TORONTO — “Do we really need another ‘Left Behind’?” This is the question some folks are asking of the next film installment of Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins’ widely read apocalyptic series.
Peter Lalonde was open and prepared for the query. Lalonde and his brother, Paul, are the founders of Cloud Ten Pictures, the Toronto-based company responsible for the movie versions.
“It’s a story that attracts believers and nonbelievers. Whenever you get a chance to make a movie you know is going to have a wide viewership, and you can have your message in it, you take that opportunity,” Peter Lalonde said.
“I think you’ll notice that it’s definitely the biggest film we’ve done,” he added. “There’s much more action and the story has more depth, as we had time to work on the script.”
And time they had. After the first two film installments, problems arose between the authors and the producers. Among other charges, the creators of the books, which are inspired by biblical prophecies, were dissatisfied with the distribution techniques Cloud Ten was utilizing.
The producers had decided to release the first picture on home video through mainly Christian outlets. They then banked on support from the religious community to help spread the word of the film’s follow-up theatrical debut a few months later. To help guarantee a grand opening weekend, two theater passes were included with the purchase of each video. This tactic raised many an eyebrow, but to some degree it worked, as the film left behind its competition opening weekend.
But, Lalonde said, “Future 'Left Behind' projects were tied up with legal problems for nearly two years. We did win the lawsuit. Everything was thrown out, though Tim LaHaye has appealed the decision. As a matter of fact, the claims against Cloud Ten never got to court. They were meritless and the court wouldn’t even look at them. But it cost us a great deal of money, and as filmmakers it was a very frustrating time."
“Left Behind: World War III,” scheduled for release later this year, is based on the last part of the book “Tribulation Force” by LaHaye and Jenkins. It picks up a year and a half after millions of people have vanished off the face of the earth, and the world is now controlled by Nicolae Carpathia (Gordon Currie), a self-proclaimed Messiah, and his One World Government. Like most of America, the president of the United States, as played by Louis Gossett Jr., wholeheartedly supports Nicolae’s global leadership. But after an attempt on his life, the president begins to suspect this new world order.
Journalist Buck Williams (Kirk Cameron from “Growing Pains” fame, reprising his earlier "Left Behind" role), who became a born-again Christian toward the end of the first film, believes that Nicolae is actually the prophesied Antichrist. With the aid of Buck and militia spy Carolyn Miller (Jessica Steen), the president uncovers this new government’s horrific plans for genocide and quickly joins the very resistance he had sacrificed so much to destroy.
“Christian-themed films have tended to be thinly disguised sermons,” Lalonde acknowledged. “We’re trying to change that. It’s up to us [Christians] to make better films, more nuanced films.”
That’s a statement many a journalist has heard time and again from Christian filmmakers. The difference this time may rest in the fact that with this new sequel, the Lalondes have partnered with Sony Pictures, a step that in the secular entertainment market could bring a new credibility to movies with a Christian theme.
“A fair criticism of past Cloud Ten productions has been that we were guilty of the same thing as other Christian filmmakers. But we were establishing a core audience. It’s a process in the life of a production company,” Lalonde said. “But if we can get Christian-based films a little less preachy, we’re going to subtly draw more people to the realization that we have a spiritual side and it needs to be paid attention to.
“When we went to Sony Pictures, we told them, ‘Look, we’re not the greatest filmmakers who ever lived, but we understand an audience that you don’t. You guys know how to make films better than we do, but if we can put our expertise together, we will see the birth of a true faith-based genre.’”
Andre van Heerden, the upcoming sequel’s producer, added, “Collaborating with the creative team at Sony has provided a different level of expertise in everything from casting, the script, the visual effects and the overall feature film feel this film will have. Yet, the core Gospel message remains squarely in our hands.”
“I think, because of our partnership with Sony, we have made a better film,” Lalonde said. “The one we make after this will be better still. That’s our goal.”
Along with the added financing and filmmaking tutelage from Sony Pictures, "Left Behind: World War III" is aided by a more seasoned Kirk Cameron and Oscar-winning Louis Gossett Jr. (“An Officer and a Gentleman”).
“Kirk has aged a bit, which I think helps him to take control of this role. And Lou adds authority,” Lalonde said.
Between takes on a long and difficult scene, Gossett and Cameron were forthright in their support of the sequel.
“I was fortunate, blessed with success,” Gossett said, “but there were two people inside me – a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The guy out front was smiling, but the guy inside was still looking for something to make him happy. I couldn’t find it in alcohol or drugs or women. Like many people I was trying to find the answer in self-indulgence. That’s not where you find the answer.
“Then I came to a conscious contact with God,” Gossett continued. “All the predictions in the Bible seem to be coming true. I wanted to be connected to a film that was making that statement.”
Cameron said the messages in the upcoming sequel are “a little more varied than in the past productions. At one point Buck is frustrated with God because he’s unable to do anything. But what God had him stand still for ends up bringing the president of the United States to faith. And his faith leads to others finding faith. There’s this great victory resulting from Buck’s willingness to trust God despite his frustration. ‘Stand still and know that I am God.’ It’s a great message for the believer, understanding God’s nature versus our nature.”
Almost as an afterthought, Peter Lalonde later added, “Wait until they see it. Then people will be saying, ‘I hope there’s a Left Behind 4.’”
© 2005 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press. All rights reserved. Used with permission.