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Location: Greensboro, NC, United States

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Wasted Summer of ‘08: Some Read, but I Watch Movies

I’ve seen a few movies over the last few weeks since my last movie “review”, but haven’t taken the time to comment on them. Let me begin to do that now.

My last movie post was right after I had seen WALL-E and Hancock. A few days after that, I pulled another double at the theater, first seeing Journey to the Center of the Earth.

I knew nothing about the movie in advance. I knew it bore the title of the Jules Verne classic, and so I assumed it was based off of the book, though I thought maybe this film was the book done in a modern setting. As it turn out, this wasn’t exactly the case.

Here’s the gist of it. A seismologist (played by Brendan Fraser) is carrying on the legacy of his deceased brother, also a seismologist. During the visit of his brother’s son, he and his nephew end up traveling to an area of newly discovered seismic activity, meet a mountain guide who takes them to their desired location, where they fall into and find their way out of the center of the earth. Along the way it is learned that the deceased seismologist was a Vernian, one who believed that the center of the earth as portrayed by Verne in his famous book was actually true.

That’s the short of it, and it really deserves little explication beyond this. The movie was in 3-D, and when I visited my local theater, I was informed that they didn’t have 3-D capability. I had my mind set on seeing it, so I did, though after seeing it I wish I had just gone to a theater that was set up for 3-D. Much of the movie was set up to be a cinematic thrill ride, and without the 3-D, the thrill ride was more of a walk in the park.

So far as content goes, I might begin by saying that this movie was created by Walden Media, the same folks who brought us the horrible film renderings of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and Prince Caspian. They didn’t do much better with Journey. Brendan Fraser, while I haven’t seen many of his movies, is an actor that I always find less than convincing. The first two Mummy movies were enjoyable, but not exactly high drama. The only movie he was in that I really enjoyed a lot was Looney Toons: Back in Action. (Maybe it’s just having grown up with Bugs Bunny & friends, but I could watch that movie over and over again.) Fraser was his typical character here, drifting between irresponsible goof and action hero. The other actors were unfamiliar to me. They were reasonably interesting, though they weren’t good enough to make the movie all that impressive.

Being from Walden Media, the film was touted as a family film. It was a clean film, though there were a couple of moments that I wish had been left out. As the seismologist and his nephew are hiking with their female mountain guide, the nephew pronounces, “I have dibbs on the mountain guide.” Fraser’s character responds, “I have dibbs on the mountain guide. You’re only thirteen. You don’t get dibbs on the mountain guide.” Later these statements are revealed to the woman, who responds, “Nobody gets dibbs on the mountain guide.” The fact that even the adult male protaganist in the movie is presented as one who would see a woman as something to “get dibbs on” is disturbing, and it doesn’t belong in a family film. But the presence of a woman requires some romance, of course. This comes about in a stereotypical scene in which Fraser’s character is about to risk his life to save his nephew, and the female character plants a good-bye kiss on him, for fear that she might never see again this man that she just met and barely knows. The two are shown embracing in the final scene of the movie, as if we are supposed to believe that they lived happily ever after. To say these present a faulty understanding of male-female relations and of courtship is to say the least, though I’ve come not to expect Walden Media to understand that.

Then there was the gradual undressing of the adult characters of the movie. The center of the earth gradually increases in temperature while they are there, and this results in the characters being nearly down to their skivies by the end of the thing. Now this is logical considering the plotline of the movie, and I don’t think that normally I would have noticed, had it not been for the scene in which Fraser’s character, protecting the life of the mountain guide, gets a sleeve of his shirt torn off by a giant man eating Venus Fly Trap. After defeating the plant and saving the woman, he responds by reaching up and tearing the other sleeve off, as if he couldn’t carry on with such asymmetry. It was so blatant as to be laughable. I’m sure somewhere in Fraser’s contract a clause was included that required the exposure of his biceps. Once again, this isn’t really necessary in a family film.

