The Art of Fireproofing

October 7, 2008 | Written by admin

On this blog, I have regularly commented about art and faith — more specificially, calling for people of faith to do a great job when creating art, since I think it's too easy for believers to be lazy about their craft. Think about it — if you can claim "I'm doing this for the glory of God," then maybe that trumps any discussion of the value of your work. If your art is "God's work," who has the right to question your ability?

I mention this because I've been hearing from Christians that I need to go see the movie "Fireproof" — a Christian film that has received fairly wide play in theaters. Several Christian writers encouraged me to go, since the film has a strong message and is directed at a good cause. I'll admit I didn't do any preparation for the movie, but instead just showed up so I could take it in and see what the fuss is all about. It turns out it's another one of those films that was written and produced by Christians who have convinced themselves that they're at the top of their game because they have a strong "message." We used to refer to these as "church basement films," since the Billy Graham Association would produce them, then they'd be shown in church basements everywhere, giving believers a chance to nod in agreement with the message and thereby making us feel like we've accomplished something great.

Since there is a big "faith and film" conference going on right now, I'd like to offer some thoughts on "Fireproof" from an artistic viewpoint…

1. Kirk Cameron can't act. Come on…they cast Kirk as the tough captain of a Firehouse? He's a soft metrosexual type. What next — he's going to cast himself as an NBA center? The guy is completely unbelievable in the shout/be-angry/get-in-the-men's-faces portions of the film. In addition, he always LOOKS like he's acting. The fight scenes with his wife seem fake.  The "place your hands over your face so it will look like you're emotionally struggling" business simply looks like he couldn't figure out what to do in the deeper portions of the movie. Good grief — why don't we admit the guy wasn't that good 20 years ago on TV's "Growing Pains," so we don't need to fool ourselves into thinking he's suddenly a talent because he's a good guy who loves his wife and is open about his faith? Kirk Cameron IS a good guy, but his acting in this film isn't good enough to star in a movie. And the fact that Christians like him shouldn't blind them to that. (And, let's face it, his acting in the "Left Behind" movies was downright horrible. Egad.)

2. The rest of the cast is awful. The firemen working under Captain Kirk's command are right out of high school acting class. The mom has all the emotional range of a piece of wood. The dad is the guy who used to pastor your church. The doctor has a nice smile, but only two looks — coy and furtive. Kirk's wife, played by Erin Bethea, is sweet but flat and simply looks like she's in over her head. The one group of people in this film who can actually act are the nurses, who seem to be just extras filling roles.

3. The script is amateurish. Okay, I realize the goal of this movie is commendable, and that commitment to marriage is a good thing, but reflect on the script for minute… The firemen provide comic relief that has nothing to do with the story. The scenes with the next-door neighbor are cute, but get predictable. In fact, the entire film is predictable, since any of us could have foretold what was going to unfold with the story ("he'll become a Christian and win her back"). The film hints at issues in the relationship (finances? internet porn?) without ever exploring them. The religion is so heavy-handed it's like watching a tract. There's no subtlety to the story — it's a couple fights, she flirts with an affair, then he finds religion and all is well. Name one other bit of conflict in the movie. The whole thing comes across as a 70's TV show, with simple sets and a straightforward story that gets resolved in 90 minutes. From a story perspective, it has all the texture of a genre romance novel, only without the strong sense of place. At no point did I ever get lost in the story, and forget I was sitting in a movie theater. (In fact, I was 15 minutes into this when I turned to my wife and said, "I can't believe we spent $13 for a film that we'll be able to rent for 99 cents in a couple weeks.")

4. There were some good parts. The music and cinematography were very professional. The car caught on the railroad tracks and the child inside the burning house actually created some tension — but let's face it, neither of those stories had anything to do with the major plotline of the film, nor did either help move the film along. The ending of the movie was touching. While Kirk can't act, he cries well, and that was affecting. The last 30 minutes were much better than the first 45.

5. The message overcomes the art. Here's something True Believers sometimes miss: When you've got a good message ("marriage is good"), the goodness of that message doesn't validate the art. The fact that a couple are fighting and make decisions to turn around their relationship is a fine basis for a movie, but this one doesn't explore that in any deeper way. And the fact that Christians made it, and didn't stumble over themselves while doing so, does not automatically redeem the movie. (I point that out because the "Left Behind" movies were awful — the last one was such a dog it shed hair on my DVD player.) I think "a lack of badness" doesn't translate into "genuine goodness." The fact is, I found the spiritual message to be heavy-handed and dull, relying on Christianese so that this really becomes a film Christians can go to and feel good about themselves, rather than a film that might actually persuade someone outside the faith.  

Now let me tell you what's going to happen: I'm about to be swamped with messages from True Believers, exclaiming how the film moved them, and saved their marriage, and their best friends went and it saved their marriage as well. Maybe. But anecdotal stories don't create truth. (I can introduce you to people who said their lives changed when they joined a cult, or danced with the Hare Krishna, or when they became atheists, so one person's testimony doesn't necessarily validate a principle.) As I said, there's some actual emotion generated at the end of the film. But this movie lacks substance and subtlety. It lacks texture and finesse. It lacks decent acting and writing. It doesn't suck you in or transport you to another place. And while it offers a fine overall message, that doesn't make up for the fact that the film is not that great. So please don't write to tell me how Billy-Bob's life was spared when he entered the theater, and that he gave up drinking and got baptized and re-committed his life to Christ before entering the priesthood. If you must respond, just tell me what worked or didn't work about the film.

