Hidden Places [2006] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Eliza Wyatt, a young frontier widow, is still trying to pick up the pieces after her husband died and left her and her two children with an apple farm to run.  She has no one to turn to except her wise friend Aunt Batty, that is, until a mysterious hobo named Gabe Harper suddenly appears on her land.  Thanks to Aunt Batty, Gabe begins working on the tree farm despite Eliza’s suspicions of him.  But little by little, she begins to open up her heart to both Gabe and God as time starts to run out for her farm.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Hallmark has rarely shirked their responsibility to craft quality productions, but Hidden Places is a step above the norm for them.  Video quality and camera work are flawless.  Audio quality is great, although the soundtrack is stock.  Most importantly, outdoor scenes are filmed well in authentically historical sets and locations.  Props are also authentic.  Really the only complaint to raise here pertains to editing, as there are too many useless scenes while some seems are cut too short.  Otherwise, this is a respectable production that should be the norm in Christian film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Lynn Austin is clearly one of the best Christian authors in the field, yet Hidden Places is not her best book.  While this film correctly captures her undeniable character development and great dialogue it’s still a stereotypical save-the-farm plot combined with a frontier romance story involving a young widow.  However, the viewer can appreciate the struggles of the characters and their deep back stories, as well as this film’s strong Christian message.  Yet the plot is still based on too many coincidences.  There is some missing off-screen content as the story rushes through some parts while lagging at others.  Finally, the end is too predictable and simplistic compared to the rest of the plot.  In short, while this is a mostly enjoyable movie, it seems like it could have been more.

Acting Quality (2 points)

This is a professional cast compared to other Hallmark frontier casts, mostly because costuming is kept realistic and low-key.  Emotions are believable and line delivery is on point.  The child actors and actresses are better than usual.  However, this cast is held back from being all that it could be by too much mediocrity.  In the end, it is a great effort, but once again, it seems like there could have been more.

Conclusion

Cramming the depth of Lynn Austin characters and storylines into ninety minutes for the sake of a TV movie simply does not work.  Though she is clearly a talented writer, she needs to be unleashed from the confines of Hallmark and her plots need to be allowed to unfold progressively rather than forcefully to stay within the allotted runtime.  However, there’s no denying that Hidden Places is an enjoyable film and many will find it so.  But next time, please please please choose a different Lynn Austin novel (see our Box Office Wish List column 😉 to bring to the big screen and let it be all that it’s meant to be without confining it.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

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Love Takes Wing (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Following the tragic death of her husband, Belinda Simpson travels to a small town in Missouri to both visit her medical school friend and to become the town’s doctor.  However, the townspeople do not know what to think about having a woman doctor.  Also, Belinda discovers that the town is currently embroiled in a cholera epidemic that they cannot seem to control.  Teaming up with a local blacksmith she might be falling for, Belinda also feels compassion for an orphan girl who reminds her of herself at that age.  In the face of adversity, Belinda must stand up and fight for what she believes in.

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

With an entirely different production team, the Love Comes Softly saga takes a different turn and loses its original intent to put a good face on poorly constructed plots.  There is a significant drop in production quality, with barely average video quality, unprofessional camera work, poor lighting, and inconsistent sound quality.  Props and costuming become obviously cheap in Love Takes Wing.  Historical authenticity hovers around the same level it has been throughout the latter half of the franchise.  The only thing that keeps the production from being terrible is the okay editing and the fact that the whole thing could really be worse.  At this point, with the complete departure of Michael Landon Jr., it is extremely obvious that Hallmark is just fulfilling a contract or some type of commitment to force movies bearing titles of Janette Oke books to happen.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

It has been stressed throughout this series of reviews that Hallmark and company took great creative license with Oke’s original plots, but Love Takes Wing hits a new low by replicating the basic plot structure of Love’s Unending Legacy.  This structure is as follows: the female lead’s husband from the previous film dies between movies, prompting the female lead to move to a different town, where she finds a widespread conflict to solve with a new broken male lead she will marry in the end after an empty and meaningless courtship.  Also, the female lead adopts an orphan girl.  At this point, it’s painfully obvious that Hallmark is addicted to itself and to its obsession for creating empty romances and courtships that inevitably end in a ‘fairytale’ wedding before the audience can even determine whether or not their basically empty marriage will even last (essentially, that’s the state of marriage in America).  But I digress.  In short, there’s really nothing else to discuss here—overtly copied plots get automatic zero points, especially when it’s contained within the same movie saga.

Acting Quality (1 point)

On a more positive note, the acting quality slighting improves in this installment.  The costuming and makeup is not so extravagant.  Dale Midkiff’s absence is refreshing.  However, there are still obvious problems, such as the poor Belinda replacement.  If you’re going to replace an actress, at least try to keep some measure of continuity so the audience doesn’t have to guess who’s who.  Overall, the acting isn’t really that great in Takes Wing, which warrants another low score.

Conclusion

It should be noted that avid Love Comes Softly didn’t even fully enjoy Love Takes Wing.  Hallmark apparently thinks people want to see the same exact plot over and over again.  In our opinion, production companies should think better of their audiences and not dumb entertainment down to such levels.  As the Love Comes Softly series sputters to an end, we offer this advice to Christian film-makers: please, please, please be original with your plots.  God has given us creativity, let’s use it wisely.

 

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points