The only other Walden Media film I’ve seen was Amazing Grace which, though I praised it when it came out, had its own problems, particularly in the areas of theology and historical accuracy. But considering the ones from them I have seen, I am struck by a thread that runs between the group of them, and that is the subject of faith and unbelief. This is particularly present in how it relates to the subject of imagination. If one follows the gospel according to Walden Media, it would seem that any worldview will work, so long as you have faith. The Bible could be true, or, for that matter, so could Jules Verne’s book. Now maybe this hasn’t been Walden Media’s intention. But I find the similarities between the films striking, and it makes me wonder. It is a matter I’m still mulling over, so I can’t add any more thoughts to this, though I would encourage the reader to think about it. And I would welcome any thoughts from those who may have seen any of Walden Media’s other films, particularly the more recent ones like Bridge to Teribithia, The Water Horse, and Nim’s Island.

The CGI was good. And the plotline had potential. But the movie was all about action and little about characters. Even the scene that was supposed to make you feel personally for the characters, that of the finding and burial of the deceased seismologist’s body, while well done and touching for me, wasn’t enough to salvage the movie. Part of the problem is a common one, and that is that the movie was too short. Then again, it was supposed to be a family movie, and I guess one can’t expect too much from a film aimed at appealling to the ten year old boy and the forty year old mother. Too much character over too long a period of time, and the ten year old boy will be wanting to hit the video game machines outside the theater.

So would I recommend the film? At this point I’m not sure what to say. It wasn’t horrible. And not being a parent, I’m at a loss to some degree when it comes to what is appropriate for what children at what ages. If you have a solid understanding of male-female relations in your family, it is something you practice everyday, and you’re prepared to talk the above mentioned aspects of the film over with your children afterward, then I imagine you’ll be safe. If you aren’t willing to do these things, then you have larger questions in you life than whether or not to go to the theater today.

After Journey, I stayed at the theater and saw Kit Kittredge: An American Girl. I felt rather awkward going to see it, being a single adult male and going to see a movie I wouldn’t make my son endure, if I had a son. But it seemed like a clean movie, the sort of movie as a Christian I’d like to encourage Hollywood (via money) to make. And I knew someone who had seen it and liked it, so I wanted to check it out. It turned out to be little more exciting than Journey.

The protaganist, Kit Kittredge, is a young girl who lives in Cincinatti during the Great Depression. We witness her neighbors, and then her own family, go through financial hardship, and we see how they interact with others as a result of their trials. Kit’s father loses his job and goes to New York to earn money for the family, leaving his wife to care for Kit. Kit’s mother takes in borders to make ends meet, which borders turn out to be a hodge podge of characters from all walks of life. The climax of the movie comes when some of the borders turn out to be thieves, and Kit and her friends participate in the exposure and capture of the criminals.

The movie seems innocent on the face of it. But the viewer soon finds himself (and his daughter, presumably) assaulted with all sorts of pluralistic and politically Leftist agendas. It was only after seeing the movie that I learned that Julia Roberts was executive producer for it, a fact which would have prepared me for the propaganda, had I been aware of it in advance. I should have done more research.

First there is the guilt mongering on the middle class. The world of which Kit’s family is a part sees itself as better than the scapegoats of the society, the hobos. The hobos of Kit’s time were the poor, many of which we learn were once doctors and lawyers, just like us, only thrust into the life of the hobo by an economic downturn. Middle class people, you see, always think they are better than the poor, and are arrogant and greedy. Of course, those of the lower class are never responsible for their poverty - laziness has nothing to do with it. And how big is Julia Roberts’s house?

The one exception is Kit’s family, though this view of the poor isn’t completely absent from her household. Her family is presented as journeying from being on the edge of middle class snootiness, to escaping it due to its financial crisis. Of course, self-righteousness is always wrong, no matter who holds it. But the fact that the movie is projecting this onto today’s middle class is an inescapable conclusion, and it is inaccurate.

We are made aware early on that the family is living during the time of the Presidency of that great Socialist, Franklin D. Roosevelt. When one cynical uncle expresses doubt about the New Deal, Kit’s father counters with unwavering hope in FDR’s socialist agenda. Of course, no one questions whether it may have been socialism that created the mess in the first place, or whether said socialism may simply continue to create economic problems thereafter, which, of course, has been the case. But when you have the wealth of Hollywood but ignorance of simple economics, a little raising of the taxes doesn’t affect you.