Posted in Film

  • Michelle Pendergrass

    I didn’t go see it because all the same people who raved about Left Behind (books and movies) raved about this.
    But hey, thanks for affirming what I already knew was true. ;)

  • susan

    Thank you for reviewing this, because I don’t think it will make it to my local cinemas. I’m sad to read that it’s pretty much what I thought it would be.
    I would love to see Christian arts more a part of all the arts, with the same standards. One day!

  • Jason Brett

    You took your wife to a theater for only $13.00? WHERE?!?!
    Seriously, I haven’t seen the movie because my suspicions were along those lines. The previews did not make the story look compelling. I’m sorry my suspicions are confirmed, but I think your message is a valuable one.
    I want to see good Christian-themed movies. But movies are too expensive to see bad ones.

  • Heather

    I haven’t seen the movie yet (I use the word yet loosely), but I appreciate your comment about anecdotal writing. When people learn I’m a writer, they often magically have a story for me.
    Which is nothing but a sermon illustration.
    We hate it when other belief systems are message driven (we call it agenda driven) but forget to fight the same motive in our art.

  • PatriciaW

    Neither have I seen the movie. Because I suspected much of what you reported.
    “The religion is so heavy-handed it’s like watching a tract.”
    Sigh.Someday we’ll get it. I’m sure of that because I think we’re finally getting it in Christian fiction. Less “Christianese”, more real-life faith struggles. I suspect movies will follow.

  • Robbie Iobst

    I can’t wait to see it.
    Sure, Chip, call me a sap, but hey I LIKE seeing movies that move me. Why go see a movie? To be entertained, right? Well, if it moves me and makes me laugh and cry, I think it is entertaining.
    I saw the first film these two brothers did and it was sappy, poorly written and done on a shoe-string budget. Guess what? I cried. And not because it broke my heart to see a badly written movie. But because I loved seeing the message of Christ on a film. Yes, even a bad film. The second one they did, the football movie, “Facing the Giants,” once again moved me. I saw the cheesiness, the manipulation of emotions. (Remember the crippled father standing up at the end in the endzone – I mean, come on!) I am just as cynical as many of my Christian friends, but again, I laughed and I cried. I liked it.
    I see your point, Chip, and I am all for excellence in Christian art. But we have to start somewhere, right? I salute these two gentlemen and their church for at least, TRYING to create movies that glorify Christ. I think my hubby and I are going this weekend, so if I change my mind and have to eat my words, I’ll let you know.

  • nathan mcgill

    Good points. But I think the true “art” here was in the producing aspect of this film. The church filmmakers were able to use the experience from “Facing The Giants” to capitalize on a market. There is a reason niche films do well at the box office and this was no exception to the rule. They played their audience well, and their audience… and really no one else… paid to see it. They proved to me yet again that there is money in the Christian market. So, we can probably expect to see more Narnia from Disney… Its not christian art, or art, its just industry… and maybe the words Christian and Industry shouldnt really go together, but… well… thats where we are these days. Every great christian packaged product is marketed well. Take the books, Left Behind which translated into those awful movies. Well, its like the lunch box, or action figure of the book. Something else to buy. The message of those books didn’t matter too much. I would argue it was about capitalizing on the franchise. I don’t think that worked out to well. It goes to show you that works well for Harry Potter may not be such a great idea for novice filmmakers with about a dollar for a budget…or I really hope they had only a dollar. Because if they had two dollars, I might have to rethink everything. Anyway, it was a horrible loss.
    What Facing The Giants did was that it found a way, outside of the “basement.” The only thing it did, was it took many churches outside of their big or little buildings and it made them go spend money at the theater. Helping AMC’s and REGALS everywhere. And now all of us Christian artists are just embarrassed. I will however include Facing The Giants in future investment packets for films because what it did was prove that Christians will buy their own vomit. They gobble it up and they love it. They can save their marriage… yet again. Thats worth the 13 bucks, and its probably worth the other 13 bucks they will spend on the book the filmmakers created for this film. COME ON! Its a 2 hour commercial for a book. As a film, its crap in everyway, totally propaganda, and unimportant. The change you experienced while watching this should have been realizing that you just experienced a 2 hour mind job and that you needed to re-think the Christian sub-culture and “industry” from top to bottom.

  • Kate H

    I haven’t seen the movie and don’t plan to. I would just like to reiterate one of my favorite rants: If you’re doing something for the glory of God, it has to be BETTER than anything the world has to offer. (In the OT God would only accept the spotless animals, not the lame ones!) Not only does the message not excuse sloppy craftsmanship, but the craftsmanship has to be exceptional if the message is going to have a chance of getting through to anyone who doesn’t already believe it. The story itself has to be the point, has to be told well and honestly, and the message evolves out of that. If you just take a message and dress it up in a flimsy costume, you get something that will make any discerning viewer or reader–Christian or not–gag.

  • KR Dial

    What happens when the world has an agenda wrapped in a compelling story? “Cider House Rules.” That movie, that book was masterful in creating a story that moved you…all the way to questioning a staunch pro-life position! Study how the world does it “right”.

  • Timothy Fish

    Psalm 33:3 says, “Sing unto him a new song; play skillfully with a loud noise.” The keyword here is skillfully. This verse seems to tell us that God wants us to work toward improving our art. As for our art being “better” than the world’s art, what God thinks is better and what the world thinks is better may be two different things. However, I would like to see better scripts and better acting in Christian films. I think God might like to see that too.

  • Walrus

    Thank you for every word of this rant. I am so tired of shoddy, substandard Christian “art”. I love a good message as much as the next person in the pew but it’s so embarrassing when it is delivered so poorly.
    I am waiting for Christian writers and movie-makers especially to realize that novels and movies make poor vehicles for sermons. I am starved for good Christian stories. There are plenty of stories with good Christian messages; unfortunately the stories themselves are done poorly.

