow the standard Hollywood path of bringing a popular book franchise to the big screen and relied on the series’ popularity to carry it.  There is little reason for this film to even exist except for the fact that it needed to for the series to continue.  If you skipped to the third film, you didn’t miss anything in this one.  This is the central problem to movie sagas: each one needs to be a good movie by itself without the other ones holding it up.  There are few who have gotten this right.

 

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points

 

Left Behind [2000] (Movie Review)

Kirk Cameron, the early years
Kirk Cameron, the early years

Plot Summary

In an instant, millions vanish all around the world, causing the planet to descend into chaos as planes go down, cars drive into buildings, and unrest erupts everywhere.  Pilot Rayford Steele finds nearly half of his plane’s manifest (haha) missing.  Reporter Buck Williams is on the flight at the time and believes it has something to do with the vast globalist conspiracy he has uncovered.  As order dissipates around the globe and as many theories are posited as to what happened to those who disappeared, those still remaining look for a world leader who can bring global peace to the chaos.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

As a late 90s\early 2000s production, the original Left Behind film has many of the marks of this era of filmmaking.  Opening credits sequences were common back then, but they weren’t ever justified.  The video quality and camera work are fairly well produced.  However, action scenes are not filmed or produced very well and include poorly crafted CGI and other special effects.  Kirk Cameron provides some slight yet unwanted narration throughout the film.  Elsewhere, location subtitles from JAG are awkwardly inserted and the soundtrack is cheap.  Finally, the editing is pretty good, but as will be discussed next, there is too much content to cover and not enough continuity.  In short, this ‘classic’ Christian film has some good quality, but not enough.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Based on the blockbuster apocalyptic fiction series by popular authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, the original Left Behind film is not without its plot errors.  The premise is trumped up, lacking a touch of realism, but this may get a pass since it was based on the international politics of 15+ years ago.  The movie is focused on big world-changing issues, but they come off as simplistic and not groundbreaking enough.  The creators perhaps took on more than they could handle as many subplots are juggled throughout.  While it’s commendable for this early film to take on a new genre in Christian film (apocalyptic), the plot lacks the intrigue necessary to make it great.  For example, there are too many slow and melodramatic scenes—the storyline is anti-climactic and contains to many convenient occurrences.  The dialogue is full of information dumps that overemphasize apocalyptic elements.  This builds empty characters that are swept along by the plot and are thrown together for no particular reason.  On a positive note, the climax scene at the end is slightly interesting and well-crafted.  But overall, this first installment spends too much time getting ready for the next film and not enough time building the characters and a realistic apocalyptic landscape.

Acting Quality (0 points)

Apocalyptic action movies require dynamic acting, but this cast lacks this quality.  Line delivery is stiff and not engaging.  Emotions are overdone and too dramatic.  Kirk Cameron is a better actor than he is of late, but that’s not saying much.  In short, there’s not enough positive here.

Conclusion

This was definitely a groundbreaking Christian film that brought a popular Christian novel series to the big screen.  It was a hit, since the Christian market was starved for quality.  However, this does not mean it was a great film.  It had a lot of good ideas behind it, but not enough quality to back them up.  They had an amazing budget for the time, but it seems like it was mostly squandered.  Needless to say, the old is just marginally better than the new.

 

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points

 

Left Behind [2014] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

All Rayford Steele really cares about is his job as a pilot.  He’s disillusioned with his family due to his wife’s Christian faith and due to his daughter’s growing absence.  That’s why he’s buried himself in his work, overlooking the fact that both his wife and his daughter desperately want to see him again, as does his son.  After briefly reuniting with his daughter, Ray’s job once again takes in a different direction.  Chloe Steele returns home only to conflict with her mother over Christianity.  But before any of them can reconcile, a global tragedy rocks their worlds.  Before long, they realize that their lives will never be the same and they must grapple with the bigger questions they have been ignoring all along.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

The production of this Left Behind redo is the only remotely positive element.  However, the only good aspect of the production is the semi-decent camera work, including average angles and video quality.  However, the movie is also replete with cheap action sequences and poor special effects.  The soundtrack is a stock suspense score.  The editing is confusing, cutting in and out of scenes for no particular reason.  There are also a number of stupid jump scares that give the movie a very odd feel.  Unfortunately, the weirdness doesn’t end there.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Where to start?  The dialogue is among the worst, ranging from Christian clichés to action-adventure clichés to isolating technical lingo.  Thus, the characters are either bland or unbearable.  Also, there are a number of unnecessary characters that only seem to fill time in the already too-long story.  Besides all of this, there is unsolicited profanity and suggestive content throughout.  Overall, the plot line is aimless as it jumps from one trumped up action scene to the next and fills the rest in with wasted time, just trying to set up for a sequel.  There is no driving point as the movie drags on, making the viewer want to get to the end as quickly as possible.

Addendum: With John Patus involved in both movies, this new version of Left Behind is basically the same plot as The Mark.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

A word of advice: never cast Nicolas Cage for an action movie.  Some of the other actors are not awful, but overall, the delivery of lines is vanilla and unconvincing.  Jordin Sparks is a decent actor and deserves a second chance.  Moreover, there wasn’t much to work with, but the acting just gives the movie an overall B-grade feel.

Conclusion

The creators of this new Left Behind won a court battle with Tim LaHaye over using his concepts in a different way.  Box Office Revolution has to wonder why they couldn’t just create their own characters, but we can affirmatively say that winning the copyright way did not pay off.  This movie was really not worth making in any sense.  The creators now blame everything on ‘Hollywood taking away the Christian message.’  BOR holds that this is not the whole truth.  All that has been proven in this movie is that independent Christian films, except for the few exceptions, continue to contribute to their negative reputation by rolling out more and more unnecessary movies.  A word of advice: if you don’t have the budget for and\or a lot of constructive critical feedback on your movie, then don’t make it.

 

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points