Quality Gets “Left Behind”

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Quality Gets “Left Behind”

I have nothing against a good disaster movie. Write several shallow characters. Check. Insert superficial interpersonal conflict. Check. Introduce natural disaster to throw said shallow characters into. Check. Watch shallow characters carry out their superficial interpersonal conflict amidst disaster-enhanced action sequences and peril. Check ad nauseam.

With Left Behind, we have disaster movie meets Christian movie. Unfortunately, it fails at being a good example of either one.

Christian movie used to mean big-budget, star-studded spectacles filled with large-scale imagery and intimate personal drama. Think Ben-Hur. Think The Ten Commandments. Think El Cid. Think King of Kings. Christian movies weren’t really billed as Christian movies at all. They didn’t need to be. They stood on their own as superior entertainments that drew in audiences with crackling stories, sheer craftsmanship and talented actors.

Nowadays, Christian movie means something altogether different. When Hollywood became a four-letter word to fundamentalist Christians, something happened. Christians were told that Hollywood was evil. Christians were taught that Hollywood hates God and wants nothing more than to tear down the Kingdom of God, brick by brick. What was the net effect of such teaching?

Christians ran away from Hollywood.

With no Christians (or very few) Christians in Hollywood to make good movies, pagans step in to fill the creative void. Ultimately, it’s the audience who loses out, as Christian filmmakers now occupy a seat on the fringe of independent filmmaking, relegating themselves to meager budgets, sub-par actors, and stories that’instead of transcending above standard cliches’buy directly in to standard cliches. A Christian-themed cliche is just as boring as a Hollywood cliche. It’s gotten so bad that no longer is pagan Hollywood the only perpetrator of the rip-off (Die Hard and its countless clones, Lethal Weapon and its countless clones, Star Wars and its clones, etc., etc.) but now Christian movies are ripping themselves off. Within a few months, two’count em’two movies about Christian students squaring off against atheist college professors have pelted the multiplex (God’s Not Dead and A Matter of Faith).

Lighten up, the well-meaning evangelical will say to me. We should just be happy that there are any Christian-themed movies playing in the multiplex!

That misguided sentiment brings us to Left Behind, the aforementioned disaster movie/Christian movie. Left Behind represents the pinnacle of a creative and spiritual bankruptcy of the Christian movie culture. In fact, let’s just drop the Christian movie label and adopt a more accurate term: Evangelical movie. It’s badly made, badly acted, and badly Christianized. Some poor soul actually thought it would be a good idea to market this junk as an evangelism movie. Take your lost friends, the advertisements tell us. WHY???? There is no Gospel presentation and only one time does a character mention the name of Jesus. I’m not one of those Christians who demands that a Christian movie always contain a Gospel presentation, but if you’re buying into the hype and take a lost friend to this movie so he can hear the Gospel, you’re in for a disappointment. The lost friend ought to de-friend you for wasting two hours of his time.

I’ll say upfront that I walked into the Left Behind screening as a complete and utter Left Behind noob. I’ve never read the books. I’ve never seen the Kirk Cameron trilogy. Not being familiar with the source material doesn’t help this latest incarnation one bit. Left Behind‘as a book series’represents bad eschatology (we can have that discussion in the comments section if you’re really desperate for one). Left Behind‘as a movie’represents just plain bad filmmaking. Nicolas Cage’whose once-promising acting career is now characterized by desperate cash-grabbing’plays the lead role in this mess about the fall-out from a pre-tribulation, premillennial rapture in which’ostensibly’Christians and children get zapped out of their earthly existence worldwide. The implications from such a global catastrophe could probably be handled effectively if the approach was more tongue-in-cheek; if the filmmakers knew such a premise was patently preposterous, they could approach the material with a sly wink at the audience. Think of the outlandish humor and cheesy action that could be milked from that material.

Unfortunately, the filmmakers of this incarnation of Left Behind approach the material with stone-faced seriousness. So we have all of the cheese of a disaster movie with none of the fun. Bodies disappear. Piles of clothes litter the ground everywhere. Driverless mass transportation crashes. Pilotless planes fall from the sky. Unsaved citizens run screaming through the streets. Rioting at shopping malls. Looting. Mass chaos ensues. Somebody cue Bill Murray’s dogs and cats living together…mass hysteria! line from Ghostbusters (classic line).

Cage plays a womanizing airline pilot who finds himself in the unfortunate circumstance of being 30,000 feet in the air when the Rapture hits, leaving him without a co-pilot and about half of his passengers. We have a token Muslim, who a standoffish dwarf thinks is a terrorist. We have a spooky blonde passenger with a shady past who wants us to think she’s up to no good by making bug-eyes at the camera. Things get so bad on the flight that American Idol favorite Jordin Sparks goes bananas and pulls out a piece.

Wait’did I just write token Muslim, standoffish dwarf, and Jordin Sparks in the same paragraph?

If it sounds as though it belongs squarely in the so-bad-it’s-good territory, it’s not.

It’s just plain bad.

There’s also a subplot about Cage’s estranged daughter trying to figure out what happened to her raptured mother. Apparently, her Christian mother never taught her now-adult daughter about a rapture of Christians. Either that, or the daughter is simply stupid. By the time I cared enough to figure out which one was true, the movie was over.

Left Behind is more than just a bad evangelical movie. Its nationwide release into multiplexes represents’at least in my mind’a hopeful day for Christian filmmakers. Evangelical movies literally cannot get any worse than Left Behind. From here,there is nowhere to go but up. This film is the nadir of the Evangelical Movie-Making Machine (TM). When filmmakers think they have landed a coup by casting Nicolas Cage as the lead in their movie, it’s time to rethink everything.

In the meantime, you as a Christian can do your Christian duty and avoid this trash. This terrible movie blasphemes God, not by using His Name as a curse word, but by passing off garbage as art.