  • Daniel Smith

    I haven’t seen it, but I think I did hear about it in the same way that I “heard” about Facing the Giants. And that movie sucked. Badly. I don’t think I even finished watching it. I was bored after 10 minutes mostly because the acting was just that bad like you said.
    That said, I do think they’re learning – and improving. For that, I’ll give them credit. If they keep on making better movies and working on their craft, and I’ll give them that opportunity, then we’ll see where this can go. So far, I do see some improvement. If I stop seeing that, then I think the Christian movie industry will likely suffer a major setback.
    It is too much to ask to have a decent plot and some acceptable acting? Even B movies are better!

  • Lynette Eason

    I’m LOL because I agree with almost everything you said, Chip. Especially the part about bad acting…ugh.
    I did turn to my husband and tell him that if the woman with the stroke miraculously starts talking, I was outta there.
    That said, I agree with, um, don’t remember who and don’t have time to look at the comments, with the person who said that the guys doing the films seemed to be learning and getting better.
    I also agree that if Christians need to do things above and beyond the world when it comes to getting the message of Christ out in movies or books.
    Unfortunately, this movie, too, fell short. But my husband liked it so I kept my mouth shut. Hard to believe, huh?

  • Rob Sargeant

    I don’t think there’s such a thing as a Christian film. There’s only good films and bad films. A few films with Christian characters have succeeded artistically, but not many. Most of those were made in the 50′s, when Hollywood had higher ethics.
    If a Christian makes a car, does that make it a Christian car?

  • David Thomas

    Two questions for which I don’t have the answer:
    1. Are others looking at the box office numbers for these movies and asking, “How much will Christians support (spend on) a top-quality movie?
    2. What are those in their Christian movie circle saying about the Christian books/articles/whatever our circle produces?

  • D. Ann Graham

    Just out of curiosity, what was your take on THE HIDING PLACE (long ago Corrie Ten Boom story)? Or Mel Gibson’s epic that netted more money than he ever made but nearly destroyed him in the process? These are the only two movies that come readily to mind as having a professional quality (by industry standards)without really thinking hard.
    One is very old and the other more recent… which tells me that the best art — whether movies or books — is HARD TO DO. It always seems to take way more talent, lots more money, more work, more people, and more breaks than are ever available. All of which has to be done in the middle of a battlefield. As a group, I sometimes think we Christians seem to believe we shouldn’t have to put up with all that.
    So, we don’t.
    (of The Rising)

  • Karen Witemeyer

    I completely agree that Christians are called to give their best in all they do. We are to work with all our heart, as for the Lord, to bring him glory. However, I would like to speak to the other side – how God can work through our weaknesses as well.
    The widow who had only two mites gave everything she had and God found more pleasure in her offering than in that of those who had more. The man with two talents pleased his master as much as the man with five because he took the risk to use then.
    I don’t personally know the writers or producers of these movies, but I know that their level of expertise in filmaking is much lower than the industry standard. They are learning and growing, and praise God they are not waiting to have everything perfect before they let God use them. We would never accomplish anything for the sake of Christ if we did that.
    What they are accomplishing, even with the bad acting and heavy-handed religious writing, is showing Hollywood that people are willing to pay for entertainment with a higher level of moral integrity. If more films are made with uplifting messages (whether overtly Christian or not) because of the success of these films, that is a victory to be celebrated.
    I pray that Christians will continue to grow in excellence in all fields of art. In my own writing I am constantly learning and improving my craft, but I pray that God can use my earlier, weaker, manuscripts for his glory as well as the later, stronger ones.
    That’s my two mites, er… cents.

  • Jennifer Johnson

    Hey Chip,
    So, tell us how you really feel? :-D

  • Dan

    Hey Chip! Alison’s Dan here. I had to say something. I have not seen the film. I have also heard plenty of good things about it. But to be honest, if it was my job to take a whack at writing a review of the films without having seen it, that is exactly what I would have guessed.
    The Christian film industry reminds me a lot of the Christian book and especially music industry up through the end of the 20th century. Of course, there is still a lot of room for improvement, but I can’t help but think of Christian music in the 80′s where there was so much heart and so little talent. I hope that the film industry at least keeps moving in the right direction.
    That said, I think they are. When you factor out the majority of films that would be produced by TBN or feature Kirk Cameron (don’t get me wrong, I think he is probably a great guy), there is a budding Indi Christian film scene (no pun intended) that shows promise. We’ll see.
    Anyway, hope your well. Let us know when you are out this way. I’d love to do dinner again.

  • KR Dial

    This is my second comment on this. Is that allowed? O.K. We do have to be careful of our over excitement at the weaknesses of others. Before kids, I used to write and produce TV spots. For every person that praised my work, there was another person, usually one who had yet to write and produce anything, that slammed the work. And about “Facing the Giants,” my little boy loved it! It meant something to him. He had seen it first and begged me to watch it with him. He was seeing scripture in a format that he loved…television, and he wanted to show it to his mother, who gets her scripture from a big black book. This movie spoke to him. So, he is not old enough to know bad acting, but what he noticed was a movie promoting his faith. It was a positive time for our family and worth the money to us.

  • Susan K. Stewart

    Thank you to all of you who have the courage to speak out about a bad movie, especially Christians speaking against a “Christian” movie.
    Somewhere someone has found a “Thou shalt not talk bad about Christian movies or books or magazines or anything that has “Christian” in front of it” commandment.
    It is this attitude that makes Christians look like a bunch of Lemmings following whatever the guy up front says. (And, forbid ever disagree with the pastor.)
    I just don’t go to these movies any more, whether in the theater or the basement. I don’t want to support bad “Christian” art.

