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This week, television and film studios showed an admirable sense of reverence, appropriateness, and responsibility by postponing and canceling the release of violent, destruction-filled movies out of respect for the nation's wounded state. (Makes sense to me: When someone has broken bones, it's probably unwise to invite them to a playful bout of wrestling.) Meanwhile, 8x Entertainment went ahead and released the apocalyptic Christian movie Megiddo: The Omega Code 2. Some theatre owners refused to show the film, concerned that vivid imagery of stylized violence and war in the Middle East might be unsuitable entertainment for audiences in the wake of September 11. But in the places where it was shown, Megiddo, which was funded by Trinity Broadcasting, had the highest per-screen average of any movie released this week.
At the studio's official site, producer Matthew Crouch defended his decision to release the film
So as to be sensitive to a grieving nation, we have examined the possibility of delaying the release of Megiddo. After much staff prayer and consultation with pastors, we are convinced that we must stay on schedule to release Megiddo around the world. The overwhelming consensus is that we are releasing a movie containing an answer to the question that we did not even know would be asked. … Who could have foreseen that it would be a motion picture that rallies the resiliency and determination of the American people in the midst of catastrophe?
Critical responses failed to support Crouch's claim that Megiddo is rallying "the resiliency and determination of the American people." Mainstream critics almost ignored the film. John Monaghan's review at The Detroit Free Press and The Seattle Times writes, "While devoid of graphic violence and sex, Megiddo is just as pandering to its own demographic. It's an action movie by the numbers, though in this case the numbers are chapter and verse from the book of Revelations."
Megiddo introduces us to a boy named Stone (as in "a heart of … ") who is chosen by the devil to be the "vessel" of evil. He matures into an Antichrist and a strong candidate for Dictator of the World, drawing nations into his influence so he can conquer the world. There's a problem, though. His brother is the Vice-President of the U.S. and the leader of the opposition. So the brothers' political and spiritual face-off sets up Armageddon, which plays out as a spectacular conflict in the Middle East.
In spite of the film's emphasis on biblical prophecy, religious media reviewers were divided. Preview's John Evans concludes, "Audiences are likely to be mesmerized by this Biblical-themed action thriller. Megiddo proves that PG-13 films can be produced which are acceptable for teens and adults." Likewise, Holly McClure at The Dove Foundation raves, "While it may not compare (in some areas) to the bigger budgeted films, it still delivers a story with a convincing (and sometimes convicting) spiritual message. In light of the recent, tragic war on America, that message seems more plausible than ever before."
But some conservative Christian media sites are a bit taken aback by the release. "One wonders … whether Christians should be releasing this kind of movie at this time," says a critic at Movieguide. "Do we really need to whip up fanatical support for ill-conceived American interference in Middle Eastern politics?" The reviewer spells out ways in which the film falls short: "The biggest problem … is with the script's mostly uninspiring dialogue and awkward, hurried dramatic structure. The amateurish script drags down the characterization and drama inherent in the basic story. Still, Megiddo plainly shows that victory over evil is best achieved when people turn to God. In fact, the scenes demonstrating the power of God in times of great need are among the best scenes in the movie."
Movie Parables' Michael Elliott found Megiddo better than its predecessor, The Omega Code, but faults an "unrealistic and unlearned view of how governments function. The actions of this particular president and his cabinet are beyond ridiculous … even for a film of the action/adventure genre to which Megiddo aspires." While Elliott finds the good-overcomes-evil resolution to be heartening in the middle of current events, he doubts the film will have much to say beyond the bounds of the faithful. "Megiddo appears to be made for those who already believe. It's a matter of preaching to the choir. And when all is said and done, what's wrong with that?"
Plenty, according to Doug Cummings, who hosts Chiaroscuro's film review and discussion board. In a recent chat about Megiddo, he remarks on the increasing number of church-funded movies. "I'd rather see Christians make meaningful films for everyone rather than forge movies within a subculture surrounding questionable interpretations of Scripture promoted within a network of churches. Think about it: Christians spent $17 million dollars on Left Behind. What else could have been done with that kind of money? How else might organized Christians have touched the needs of the world? I think we need to move away from marginalizing labels like 'Christian movies' and toward meaningful integration of spiritual values in art that reflects the world we all live and breathe in. It's not about budgets, it's not about labels—it's about making creative, meaningful art that can inspire and challenge everyone."
Steve Lansingh of The Film Forumjoined the conversation, "It seems to me that what Christians really want are a set of movies that they can feel 'safe' watching, just as you can get a set of CDs or listen to a station that has 'safe' Christian music. This is a horrible tendency. The Christian life is not about turning off your brain so you don't have to analyze anything or understand the world around you. This is the kind of approach to religion that allows it to be classified as the opiate of the masses."