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The World Of Christian Cinema

posted by Mike on 7/24/02

For years it seems, the Christian movement has been struggling to win mainstream approval. When gloom and doom hellfire and brimstone prayer meetings didn’t lure non-believers in, they switched to Jim and Tammy Fae style charisma preaching. When that didn’t work, the tried to bring the kiddies in by creating the genre of Christian Rock music, which is still alive today with bands like Creed leading the way. But still, it has not been enough, and so the Religious Right has moved into the arena of the motion picture industry.

I consider myself non-denominational. Personally, I don’t think any church has it right. But I was raised Pentecostal… Church of God, to be more precise. I spent my young formative years watching old men run laps around the pews, women fainting, and people jumping up and screaming in gibberish in the middle of the service. I found this to be more than bizarre, despite my parents trying to convince me that it was just “God’s way.” But through all of that, my most distinctive memory from those times is a film our pastor subjected us to one Sunday night. I don’t recall the name of it, but I remember some of the scenes quite well. It showed what it was supposed to be like in Hell, displaying people in darkness, surrounded by flames, with their faces rotting off and worms crawling out of their ears. And for some unknown reason, Satan was depicted as a malicious circus clown driving across the American highways looking for souls to steal. The next week, he showed another film of equally low budget called “A Thief In The Night” which followed the lives of your typical horny 70’s teenagers, drinking, smoking, and screwing… when all of a sudden Jesus comes back and takes away all the Christians, leaving them all alone to be sent to the guillotine by the wicked Antichrist. As you can imagine, this was a lot for a seven year old to absorb.

These films were relegated to the direct-to-video medium, often being available to rent in your local Christian bookstore. The budgets were non-existant, as were the special effects. The actors were congregation members hired by whatever pastor had raised the 50 bucks necessary to rent an 8 millimeter camera. But the real kicker to these “movies” was the message being thrown down your throat: “You’re an evil, wicked person whom only Jesus could love, and you deserve everything you’re about to see.”

These kinds of films went away for a while, but in the last ten years or so, they’ve been steadily making a comeback. Thanks to financial backing by big Christian conglomerates like the Trinity Broadcasting Network, new Christian films are being produced, some of which are actually making it into cineplexes across America. And what’s most perplexing is the fact that they’re making money. LOTS of it. Two of them over the past three years have debuted in the top ten, believe it or not. Now while I do consider myself a Christian, I cannot in good faith (no pun intended) allow you misinformed movie goers to be duped into seeing these films. So I have decided to review the biggest Christian “hits” of the past ten years, to better prepare you for the onslaught to come. But I warn you. It ain’t pretty.

The Christ Man is back. Only this time... it's personal!

During the summer of 1993, this film crept into movie houses across the south. I myself found out about it through a newspaper ad. I went to see the film on the strength of the movie poster alone. I mean hell, who wouldn’t want to see a jean wearing, ass kicking Messiah taking on armed Apache attack copters? Unfortunately, I was duped. The poster had little to do with the film, other than the fact that its basic plot was a what if scenario, where Christ comes to earth in the 20th century rather than 2000 years ago.

The film revolves around a man named Jesse, who mysteriously appears one night, live on television, and brings a drowning victim back from the dead. From there, the film falls into the Incredible Hulk television show formula, where Jesse wanders from town to town, performing miracles, solving problems, and transfiguring into a Mighty Morphin Power Messiah on isolated hilltops.

Please, don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry!

As in the New Testament, Jesse meets up with men who believe in him and join his crusade. There were twelve disciples in the Bible, but in the film, there are only four or five, probably due to the fact that most of the film’s 35.00 budget was spent on the rehashed 80’s special effects. Two of these men are focused upon. The first is Jude, a troubled man who feels what the world needs is a take charge kind of leader. When Jesse refuses o use his power to take over the world, Jude turns him in to a Syndicate type group of world religious leaders who secretly run the entire planet, and are threatened by the dozens of people who follow Jesse around on the beach all day, watching him cure blind men and misquote the Bible. Jude thinks this will motivate Jesse to take a stand and open a can of Messianic whoop ass. But that’s not quite what happens.

