Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Ultimate Scoop!

Unfortunately, we got scooped. I read this story over the weekend, and I was intending on posting it as we got closer to our own review of The Ultimate Gift (produced by Rick Eldridge, pictured at right) this Friday, but the Christian Cinema Blog scooped us by posting about it today. The good news is that not only is their post really interesting, but it takes a completely different approach then I was(and will) take on the story.

First, the original story from Scripps Howard News Service(owners of local Albuquerque fish wrap the Tribune [I kid, one of my good friends works at the Trib]) and my take on it. The story is an interview with The Ultimate Gift producer Rick Eldridge (Bobby Jones, Stroke of Genius and about a million Hermie and Friends films). In the story Eldridge complains that because his film was transferred from 20th Century Fox's main film division to the sub-division of Fox Faith it lost its chance to appeal to a mainstream audience. According to Eldridge, they were trying to make a mainstream movie with mainstream actors, and instead got "pigeon-holed" into the "Christian" market. He says that this impacted the reviews, which from then on attacked the film on its spiritual grounds, instead of addressing it even-handedly.

I haven't seen the film yet(but will by Friday), but as you know we at the Supercandid podcast have no great love for FoxFaith. I mean, come on, they put out some of the worst DVDs in history, DVDs that would be embarrassed to be released in 1998, when I first bought a DVD player. I haven't seen The Ultimate Gift DVD yet, but I'm not expecting it to blow me away with its extra features. Hopefully it will at least have a trailer for itself, as the Fox Faith of End of the Spear had only trailers for other films.

I don't entirely agree with Eldridge, seeing as how over at Rotten Tomatoes the film got a 33% fresh rating, which isn't too shabby for a Christian film. Granted, a few of the negative reviews mention the Christian context, but so do some of the positive reviews. It got a good write up from Variety, one of the least Christian of all movie reviewers that specifically mentions the fact that the Christian elements don't detract from the film at all.

It seems to me that Eldridge is implying that people don't want to see a film that is described as Christian. I'd disagree, as films about Christians and religious themes can, and have been, very popular. On the other hand, perhaps Eldridge was upset because The Ultimate Gift seems about as cookie-cutter a Christian film as you can get(at least from the description) and that would turn off just about anyone. Personally, I'm looking forward to it because of the cast, but the marketing for this movie has made it pretty clear that I don't fit in the target audience.

Speaking of target audiences, lets get back to the Christian Cinema blog. Their write up goes down the track that the problem is that not all Christians want to see the same movies, an idea that I agree with wholeheartedly. They use the lovely example of Hollywood logic based upon The Passion, similar to what Bill Ewing(producer and writer of End of the Spear did when we discussed a similar topic during our interview. Angela Walker over at Christian Cinema uses the lovely example of how this misguided logic works. To quote; "assuming that because I want to see a film masterfully done about the crucifixion, I’ll want to see a film about football, or an inheritance, or a Jewish girl who becomes a queen, assumes that all of those stories have as much importance in my life of faith as Christ’s death on the cross. I’m a Christian but I’m also an individual with individual taste in entertainment. Thirdly, it assumes that when I become a Christian, I put my personal likes and dislikes behind me and will buy every Christian CD that comes out, and attend every Christian film that is released into theaters."

Well said, Angela. I'd like to add that because I want to see a great film about Jesus doesn't also mean that I want to see a film about sin eating, hangman's curses or ridiculous and derivative serial killers.

I might add that this sounds very similar to the argument that Michael Landon Jr. used when he bemoaned the box office failure of The Last Sin Eater, another Fox Faith film. Landon Jr. gave a radio interview in which he suggested that Christian critics were wrong to criticize his film. A similar situation occurred this summer when Evan Almighty bombed despite desperately trying to reach the "Christian" audience. I can't wait to review that one, since no matter how good or bad the film was, there are some really sad examples of the film just grasping at straws.

This is actually a discussion that is important in current film theory, since the old model was that there are certain audiences you can identify and analyize(such as the male audience, the female audience, the white audience, the black audience, etc.). Film theory is just now catching on to the obvious truth that there is no such thing as a monlithic audience and that people are, *gasp*, individuals.

So the lessons we can learn from The Ultimate Gift(and similar movies) are:

  • Don't assume that all Christians want to see the same movie
  • Don't assume that because your movie is labeled "Christian" that Christians will want to see it
  • Don't take any responsibility for your movie losing money and instead blame the bad box office on others
  • Don't trust Fox Faith

What do you think? Good lessons? Christian filmmakers take note! Not really, Christian filmmakers should take notes from people like Bill Ewing, who was frank about mistakes that were made and accepted responsiblity himself instead of trying to blame the audience. Note that Ewing's film End of the Spear was made for a tiny budget and recouped the full amount easily, as well as getting great reviews despite being both a film about missionaries and a Fox Faith release.


(original story from Scripps Howard News Service, with additional content from the Christian Cinema Blog)

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Angela said...

I appreciate your take on this discussion. "The Ultimate Gift" is a good film and well-made; I wish more people had seen it in the theater.

We'll have an interview with Rick posted this weekend on the ChristianCinema.com website & in the newsletter.

It's an evolving industry, and I think everyone is scrambling to figure out things like marketing, who the audience is, etc. It's definitely a great time to be in the industry.

Tiredofsteam said...

Right. They shouldn't assume that every Christian will want to see every movie made for a Christian audience, but I can't knock them for trying. I could care less about Hangman's Curses, Sin Eaters or serial killers, but at least it's not the same Amish love story OVER AND OVER AND OVER. It's SOME variety.

speaking of which... what is our 'Christian Star Wars' filmmaker friend up to?