  • Pam Halter

    hmmmmmm … Timothy brought up a good point: play SKILLFULLY. We could insert the word “write” for “play,” of course.
    Scripture also says “do all as unto the LORD.”
    If you knew God were to personally to go your movie or pick up your book and read it, wouldn’t that make a difference in how you wrote it?
    And doesn’t He do just that?
    Just my thoughts ~ pam

  • Courtney Walsh

    You’ve hit a nerve with me (and apparently lots of others) – sometimes I watch “Christian” TV and just say, “Oh, God, I’m sorry.” I hate to think that this is the representation of Christ in the world. I have to wonder… ‘is this the best we’ve got??’
    I rented “Facing the Giants” because I was told by many church friends I HAD to see it. I turned it off within ten minutes. Bad script + bad acting = BAD, BAD movie. We have fallen so far behind the world in our standards for the arts (lots to do with money, I’m sure…) – and this is why I turned off the first “Left Behind” movie and have ignored “Fireproof.” (Also, aren’t there any other Christian actors out there besides Kirk Cameron?) I’m just sayin’…
    My hope is that we’re learning to improve as we go. Then it’s all worth it… maybe.
    All of it does challenge the artist in me to do something different for a change.

  • Gene

    I love your frankness and honesty. I LOL’d at your review. I haven’t seen Fireproof and don’t intend to. Facing the Giants had more cheese than the whole state of Wisconsin so I figured Fireproof would too. Sounds like I’m right.
    Rock on, buddy! Keep putting pressure on believers to do all things with excellence!

  • Cathy Shouse

    I haven’t seen “Fireproof” or heard much about it until Chip’s post. I suspect I would feel the same way he does about it. But this topic hit a nerve with me because my husband and I also “wasted” $13 at the theater this weekend.
    We went to “An American Carol.” I heard about the movie because it was promoted as a story created by conservatives in Hollywood (I think they rounded up all twelve of them they could find) to balance out all the liberal-leaning movies. I never go to a movie without reading the reviews. I went to this one on the opening weekend simply to support the conservative cause. Period.
    It was terrible, from minute one. The story line, using the term loosely, made no sense. Well-known actors came on and looked like kids putting together a neighborhood program for laughs–who didn’t know how to tell a joke. Well, you get the idea.
    I guess the only thought I came away with is that conservatives have had so little chance to work together on a good message, that they will need lots more practice to get up to speed. Maybe it’s the same with Christians. I really don’t know.
    I have observed that Christians are horrible about what I call “eating their young.” They really lambast people of their own who fall short. I was let down by “Carol.” But that is not the only bad Hollywood movie I’ve been to. Ever see “What Lies Beneath?” I’ve heard “Ishstar” set a record for badness.
    If we don’t let new, untested, groups of people work together, they’ll never learn. Having said that, it’s very painful to watch–literally. And I always come away doubly disappointed when a group I care about falls flat on its collective face. I’m not sure if this helps the discussion but I’ve at least expressed myself. Maybe that’s what these filmmakers were doing. And we all agree they need to do it much better for us to truly respect their efforts.
    Sheesh, I wish a big-name, quality actor would become a Christian. Or maybe Christians will have to keep producing bad movies and save their profits so they can hire the big-name actors who sometimes have low morals? I wonder what the answer is.

  • Ron

    I sat with men from my congregation last night, and “Fireproof” was a topic of discussion. Only a few had seen the movie, and they thought it was great. I’m the pastor, and I won’t see it, won’t rent it, will not be sucked into the media campaign. But in that setting, with men I love, I couldn’t argue the artistic merits; I had to keep my mouth shut. This is part of the dilemma. Am I duplicitous? Weak?
    I only had to see Kirk Cameron’s name and I knew that Fireproof would not be on my (ever longer) list of must-see movies. The WORLD (!!, scary-scary, bad-bad) can make redemptive movies with beauty, creativity, and rationality that Christians ought to go see, but probably won’t. But Christians can’t seem to make a movie worth spending five minutes on, let alone thirteen bucks.
    The only reason we attend these movies is because of the “they’re doing the best they can, we need to support their efforts, they’re getting better aren’t they?” sentiment. Hip Hip Hooray for the old team!
    Many Christians—especially evangelicals—have sold off the birthright of quality art. They let others make it, and shake their heads while others enjoy it, while they settle for any little dime-store trinket with John 3:16 inscribed in the plastic.
    I have hopes, however, that the tide is changing. I’m anxious about Donald Miller’s foray into the celluloid circle: Blue Like Jazz: The Movie—(please, God, don’t let Cameron play the lead!) I appreciate the art of Makoto Fujimura, an artist who is Christian. And my children, aged 15-25, all seem to have a much more sensitive nausea threshold for crappy Christian productions—they will not tolerate junk produced in God’s name.
    Rob said, “If a Christian makes a car, does that make it a Christian car?” Only if it has scripture on it, and a fish sign, and a radio pre-tuned to only Christian stations, and a cross hanging from the rear-view mirror. But I wouldn’t take a ride in it.

  • Danica

    So Chip, could you tell us what you really think?
    I’ve been on the fence with this one, and since I have issues with paying the same amount to see a movie ONCE as it will cost me in a few months to buy it outright so I can see it as many times as I want, I’m going to wait for the DVD.

  • Elizabeth M. Thompson

    We took our family to see Fireproof last weekend and loved it. Of course, we went to the showing without our red pens.
    We knew what we were paying to see-a wholesome movie with a timely message. In a world where marriage is disposable (or in my state loosely defined) it is a privilege to see and support a message that marriage is important. It is valuable and worth fighting for.
    Though most Christian films cannot compete with the Hollywood-budgeted films, they provide something Hollywood fails to provide-truth.
    So, I’ll continue to take my family to see movies that reinforce our Christian values, whether they appeal to the masses or not. I will judge them on the merits of the truth they contain.