The other disciple of interest is Pete, the muscle of the group. Pete of course represents Peter, the lying, cursing, alcoholic disciple who was known for cutting off ears if you crossed his path. Here, he is portrayed as a Grizzly Adams type, a big hearted giant simpleton. Oh, and he has a mechanical hook for a hand. It doesn’t play any role whatsoever in the plot, but is so weird that I thought I’d throw it out there.

Accept him as your damned savior, or I'll sic m'bear on your ass!

The Syndicate first tries to hire an assassin to kill Jesse. But the hitman fails to do so, after Jesse spooks him by spotting him from 100 feet away, and gives him the mighty Dead Stare Of The Lord right through his rifle scope. So instead, Jude clues them into where they’ll be camping out next, and Jesse is subsequently kidnapped, beaten, dragged out to a barn in the middle of nowhere, and crucified from one of the barn’s side beams. Jude is so distraught over his plan not coming together that he hangs himself. Meanwhile, the leader of the Syndicate has become God’s public enemy #1. In one of the most accidentally hilarious scenes ever put to film, this old man is chased through a Louisiana graveyard by bolts of lightning. He seeks shelter in a mausoleum, only to be attacked by the spirits of dead Confederate generals. Finally, God sends a gigantic pillar of fire down and fries him alive.

Don't mind me fellas... I'll just hang out here.

This sequence was done by the same blokes who supervised the special effects for the climax of Raiders of The Lost Ark, so that you should you an idea of how it went down. Does Jesse rise from the dead after three days? Well… I don’t want to SPOIL it for you, now do I? Ultimately, it’s all a mute point anywhere. In this cynical age, do you really think Jesse would convert the number of people he does in this film? More than likely, he’d either get his own David Blain style magic special on the Discovery Channel, or Janet Reno would be breaking down the door of his compound and riddling him and his disciples full of holes.

Today, we celebrate, our Independ... uh... Christ Returns Day!

Megiddo: The Omega Code 2, was released the weekend after September 11th, not exactly a bright idea, since it involved the Third World War taking place in the Middle East. The film was a sequel of sorts to 1999’s the Omega Code, which concerned the Antichrist using computers to find hidden messages in the bible that would help him take over the world… don’t ask. This film completely ignores the original and starts from scratch, retelling the origins of the Antichrist figure, played in both films by Michael York, perhaps best known as Basil Exposition in the Austin Powers films.

Worship me, or I shall become very cross indeed! Cross, get it? MUAHAHAHA!!!

Further destroying his already lopsided career, Michael Bhein of Aliens and The Terminator fame plays the President of the United States, who also happens to be the Antichrist’s brother. He alone has the balls to stand up against his brother, who is President of the European Union. Lots of cloak and dagger type stuff ensues, (including a scene where Michael York cries out to God from the balcony of his palace in Rome and dares him to “BRING IT ON!” and so God sends a comet from space that demolishes the Roman Coliseum) which culminates in the battle of Armageddon, possibly the smallest World War I’ve ever seen depicted. Rather than being fought with bombs of the nuclear variety, the producers chose to center the fighting on tank and aircraft warfare, depicting CGI-based dogfights that seemed to be ripped straight out of ID4.

Coming This Summer... Armageddon 2: The Armageddon

The climax of the scene has the Devil himself crawl out of Michael York’s mouth, much like the bug from Men in Black, fully realized as a nine foot tall CGI demon that looked like it was cut and pasted from a Final Fantasy game, only to be handed the Holy Smackdown by “The Nazarene” and sent hurtling to his fiery demise. The special effects, ripped off though they were, were surprisingly good (all except for the Coliseum scene… notice that all of a sudden, it’s out in the middle of an isolated field rather than in the center of downtown Rome. Also notice that the people fleeing from it are about 6 feet too tall.) The worst part of the whole film is York’s portrayal of Stone Alexander. York plays the Antichrist as if he were a supervillain from the old Batman TV show, hamming it up and puking up such one liners as in the following piece of dialogue:

President: You don’t have a chance in hell of getting what you want!
Antichrist: Oh, I’ll ALWAYS have a chance in hell, David! Muahahahahah!!!