Then there is the anti-masculinity and gender bending of the film. One of the sweet little innocent hobo children of the film (an African-American child, incidentally. Only white people are allowed in the middle class, you see.) poses as a little boy throughout the film, only to be discovered to be a little girl at the end of the film. Protected by a slightly older hobo boy after her father has died, she poses as a little boy for safety. Adult men, it seems, may harm her, as only men are evil. One father, who goes to a larger city to find work, ends up leaving his family for good. Only men, you see, are unfaithful to their marriage vows. And at the beginning of the film, Kit has four female friends who are a part of her secret all-girl club, which meets in her tree house. Two of the girls are forced to move away, but by the end of the film they are replaced, by the rather weak boy of the father who disappeared on his family, and by the gender-confusing African American girl. You see, we’re all one world - black, white, straight, gender non-specific. Why can’t we all just get along? And our world would be so much better if women (or little girls, apparently) were running the clubhouse.

As I mentioned, thievery takes place, as three of the borders are found to be part of a local as well as regional crime spree. At the heart of the movie is the middle class bias against hobos. The hobos are just innocent people, apparently, as the actual thieves are middle class people posing as hobos. We meet, once again, the myth of the noble savage at work again, only slightly modified. People aren’t born sinners, it seems. It is civilization, and, inherently, wealth, that corrupts, not the heart of man. The thieves are two men and a woman, which may initially make one think that my assessment of the film’s view of men is skewed. But as we reach the climax of the movie, we see the female thief “come to her senses” and aid in the capture of the other two thieves. Men, it seems, are incurable sinners, whereas women can actually change their ways when they are wrong.

The ending is a tear-jerking moment (though no tears were jerked from me) too closely akin to the ending of It’s a Wonderful Life to be legally permissible. Everybody “Comes Together” in an indiscriminatory pluralistic stew and celebrates as if they were Christians. Kit’s father, who has been away working in New York since early in the film, shows up at the door of the family’s home, his chistled, soap opera star face covered with a two day old beard (he’s been living poor in New York for weeks, and he’s only been unable to shave over the past two days?), and proclaims that he is home to stay, and that he will now find work in town. But as I recall, the reason he left for New York in the first place was that there was no work in town, and conditions haven’t changed. This is, of course, supposed to be a heart-warming “Daddy is home to stay” moment, and perfectly appropriate. In fact, one could draw plenty of Biblical analogies from it. But the logical inconsistencies with the plot are brazen, and while I suppose this wouldn’t be noticed by the little girl who is moved over the thought of Daddy being home, it is ridiculous to me. The writers could have cleaned this up much better. The result is sentimentalism triumphing over truth. But this is present throughout the film, so this scene, in that sense, is just consistent with the rest.

So the film ends where it begins, in transformative, Old Creation/New Creation, chiastic fashion, albeit a sentimentalistic, pluralistic chiastic fashion. It’s a classic case of pagans borrowing from Christians and then warping whatever they’ve borrowed. There are truths throughout the film that I would echo, even mixed in with the elements of the film I’ve highlighted. The problem is that they are marred by pagan thought, as I’ve also highlighted.

Aside from all of this, the film suffers, just like Journey, as a result of lack of depth. Once again, it is a children’s film, and this may have something to do with it. The acting is a little more convincing than some of what I’ve seen lately, and features an all-star cast. But it doesn’t make the film worth seeing.

So this should serve as a warning to Christians, especially Christian parents, everywhere. Just because a movie is “clean” (which usually means no sex, violence, profanity, drugs, or alcohol - as if these were the only sins in the world - thanks for nothing, Fundamentalism) doesn’t mean it’s good. Don’t waste your time or money on this one. Not only would it not be helpful to your children. I’d go so far as to say it would be harmful for them.

I’ve seen a couple of other movies since seeing these, but they’ll have to wait for another time.

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