  • David Todd

    I critique poetry at a couple of Internet sites, and I find that strong message poetry, be it Christian, anti-Christian, political, or whatever, is seldom of the quality of poetry that is intended to entertain as opposed to convince. I haven’t seen this movie yet, but I suspect what Chip says is true.

  • Rob Sargeant

    I’ve got a screenplay on file, a comedy called “Revenge of the Beast”. It follows a couple of Christian film makers struggling to make a low budget end-times movie; how they end-up producing something un-biblical because they can’t afford to make it authentic. Maybe it’s time to dig that out and try to produce it.

  • Dayle

    A couple of things to keep in mind.
    This film was made by the same people who made Facing the Giants: A church. They only had $300,000 to spend. Most of the “actors” were members of the church. They couldn’t afford to hire “real” actors or shoot endless takes until they got it right.
    FTG did shock everyone as it grossed 10 mllion at the box office and Fireproof has already made 16 million and I’m sure the quality of the work will improve as finances allow.
    My guess is that like all professional endeavours, making a movie is far more difficult that it looks. Much like the majority of the populace who believe they can write a novel.
    Isn’t it a little presumptuous to presume that those involved with this movie didn’t do their best. (sort of like the widow in the Bible who gave a penny, but Jesus said she gave far more than the others becuase it was all she had.)
    Yes, it’s okay to critique a movie, but to critique the motivations or lack of devotion to the craft of the participants?
    So they didn’t do the job to the same level as the $30 million budget blockbusters — At least they did something.
    And all of those affected, despite the anecdotal nature, are glad they did.

  • Agnela Meuser

    I’m going to go see the movie, and I’m sure it will move me. (I cry at Hallmark commercials.) But I do have to say that I’d be more excited if it were Stephen Baldwin or Jim Caviezel playing the lead. I saw Kirk’s TBN show once–it left a bad taste in my mouth.

  • Amy Wallace

    Thanks so much for validating some of my concerns about this film, Chip. I wanted to like it for all the play it was getting and the NY Times good review.
    But the movie was at best amateurish and at worst offensive. Offensive because the thrust of the movie was, “Receive Jesus and it all gets better.” And to marriage, “Just say you’re sorry, bust up the computer, and it’ll work out.”
    The other thing that offended me was the promotional thrust in churches and Christian bookstores that this movie could reach unbelievers and help save marriages.
    No way.
    Addictions (which were handled so very poorly in Fireproof) require real help, not symbolist bravado and easy “I’m sorry.” I might have felt less insulted by this movie if the characters had been believers and if there’d been some real help offered to the marriage.
    As it is too many people are acting like lemmings and following the crowd to say this movie changed their life.
    I hope God uses it in spite of it’s obvious flaws. I’m praying it doesn’t turn legalists worse (just read and follow the Love Dare book and your marriage will be changed) or push real hurting people and damaged marriages away with guilt because their problems don’t end by reading a fix-it-all book and throwing out a computer.

  • kyle watson

    Chip,I love your humor and blogs. But I disagree on this one.
    I heard the makers of “Fireproof” on the James Dobson radio show. If you listen to this program you will have no doubt God is behind all of their movie projects. They are having a great impact on their community in Georgia. People have been changed by their films. We should never dismiss God’s work in a persons life as no big deal. Heard it before.
    I was born and raised in Georgia.I know how difficult and impossible it had to be to make these movies. I can’t imagine God is more concerned with a movie being Oscar material over a persons heart being changed. I believe God is looking for people who are willing to step out in faith. Moses had a speech problem. Paul wasn’t consider a great speaker. Peter a fisherman wrote part of the Bible. I laugh at the idea that Christians should only produce excellent work. In whose mind should this quality represent?
    The majority of our society likes popcorn movies that simply entertain. Like Die Hard 4. Most Oscar movies are duds at the box office. Most people listen to hip-hop, rock, and country music. Not classical. You want a bestselling novel? Write commercial fiction. Look at what is popular on television.
    Here is a reality check in making a superb movie.In order to hire a top actor it will cost 15 to 20 million dollars. A top director is going to cost you a bit. Maybe get a 100 million dollars from Universal Studios.
    I find it interesting that people who respond on this blog only read and watch excellent material. With all the fussing and complaining on this blog it reminded me of the slaves in the wilderness with Moses. And the slaves said “Is this the best we get”.

  • Chip

    So much to respond to…
    1. The message directly above this one, from Kyle, raises some interesting points. I can assure you readers of my blog read all sorts of crud (like…my blog), not just excellent novels. And yes, commercial fiction outsells literary fiction (and I represent both). But…you laugh at the idea that Christians should only produce excellent work? If that’s the case, do me a favor and don’t send me any manuscripts.
    2. Nobody questioned the film-maker’s motives. Just his/her abilities. That said, Daniel is right — there’s a growing Christian indie film movement that’s similar to the early days of Christian music. It’s got an energy, and it’s exciting.
    3. FIREPROOF cost less than $300,000 to make. It has grossed almost $20 MILLION. Um…yeah, you can bet Hollywood has noticed.
    4. And yes, Hollywood produces both good and bad films. “Ishtar” was a stinker. If you liked this film, that’s fine with me. If you liked Ishtar, that’s also fine with me. You don’t have to agree with me to be part of the conversation. Just don’t get all teary-eyed when I tell you that these people can’t act, or that the writing was weak, or that a “message” doesn’t equate to a “movie.” Those are all things I found true. The fact that it moved you doesn’t improve the acting or the script.
    5. “The Hiding Place”? I saw that in, like, 8th grade. No idea if it’s any good. And I found Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ” to be artistically fascinating and biblically sound, but a bit too focused on the gore for my taste.
    6. You want Christian actors? There are a slew of them. Kirk Cameron (as I said, a good guy, just not a good actor). Denzel Washington (a good guy, a good actor). Chuck Norris (a good guy who can also beat the crap out of you). Mel Gibson. Patricia Heaton. Stephen Baldwin. Lots of others.
    Lots to talk about.

