Alas, the tribulation surrounding the production of films based on the best-selling Left Behind novels continues.
Those who’ve been following mainstream Christian culture for a while know what a major disappointment the first two films were to everyone who saw them. Cloud Ten Pictures and the LaLonde brothers promised Christians a Hollywood blockbuster film that would take the world by storm. Instead, we were left gaping at the screen in utter horror as we sat through a cheesy production that had the secular world rolling in laughter. The damage to the franchise was so great that author Tim LaHaye filed a lawsuit against the LaLonde brothers.
You would think that this would have dissuaded the LaLondes from having anything to do with the series. But last year many were surprised to see a revamped version of the Left Behind film hit theaters, directed by Vic Armstrong and… you guessed it… Paul LaLonde.
Despite its $15 million budget and its ability to cast major actors such as Nicolas Cage, Chad Michael Murray, and Jordin Sparks, critics have torn this recent film apart. This recent production was even awarded three “Razzies” in the 35th Annual Golden Raspberry Awards, being named Worst Picture, Worst Screenplay, and Worst Actor (for Nicolas Cage).
So here’s what you may be asking yourself… is the film really that bad?
My answer for you is this: it’s not great – at all – but it’s a small step in the right direction. My wife and I watched the 2014 version of Left Behind this past weekend, and here are a few thoughts that may help you find a silver lining – however small it may be – in the midst of this Christian media fiasco:
Look Ma – We’ve Got Special Effects!
Thanks to the heftier film budget, this recent production was able to swing a few special effects. Are they Hollywood caliber? Not at all… but compared to the majority of lower budget television films and series out there, they’re really not bad. As long as you don’t hit the “Play” button expecting a Christian version of The Avengers, you’ll find a few fun surprises along the way.
The Acting’s Not All Bad
I’ll give this to the critics – this performance was certainly not one of Nicolas Cage’s best. And there are several supporting actors who really just don’t belong on film. However, there are also a few satisfying performances. Cassi Thomson (from Switched at Birth) comes across as a very likeable person on screen for a rebellious teen who is shaking her fists at God, and Jordin Sparks (from American Idol) has a golden moment as a mother who discovers her daughter is missing. And Chad Michael Murray (from Agent Carter) and Lea Thompson (from Switched at Birth) offer stable performances that live up to what we’ve come to expect from their work on television.
It Gets the Discussion Started
The main thing I can appreciate about a film like this, however, is that it gets Christians thinking about what their lost friends might feel like in the moments following the rapture. It gets the conversation started about how important it is that we share Christ with all those we meet, and that we do so in a loving way. Christianity Today heavily criticized the film for portraying Christians as being “insistent, crazy, delusional, or at the very least just really annoying,” and that is a very valid point. The goal of this film seems to be to give viewers a peek into the way many lost individuals view Christianity, since the majority of the cast features characters who have been left behind because they are not Christians. But why were they left behind? Perhaps, in part, it was because they viewed Christian people as being too insistent or annoying.
It was frustrating to me that the film didn’t quote a single Bible verse or offer any answers. It simply depicts a group of lost people who realize they’ve been left behind and leaves them there. But I had to remind myself that this was just a starting point… and it allows Christian people to imagine how their neighbors might view them if they aren’t careful.
Is this the type of film that I’d show at a major church event or invite my lost friends to see? Absolutely not. But could this film be used in Christian small groups to start a conversation about how we can do evangelism more effectively? I think so… and to me, that’s one silver lining that makes the film worth renting at least once.
Left Behind is simply not going to live up to your expectations based on an amazing series of novels which scared the world half to death, but if viewed in the right way and with the right audience – you might just find enough of a silver lining to make you glad you gave this “doomed” Doomsday production a chance.