We’ve been on a bit of a hot streak at Gospel Spam lately. We’ve gotten a few free screeners, an angry phone call from a producer of a bad Christian film, an interview with an Academy Award-winning director, a serious film maker’s request to review a script and a request for an interview with The Guardian. Who’d a thunk it?
I’m not gonna lie—I expected a screener for Saving Christmas. I was excited about this film. Man, I was even using the hashtag to try to sell Christmas books out of my store on Facebook. I WANT this movie to do well. I would have loved the opportunity to help promote what I think is an excellent message—King Jesus owns Christmas. I even took my kids trick or treating for Pete’s sake! That’s a lot for a recovering fighting fundie. I am on the side of the film makers. In fact, I wasn’t entirely sure that I could write an unbiased review.
Last week I began to suspect that there might be a reason why we didn’t get a screener. On opening night my suspicions were confirmed. Yes, it was that bad.
I expected a somewhat sappy Christmas film. I prepared myself by watching snow fall and listening to the radio station that’s already playing Christmas music 24\7. No one faults “sappy” this time of year. Elvis singing about how he wishes it could be Christmas every day of the year is considered “classic” Christmas music for crying out loud. If I hear our local station play George Michaels’ “Last Christmas” one more time I’m going to hurl and it’s not even Thanksgiving. People love sappy this time of year.
This movie wasn’t sappy in an Elvis sort of way. It was just sad in a “what could have been” sort of way. It’s just a bad movie that leaves you shaking your head as you leave the theater saying, “What was that?” It had some very good moments, but strangely misfired. While the main body of the movie makes some excellent points regarding how we should think about the nativity scene, the Christmas tree and St. Nick, those points are muddied by a sea of confusion.
The short list of things that confuse me, at least from where I sit tonight:
–In a cinematic presentation, why do we have to be treated to Kirk Cameron sitting in his living room having what appears to be (but most likely isn’t) an unscripted one-to-one conversation? Is every movie we ever see with Kirk, post-Fireproof, going to include a trip to his living room or a reasonable facsimile thereof? Is this the result of a focus group of middle aged female Growing Pains fans? If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, recall the one night only Monumental and Unstoppable movie events.
–Either the writing was so bad in the opening sequence that the final product couldn’t be helped or they just aren’t good enough to rescue the script. Regardless, the writing was stilted and the pacing of the movie was herky-jerky at best or slow to develop at worst.
–Speaking of herky-jerky what is the deal with the camera work in the kitchen scene during the opening of the movie? Was it filmed on an iPhone? Parts of that should have hit the editing room floor never to be seen again. Instead, we see it on the big screen. I expect motion sickness on YouTube, not in a movie theater.
–The sub-plot involving David Shannon’s character didn’t do much to add to the plot beyond connecting conspiracy theorists to conspiracies about Christmas. And perhaps some comic relief that wasn’t really that comic, which is a shame considering David’s talent. Since actors can only deliver the lines that they are given I doubt this is David’s fault.
–What in the world does the dancing at the end have to do with anything? Other than to showcase Darren Doane’s break dancing ability. Which, by the way, is pretty darn good. I don’t begrudge anyone a dance at the end of a movie—Johnny Depp’s Futterwacken at the end of Alice in Wonderland was perfect—I just don’t know why it has to go on for so long. There comes a point where slow motion is overkill and Doane found it and then did a jig on top of it.
This movie could have been saved if actors would stick to acting, directors would stick to directing, and some of the money was spent on hiring a writer. I have made it my mission in life to beat this horse until it is worm-dirt: great films are made from great writing. Great writing, among other things, is cohesive. The writing here was a disjointed mess.
This can be explained away because of the attempt to mix documentary with a story line. I don’t know if that ever works, but it certainly doesn’t here.
This is not to say it was all bad. The explanation of the history of St. Nicholas was helpful and fairly well done. The explanation of the nativity scene was spot on. Cameron’s explanation of the Christmas tree required a bit more artistic license to pull off but has an interesting point if you follow it through to the end of the movie. As I said, I think the message is good and my entire family was encouraged by it.
This message finds its inspiration in Biblical truth. Isaiah 9:6-7, a Scripture which gets a lot of play this time of year, is rarely explained beyond verse 6. Verse 7 makes clear that the Kingdom came with the birth of Jesus, that the throne of David was established at His first coming (cf. Acts 15:15-17) and that it’s increase is gradually moving toward the to the establishment of an endless Kingdom. The church is being used by the Lord as part of that increase.
This movie acts on these convictions when it states that (despite pagan claims to the contrary) Jesus actually exercises His Lordship over the Christmas observance. Producing such a movie and getting it into theaters is totally consistent with such a theology. Secularists hate that message because they hate Jesus. Christians hate that message because they like their pessimism, thank you very much. The problem is that in this case we have a movie which is inadvertently attempting to prove the dispensational world view by delivering a movie which could be “exhibit A” in what it looks like when things get worse. I don’t say that to be insulting. I do say it to issue a challenge—people like us who believe that Jesus is King ought to be producing the BEST movies. Instead, “Dumb and Dumber To” wins the opening weekend and as of this writing, Saving Christmas is sitting on #15. Since this review is not being released until Monday we can’t even be blamed. Every Christian ought to be disturbed by a triumphant message getting short shrift simply because of bad writing and questionable acting.
I often find myself angry at Christian film because the message that’s conveyed is built on pop-theology and is poorly done. This time I’m depressed because the message of this film, as optimistic and excellent as it is, is with the very best of intentions, misrepresenting the excellence of Jesus Christ. A good message done poorly is no credit to the message. I wish that the producers would have worked harder to give that important message a delivery it is worthy of. In art, it is not enough to merely communicate a message. It should be communicated well. This was simply a missed opportunity