Movieguide.org editor, Tom Snyder writes:
“Here, in these stats, we are not only judging production and aesthetic quality plus entertainment values, but actual content and worldview. Thus, SEPTEMBER DAWN, THE LAST SIN EATER and BEYOND THE GATES did not make the cut of the Top 20 movies for families or mature audiences, which is content driven and age appropriate driven first, then quality second (for instance, I am personally not a fan of BELLA quality wise and thought other movies made similar points in a more compelling fashion and believe that LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD was more entertaining and aesthetically pleasing than TRANSFORMERS and PRIDE, but I do not look at most of the movies a second and third time on DVD as Dr. Baehr does).”
What makes a film (or art in general) good? The directing? The screenplay? The acting? The answer, of course, is yes. All of these things vastly improve a film’s quality. This is what Movieguide views as secondary. For Movieguide, content is king.
The driving misconception here is the idea that content and quality are two entirely different and separable concepts. In fact, they are not. A film’s quality is directly tied not only to its form, but its overall message and consistency. For instance, Roger Ebert’s primary problem with the recently released critical bomb, The Bucket List is that it “thinks dying of cancer is a laff riot followed by a dime-store epiphany.” Notice how closely the message and the form are tied together: It’s a comedy (form) about cancer (content). Once it treats cancer as a “laff riot”, the feel-good message at the end is disingenuous and forced.
Here’s the danger: A film can purport to proclaim a certain message (i.e. “violence is bad”) while completely subverting that message and feeding our sinful desires in the process (i.e. Rambo). As Christians, we can feel great about watching a film which supposedly corresponds with a Christian world view, and yet at the same time we can do so thoughtlessly, with help from the film.
Thus, the real problem with movies like Alvin and the Chipmunks, Transformers, and Live Free or Die Hard is that they’re just “safe” enough that we’re encouraged to let our guard down. Transformers managed to dodge the taboos Christians typically look to avoid, such as excessive profanity and explicit anti-Christian ideas, but it was not honorable. Technically, there wasn’t anything obviously “bad” in the film. But the themes, the manipulation of the audience, and the complete disregard for true excellence undermines some of the more crucial aspects of the Christian faith.
But let’s be careful. Let’s not jump at the chance to declare every movie we see either “good” or “bad.” A movie is not either for us or against us. A movie can be both masterful and immoral. This doesn’t mean we must race to label it. Instead it means we must interact with it. As Christian, one of the most important things we can do is to praise what is good in a film and to interact with everything else, whether it’s individually or with others.
As Christians, we will not like the same films in the same way as the world. I was severely disappointed by Sweeney Todd, simply because it thrived over constant and blatant violence, and did violence to the concept of man being made in the image of God. When I read the reviews, I found that I was in the minority, though I agreed with the reviewers about almost every other aspect of the film. Because I am a Christian, I am inherently disturbed by the constant slaughter of human beings, made in the image of God. This violence, so blatantly portrayed, distracted me and took me out of the film. I was not invested in the story because I wanted out of the theater.
But we can’t let ourselves be distracted so much by what is wrong in a film that we forget to focus on whatever is excellent.