  • Tim O

    Very interesting post. I have so enjoyed reading the comments and feel I must comment myself. I think about the nature of art – high art and low art. I think this discussion, for some, is much about craft – rendering something as true as we try to communicate a truth. I might say that something is art if it well-crafted and rings true; I can empathize and relate to it even if it doesn’t uphold my beliefs (the previous comment on Cider House Rules). But I also think it must elicit an emotional response; there are objects and writing that are clever and well crafted, but I wouldn’t classify them as art. Maybe this movie is art – low art. It has certainly elicited an emotional response. It’s something that might, in time, be valued, in a historical sense, as 21st Century Evangelical kitsch, and in that there is truth as it revels what a segment of American Christians thought about and struggled with at a point in their society. There have been plenty of crummy movies and genres derided in their time, but are valued now because they reflect the subculture they were speaking to. Maybe it is art because it is bad. Plan 9, Foxy Brown, Reefer Madness. I celebrate it.

  • Sam Pakan

    Wull, for the record, I ain’t completely give up on drinking. Truth is, I’d had a snort or two when I took in the Farproof, which could of been why I sorta got all emotional and ever thang.
    And my life wadn’t precisely saved. It’s just that Jimmy Joe’s methynol tank blew up at the bog races and I’d a normally been there, but I promised Sarah Beth I’d go to the movies with her. So that’s how that come about.
    Billy Bob

  • kyle watson

    Let me clarify what I mean by I laugh when someone suggest Christians should only produce excellent work? I laugh at the idea to suggest that these makers of Fireproof,Kirk Cameron,or myself would want to produce crap instead of quality. The only level you try to reach is the highest. I would hope every artist trys to do his best. I wish I could write like C.S.Lewis. I just think people differ on what they perceive as excellent,good, or poor. I know what it feels like to be nominated for a writing award and at the same time have other people saying hateful comments about your work. I hope I didn’t make you mad at me. Its just my 2 cents worth opinion. I value your advice. You work in the writing business and I still work my day job in printing.

  • Kristi Holl

    I saw the movie, and my husband loved it. I agree with your review about 95%, but I kept it to myself. Apart from the acting, I felt it gave false hope to people honestly dealing with emotional affairs at work and husbands hooked on porn. Something that serious doesn’t go away in a few weeks. As a writer, I couldn’t turn off my internal editor voice long enough to enjoy much of it. Thanks for saying what I was thinking–and feeling guilty about!

  • Anne Dayton

    I’m sure everything you say is true—I actually played the trailer over and over for my coworkers a while back because it was so hilariously bad. But I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Mike Seaver. I had such a crush on him.

  • Camille

    I have to be the lone ranger and stand behind Robbie Iobst here. I’m a film freak and obsessive about analyzing what works and doesn’t in film. I’ll admit the sub-par writing and acting was very distracting at first and I had to restrain my eyeballs from rolling out of my head several times. But once I accepted that this wasn’t going to be a film on the level I’m used to, (like listening to a child tell a story) I was able to put aside my critique of this as “art” and just listen. And like Robbie, I was moved by the story. Not the acting or the writing, but the humanness. I could relate to the weakness, the need for forgiveness.
    Have you ever listened to a sermon or a story delivered by someone who is obviously NOT skilled at preaching or story-telling and had to swallow your initial impresson of them when the message proved gold? Have you ever been quick to assess someone on first glance based on their appearance, age, accent, vocabulary, and found you had too quickly dismissed their intelligence or worth?
    I think we (in the art & criticism industry) are SO quick to judge the delivery and sit so high on our horse that we can’t hear the message.
    I know, we can’t afford to put out work that isn’t the best. But good grief, y’all are so quick to bash the thing for not meeting our “entertainment” standards. Is being entertained ALL we care about?
    This film reminds me of a person who doesn’t dress in designer clothes, who misuses or mispronounces words, yet has something important to say and is mocked by those who think they have it all together and who don’t have a clue that they might need to hear what the person has to say.

  • Darcie

    What else to say?
    “One Night With the King” is another splat. I had to review it and found it abysmal. My review didn’t get published b/c it was too negative and not supportive of Christian art.
    In the process of review, I read other reviews from secular sources. The overarching theme was shrinking credibility. If we as Christians put out crappy stuff, it makes the message look crappy and non-Christians generalize and write off the Gospel as a farce.
    The world rocks back on their heels, shakes their collective heads and laughs at those lame Christians. We’re becoming an entertaining freak show in the circus of life.
    So, let’s quit it and go above and beyond and stun the world with our skillful craft. :)

  • chip

    Whoa, there. High horse? This blog is a critique, Camille. That’s what you do in a critique — you offer thoughts on what worked and what didn’t in a piece of art.
    You’re basically arguing, “If the message is good, we shouldn’t care about the delivery.” I disagree with that notion. (“The painting is terrible, but the artist’s intent is good”? “The musician can’t sing, but he meant well”? No thanks.)In fact, I think I said the message of the film was good. My criticism is not with the message, but with the delivery, which is awful. I don’t think criticizing the script and acting on a weak film somehow makes us shallow.

