Annoying Misplaced Criticisms of Christian Movies
By Dr. Ted Baehr, Publisher
There are many valid critical standards to use in critiquing movies, including Christian movies. MOVIEGUIDE® has 150 criteria, including aesthetics, semantics, syntactics, ontology, worldview, etc.
Almost every major group or belief system makes its own types of movies, such as libertarians, socialists, sexual groups, philosophic groups, national groups, Hispanic, French, German, and so forth. So, to point out the flaws only in Christian movies is silly thing to do So, to point out flaws only in Christian movies while ignoring or downplaying similar elements in other films is a silly thing to do.
Furthermore, some approaches to filmmaking and other forms of entertainment and communication, including those works by Christians, almost beg for criticism, such as: vanity videos and movies which are just a device to promote the filmmaker or star, such as too many political ads which never deal with the issues and platforms but just puff the candidate (Michael Moore seems to be producing more and more vanity videos); make-believe mission, such as Al Gore’s filmmaking forays into filmmaking, which try to expose or promote a cause to a mass audience, but reach only the true believers and turn off most of the audience (political ads on the wrong platforms fall into this category too); and, preaching to the pocketbook, which includes environmentalist movies, political movies and many others that are in reality just fundraising devices (emails often tease the reader with a crisis or critical issue and then turn into fundraising appeals, or preaching to the reader’s pocket book).
Even so, apart from these movies, entertainment and ads that are self-serving and too easy to criticize, here are some of the common types of misconceptions and misplaced criticisms a few critics, academics and other people make towards Christian movies that should not be made.
There’s a misconception that movies and other products of the mass media of entertainment are art. Some are, but most are not. The entertainment industry is a $100 billion a year business that appeals to people’s emotions to get their hard-earned money. Thus, in the 1930s, the IRS asked the Writers Guild of America, the most liberal guild in Hollywood, whether they wanted to be classified as an art or a business. The WGA said they wanted to be considered as a business to get all the government benefits and protections.
When filmmakers are focusing more on the movie or entertainment as art, then, they usually do not succeed. Several Hollywood filmmaking friends will produce box office entertainment and then do a little movie or streamer to exercise their artistic vision.
I will now go over some of the minor misconceptions that follow from the previous art misconception, which contends that filmmaking is just about the art of it.
Another misconception is that anything in the name of art is acceptable. Hitler employed art and was a master of using the entertainment media to weaponize the German culture. Art per se is not truth, but often art lies and often does neither, lie or tell the truth. There are some movies that tend toward art, such as TREE OF LIFE, which has many beautiful artistic shots but very little dialog. Almost all movies have a blend of artistic, emotional and communicative elements. Most movies and other entertainment just use communicative elements and artistic elements to enhance the money-making value of the product.
Also, critics and academics should not be set art apart as a holy object to be worshipped.
Furthermore, to criticize Christian filmmakers for making movies aimed at the audience’s emotions and desires is hypocritical unless the critic is going to use the same standard for every movie and entertainment product.
Another group of misconceptions comes out of the increasing Christophobia inside and outside the church. In this regard, people criticizing Christian movies get livid when you bring up a biblical perspective, apologize when the name of Jesus is used in reverence, and complain about evangelistic storylines. They say the movies are too on the nose, but many movies, even big blockbuster movies, are on the nose. FINDING NEMO is about finding nemo. Most animated movies are intentionally on the nose.
A friend of mine who was head of distribution at a major studio pointed out that the movie industry makes a wide variety of movies, some are geared towards romance movies that follow predictable patterns, some for the Asian audience that follow a predictable patterns, and some for the African American audience that follow a predictable patterns. During World War II, there were many propagandistic patriotic movies (my father the movie star starred in some of them made by Hollywood for the war department), and some of these movies are now considered masterpieces.
To compare any of these targeted audience movies, including Christian movies, to blockbusters produced for a broad audience is comparing apples to oranges, to compare the blockbusters to arthouse or foreign movies, some of which are great, is comparing apples to oranges.
Another group of misconceptions and misplaced criticisms arises from a lack of knowledge about the history of the Entertainment Industry.
Many people may not know, but from 1897 to 1915, many movies were Passion Plays, Nativity stories, evangelistic movies, and morality stories. (Please read THE SILENTS OF GOD). Also, many of the blockbusters during the Golden Age of Hollywood were overtly Christian movies, such as KING OF KINGS, QUO VADIS, A MAN CALLED PETER, BEN-HUR, and hundreds of others.
There were also Christian production companies from the beginning of the movies, such as Cathedral Films, the Episcopal Radio TV Foundation, the Lutherans, the Methodists, and many more who produced movies for their particular denominational audiences.
Some of these filmmakers produced great television and movies, including Ken Curtis, who produced SHADOWLANDS for the BBC and Shorty Yeaworth, who produced, among many other movies, the hilarious THE GOSPEL BLIMP and the famous 1950s science fiction movie THE BLOB, which is an Christian allegory.
Another source of misconceptions and misplaced criticisms comes from movie critics who blindly follow the effete reviews of the not-so-elite so-called major critics. These critics are also often led astray by the academic world of film education, which often consists of professors who never made it in the movie industry. Many of these academics and critics are clearly trying to influence the entertainment industry to make more movies more artistic which would doom them to fail at the box office. They claim the broad audience movies are not deep if they don’t have sex, violence and foul language, but when it is pointed out that many of the deepest movies, such as IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, are concerned with very profound topics such as suicide but don’t have sex or violence, they are at a loss.
Finally, we must remember, every type of organization, or belief, makes its own types of movies. A quick look at the Writers Guild website will see that there are hundreds of advocacy group trying to influence Hollywood. Lately in the news, Planned Parenthood has claimed responsibility and partial financing of some movies, which we must point out were very mediocre such as NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS. Scientology spends millions trying to influence Hollywood, and these products, such as BATTLESHIP EARTH also have been extraordinarily mediocre. There are also corporations like Coca Cola and Pepsi who try to influence the entertainment industry. Different divisions of the military do too. Muslims, gays and many others have offices in Hollywood. Watching their movies, such as the gay BEACH RATS, or the pro-Muslim KINGDOM OF HEAVEN, are often more cringe worthy than watching even a mediocre Christian movie.
Whether anybody really cares not to indulge in pseudo-intellectual, sophomoric criticism is anybody’s guess. The secular press may continue to criticize Christians employing the full palette of these misconceptions and misplaced criticism while they continue to laud movies from other worldviews, even ignoring those movies’ mediocre artistic and aesthetic elements.
As long as this occurs, MOVIEGUIDE® will try to help you avoid the misconceptions so you can enjoy the Christian movies. Also we like to encourage Christian filmmakers to make great movies that reach people with the Gospel by teaching HOW TO SUCCEED IN HOLLYWOOD (WITHOUT LOSING YOUR SOUL) and by promoting movies and entertainment with faith and values.