Movies: You Get What You Pay for
- Thursday, November 04, 2004
"You get what you pay for." This message was indelibly imprinted on my brain as a child by my father every time I purchased something cheap that broke shortly after bringing it home.
When people continually purchase shoddy products, they not only suffer disappointment, they ensure that the manufacturers will keep churning them out. So the flip side of my father's message was that if you invested in quality you could assure that quality goods would continue to be made. If only Christians would apply that principle to Hollywood.
I just returned from seeing a charming, moving, beautiful film that was filled with biblical themes and imagery – hints of the Book of Esther, the redemptive power of friendship, how the sins of the fathers are visited on the sons, the parable of the persistent widow, and the coming of the Sovereign to make things right. Would you like to see a movie like that? Would you really?
As someone whose job it is to see movies, imagine my excitement when I stumbled upon "Her Majesty" – an independent family film with good lessons for adults and a fistful of festival awards. Set in New Zealand in the 1950s, it tells the story of Elizabeth, a 12-year-old girl who so desperately longs for the Queen of England to visit her rural town that she embarks on a relentless letter-writing campaign to convince her to come. But not everyone in the town views themselves as a loyal subject.
An old Maori woman, Hira Mata, lives in a tumbledown house, and is ignorantly shunned by local children as a witch, and purposefully shunned by the rest of the town as an embarrassment. She has her own reasons for loathing the Sovereign. Through a turn of events, Elizabeth befriends Hira and discovers secrets, long-buried, that demand amendment. To tell you any more would ruin it. I want you to wonder. Not just about the film, but to wonder if you'll ever get to see it.
When major studios market blockbuster-budgeted films adapted from books by Christian authors – "Lord of the Rings" – or sold directly by the church (can anybody say, "The Passion"?) Christians will turn out in droves. The rest of the time, many Christians will sit around smugly agreeing with each other that there is nothing worth seeing at the movies. They say that they long for films with great stories – films that represent moral virtue, where good wins over evil, with dialogue clean enough for the family..
But when "The Winslow Boy," a G-rated film about the importance of truth, honor, and family by award-winning filmmaker David Mamet opened in 1999, it grossed just under $4 million for its entire run. To put this in perspective, "Team America: World Police" – the unrelentingly vulgar marionette "comedy" – grossed over $12 million in its opening weekend.
Christians wish that they could see movies like "Her Majesty" – but they need to do more than wish, they need to pay for it. Unfortunately, you may not get the opportunity unless you, like little Elizabeth, are very persistent. The micro-marketing budget of small, but great, films like "Her Majesty" means that they cannot compete for screens against major studio releases. The only way they get a chance is through film festivals and consumer demand.
Eight months before "The Passion of the Christ" was released, I spoke with a Hollywood insider who lamented that Mel Gibson would probably have to rent out four theaters in major cities to show his film because no distributor would touch it. They said it was going to be a career-killer.
Through strong word of mouth, and by patrons approaching theater managers and demanding a chance to see "The Passion," it opened on over 3,000 screens and became the top-grossing R-rated film of all time. Now I am told that Hollywood is interested in making other "faith-friendly" films. Imagine that. You get what you pay for.
When I was a kid there was nearly always something "family friendly" playing at the theater. What can you do to make sure that great quality family films are available to you? If you live in Florida see "Her Majesty" – it opens November 12 – and take a friend. Tell everyone you know about the film if you liked what you saw. If you live elsewhere, or far from a city screening the film, contact your local theater managers and tell them that you would like to see movies like "Her Majesty."
Go to the film's website – www.hermajestythemovie.com – and get information, to share with friends, on the film and the cities where it is being screened. If you can get a group together that wants to go (the bigger, the more persuasive) let the manager know. If theater owners believe that local people will support the film and pay, then they will get it – in every sense of that term.
The cinema is telling us the stories of our culture. Some of these stories are dangerous and damaging, and we must prepare to give a good answer. Other tales embody Kingdom principles, sometimes unintentionally, or at least point in that direction.
Pastors, lay leaders, and culturally-aware Christians need to learn to identify these movie moments, explain their effectiveness, and use them as inroads for discussions of the Gospel and the Christian life. If we achieve that goal, we ensure that the opportunity to use film as a framework for talking about Jesus extends long beyond the cinematic run of "The Passion of the Christ." But if we want that opportunity, we will have to vote with our wallets.
Marc T. Newman, Ph.D. (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the president of MovieMinistry.com) -- an organization that provides sermon and teaching illustrations from popular film, and helps the Church use movies to reach out to others and connect with people.
© 2004 AgapePress. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
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