  • Laura Polk

    You made me reply to this.
    Although I can agree that the acting was not always up to par, I also would like to point out that I thought the film did a VERY good job of portraying the tension that has arisen in modern day young marriages…something most films do NOT do.
    It wasn’t filled with unrealistic sex scenes after each fighting point, which most movies would have given in to.
    It made the characters seem like real people to me.
    I have felt exactly like the wife in that film and was truly relieved to move through those emotions with her…it makes you feel like you’re not out there by yourself all the time.
    It also moved my husband to tears…something I have only seen one other time in my life at a movie…he does not cry.
    But I think he was able to feel sympathy for the wife in the movie just as I was able to do so for the husband.
    And while we often have gotten wrapped up in our own issues and have not been able to feel empathy for each other, this film kind of showed us the other POV.
    We have actually been getting along better since this movie.
    If it did that for 1 out of 100 couples, that is no small feat.
    So give them SOME credit Chip.
    It may not have moved you, but it has affected many others.
    And, by the way, my husband is not a Christian, but now has strangely become intrigued with it.
    Something that seven years of watching me never did to him.
    A gentler critic,

  • Rosslyn

    OK, Chip, though I disagree with the extremity of your reaction to the movie, I certainly support your right to a strong opinion.
    What disturbs me is the number of people who have commented on this post and said: “I haven’t seen it, but Chip, you’re so right–that’s exactly what I expected.”
    Some of those same people then criticize other Christians for being lemmings. Ummmm…
    I saw Facing the Giants, and I agree, it was not a good movie technically or in almost any other way. I hope readers who have not seen Fireproof will not form a prejudiced, uninformed opinion of Fireproof on their experience with Facing the Giants. Fireproof is much better.
    Just as in the CBA we have to consider the audience for a certain work in order to evaluate it, we need to consider the audience for this film. Fireproof is not supposed to be an evangelistic outreach to postmoderns. It’s an inspirational movie for a Christian audience. Thus the very plain talk about theology and marriage. You can’t judge a movie of this type by the standards of a major studio drama aimed at a general secular audience. I do not believe that the producers’ goal was to be subtle or to reach unbelievers. Instead, it appears that the goal was to encourage Christians to actually apply Christ’s example of sacrificial love to their own lives in a more solid way than we often do.
    Given the intended audience, I actually thought the script was quite good. The producers did a solid job with using a mixed-race cast (better than 99 percent of secular movies, which tend to be predominantly white or black) and they were careful to balance roles so as to avoid stereotypes. Though there were amateurish moments in the acting, I found that getting to see non-Hollywood types on film brought a realism to the endeavour that compensated for the performers’ inexperience. I also thought, Chip, that you might have brought some preconceptions about Kirk Cameron to this performance. I didn’t see Left Behind, so I didn’t have a negative expectation going in, and I didn’t have a problem with his acting. And I do have training in acting myself, so if it were truly that bad, it would have distracted me.
    OK – that’s my two cents. Do I hope that someday we will see an Oscar-caliber contemporary drama that reaches out to a mainstream audience as well as a Christian one? Yes! But let’s not bash the producers of Fireproof for reaching a narrower audience. It’s OK to have art aimed at Christians alone. In my opinion, it’s always better to err on the side of kindness and generosity as a critic. During my time in the Ivy League, I learned quickly the dangerous allure of trying to prove superiority by the harshness of a critique. That’s not to say that Chip or anyone else here has fallen victim to that trap, or that there isn’t a place for bluntness, but we need to examine our own motives. Temperance and tact are usually good things.