And that’s the whole problem with this film. Movies based on Revelations have worked before (The Omen series.) They can be done with a serious tone. But here, Satan is depicted as the ultimate Snidely Whiplash, a hammy braggart who is evil purely for the joy of BEING evil. It apparently has never occurred to the writers of the film that perhaps Satan is Satan, not simply because he can, but because he believes he’s right, and God is the one who has everything turned the wrong way. Had he been portrayed this way, the character would’ve been actually interesting, and the film would’ve been a thousand times more bearable. As it stands, this Antichrist would fit in better alongside the likes of Rita Repulsa and Megatron.

Another Kirk Cameron film! The End Times Draweth nigh!!!

Which finally brings me to Left behind: the Movie. In case you’ve been living in a cave for the past several years, you’ve assuredly seen one of the countless Left Behind books that flood the shelves of Walmarts everywhere. I’ve only read the first one, upon which this shitfest of a film is based, and I don’t care to read anymore. Seriously, I don’t see how a writer can take the last sixty pages or so from the Bible and turn it into a continuing series that has so far spawned ten books, not including Left Behind: The Kids, a serious of books written for kids…imagine that… about how their lives will be ruined when the Antichrist comes and rips out their souls in a “FLAWLESS VICTORY!!!”

I wish I'd never made Like Father, Like Son... DAMN YOU DUDLEY!!!

The film stars Kirk Cameron of Growing Pains as a news reporter who witnesses the mass disappearance of millions of people, leaving behind only their clothes (Heaven must be a nudist colony.) This event is chronicled in both Revelations and in First Thessalonians, and is referred to by Protestants as “the Rapture,” though that term is never actually used in scripture. As for Kirk, he seems more concerned with what happened to everyone else, rather than why he was LEFT BEHIND. The remaining earthlings wander through half the film before they figure out what has happened. Meanwhile, yet another Antichrist figure, this time a Slavic nobleman with the unlikely name of Nicholae Carpathia, is using the ensuing panic to slowly take over the world, and instill his “mark” technology as a supposed way to keep track of people, should anything like this occur again. People confess their past sins, lots of tears are shed, and plenty of stuff blows up. And of course, it’s left open-ended, just like the book. And just like the novel, it’s extremely preachy, making sure that each character in the film had some horrible sin they’d committed, like the heroine, who was sleeping around on her husband. It plays off less like a sci-fi/action/prophetic piece than it does a campy soap opera.

The film was originally released on DVD and video, and then was released theatrically after the fact, which just goes to show you how much common sense these people have. What frightens me the most, however, is that the tenth volume of this series has just been released, and the second film Tribulation Force has just gone into fast track production, which most likely means that old Kirk will be gracing our video store shelves for at least another nine friggin’ years. At the same time, Omega Code 3 that been announced. This film will supposedly chronicle Christ’s 1000 year millennial reign on earth, and his final, FINAL battle with Satan, who is apparently given more comebacks than a Freddy Krueger marathon. It’s more than my fragile sensibilities can take. Just last spring, yet another Christ type film named Joshua came and went from the theaters. I haven’t seen it, but I have no doubts that I will eventually, as my mother will no doubt give it to me as a Christmas present Last year, she gave me a video entitled “The Theology Of The Titanic,” one of Reverend Hagee’s sermons-on-tape that attempts to cash in on the Titanic movie by mixing in a few historical facts about the sinking amongst his attempts to compare the Titanic to the sinking of the soul under the weight of sin. I think Satan was the iceberg, but I’m not sure. I didn’t make it past the opening credits… the cover showed the Titanic sinking, with the spirits of its victims floating up to a giant Jesus in the sky. Nevertheless, you have been warned, constant readers. The next Christian blockbuster could be hitting the theater in your hometown at any moment. And mark my words: beware Christian mothers bearing gifts…

Click here to see the Megiddo preview trailer!
Click here to see the Judas Project preview trailer!
Click here to see the Left Behind preview trailer!


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