  • techne

    susan: what about “christian in the arts, pursuing the same standards”? because they are out there. In more numbers than you’d think. They’re just not making obvious religious pap.
    jason: there are many “christian-themed movies”. Then again, define what that means. Does it mean the story is redemptive, or that it boldly declares man’s sinfulness? That would be a biblical stance, wouldn’t it? how obvious would that “christian theme” have to be before we recognize it? it seems that the letters need to be writ quite large…
    heather: aren’t all artworks “agenda driven”? don’t we all think we have something to say? isn’t the real question whether or not we are saying it well and artfully?
    robbie: were you truly moved, or was it sentimental i.e. “pushing the right [emotional] buttons? i guess your comment begs the question: is art’s purpose “entertainment”?
    i’m also not sure it is enough to just TRY. they must succeed at an appropriate level. the problem is that they released this movie into a context with a specific standard. therefore, the work will be judged according to that standard. there is no try, there is only do. If they weren’t prepared, or striving to achieve, a similar level of competency, then they should have reconsidered releasing the film (and, as someone else said, kept it in the basement). And if they were unaware that they did not, in fact, achieve the necessary level of excellence, then they need to surround themselves with more knowledgeable (and perhaps even more [brutally] honest) people. Nothing is created (or viewed) in a vacuum.
    nathan: the cynic in me agrees. “christian film” has become a marketing tool, and TPOTC is the case in point. It’s not like there haven’t been other “christian films” – spitfire grill, anyone? But we don’t support those films if the don’t have the prerequisite conversion…
    kate: I’m not sure what Christians do can necessarily be BETTER – these people are, after all, using their G-d given talents and gifts. Of course, the anointing (if we want to go there) is something else entirely, and is really beyond us – that’s G-d’s prerogative. content (the story) always requires a medium appropriate to it. the medium is, indeed, the message. Great stories can be told poorly, and horrible things can be told well. Which will move people more?
    kr dial: exactly.
    timothy: I’m willing to bet that the singers and musicians considered the context of what they created, and worked accordingly.
    rob: the 50s also had a more accepted judeo-christian cultural ethos – the biblical narrative was still a shared story, or at least the knowledge of it was. that is no longer the case. i’m not sure hollywood had higher ethics at that time – it is, after all, a reflection of culture as much as a shaper of it – it was just portrayed (and hidden) differently.
    d. ann graham: as mentioned above, the spitfire grill, the end of the spear, the big kahuna, simon birch (based on irving’s brilliant owen meany), les miserables…all could be considered Christian and all would be considered well done. but yes, [good] art is always hard to do. Which is why (to invoke the talents) we need to work on our skills and pursue excellence.
    karen: speaking of talents…i don’t think the idea of weakness here excuses lack of skills that are possible to develop. i think it refers more to G-d’s ability to use us in spite of us. the widow gave all she had – fine. but that story’s about finances, isn’t it? are you saying that christians should invest money in developing christian film-makers (whether scriptwriters, actors, directors, cinematographers, best boys, gaffers…) so they can give everything they have as far as skills and vision, without worrying about funding? and the man with the talents used them; he improved and multiplied them. It was an active thing he did. he didn’t simply make do with what he had already. i hope they’re growing as film-makers…are they?
    i’m not convinced that movies like this convince hollywood that people are willing to pay for movies with a “higher level of moral integrity” (whatever that means) because none of those movies are really that huge. and how do they compare with titanic (which has made almost 2 BILLION dollars), or the various franchises out there, let alone the judd apatow and “american pie”-style movies? all movies like this establish is that there is a niche market that is willing to pay outrageous prices for sub-standard fare. there are plenty of movies with “uplifting” messages, and many with truly redemptive and triumphant messages.
    kr dial (again): that’s great that your son enjoyed facing the giants. was his approval really based on the fact that the movie “promoted his faith”? ah, the faith of a child. I honestly wish that was enough for me.
    pam: exactly. i think.
    cathy: there are many movies that end up being a waste of time. i guess that’s why there’s always that question: what exactly is a movie (or art in general) supposed to “accomplish”? i’m not sure we should go see anything simply to support a cause – we should be invested in the story. it reminds me of one of my favourite quotes by cslewis:
    [When looking at art,] we must use our eyes. We must look, and go on looking till we have certainly seen exactly what is there. We sit down before the picture in order to have something done to us, not that we may do things with it. The first demand any work of any art makes upon us is surrender. Look. Listen. Receive. Get yourself out of the way. (There is no good asking first whether the work before you deserves such a surrender, for until you have surrendered you cannot possibly find out.)
    again, i think you need to make sure you release your art into the wild when it’s ready for that. if it is only capable of wandering around the yard, leave it in the yard. that’s actually going to protect them, nurture them, and help them to get stronger and more confident so they can face and take advantage of the moment when they can leave the yard.
    there are, in fact, several “big-name, quality” actors (and directors, and writers) who are christians working in hollywood. but they more often take a different tack than some would like. after all, the kingdom isn’t about “christian movies” – it’s about sharing the story and person of jesus. that simply doesn’t (can’t?) happen on screens. it happens through relationships.

  • Anita

    Philippians 1:18
    But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.
    In this case their motives were true, maybe the craft wasn’t the best. They made a “joyful noise” to God and the message of salvation was presented. Therefore, I will rejoice.
    I don’t get it when Christians hate it when other Christians use their abilities(we’re all given different degrees) to share their faith.
    May I submit to you that when you go in with a preconceived notion anyway, that is what you’ll see.

  • chip

    Whoa there. Don’t be tossing out-of-context Scripture verses at me, Anita. Two problems with your response…
    First, nobody used the term “hate.” (Well…you did.) Please don’t put words in the mouths of others. To dislike a piece of art does NOT equate to hating the artist.
    Second, I didn’t go in with any preconceived notions. (In fact, I specifically stated in my review that I went completely without preparation because I wanted to give the film a chance.) So don’t presume to know what somebody else is thinking, for goodness’ sake.
    As I stated very clearly in my post, don’t spend your time preaching about how the rest of us aren’t spiritual. Instead, tell us what worked or didn’t work about the film. -chip

  • Claire Talbott

    How many successful authors have you heard speak who thought their first published book was perfect, a picture of true excellence? They usually say they can’t bear to read their first published books because the writing is so poor compared to what they can write now.
    I have to give the producers of Fireproof credit. They are getting better. They are learning, And they are willing to work with what they have. How many of you are going to donate millions of dollars so they can have a HUGE budget and hire big name actors?
    We have to start somewhere. And the producers of Fireproof have been the only ones willing to do it. As long as they show a commitment to learning and getting better with each film. I will continue to support them. Just like I support published authors whose work improves with each book.

  • patrick

    I just got back from watching Fireproof… it was great to see such a different-flavored movie on the regular, big screen; i thought of this as i dashed out to go to the bathroom in the middle of the movie, and walked by the pain-filled scraming coming from the Saw 5 theatre

  • Cherry Odelberg

    Um, yeah. I searched for this post due to your reference today – June of ’13. The thing that offended me the most about the movie was the lack of physical fitness of the firemen. The firemen I know had to jump through challenging physical and mental fitness hoops to become part of the department. The thing I liked best was the message that maybe, just maybe, indulging in internet porn might be damaging to a relationship.

  • Isaiah Stratton

    Thanks for such an honest review. A writer friend of mine recently told me about your blog, and as an actor, I immediately searched under your “Film” category first!

    I appreciate that you hold Christian film-makers to the same accountability as secular ones. Just because there is a positive/Bible/Jesus/salvation story does not give permission to skimp on quality. I worked on a faith-based film earlier this year, and I cringed at times when there was a lack of preparation in areas that a secular production would never miss.
    Put quality time, effort, and money into your pre-production, your actors, your script, your crew, and then go about making your faith-based film; otherwise, you’re only shooting yourself in the foot.