The Church Behind Fireproof / How a Baptist church in Georgia became a movie-making mecca

For several years the members of Sherwood Baptist Church have had a vision: “To touch the world from Albany, Georgia.”

And thanks to the power of mass media, this church of about 3,000 members — located in a city of only 80,000 or so — has been able to do just that.

Through its media ministry, the church has already produced two feature-length films with an all-volunteer cast and a mostly-volunteer crew. Given their incredibly low budgets, both films — especially Facing the Giants — have been enormously successful, in theaters and on DVD. Both films have also been distributed to over 50 countries around the world in a dozen subtitled languages.

Now the church is putting the finishing touches on its third film, Fireproof, which opens on September 26. This time the folks at Sherwood are working with a budget of $500,000 — still peanuts by Hollywood standards, but five times the budget of Giants — and they even have a professional Hollywood actor, Kirk Cameron of Growing Pains and Left Behind fame, in the lead role as a firefighter whose marriage is in trouble.

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Dark City and the ambiguous ending.

I finally got around to watching the “director’s cut” of Dark City (1998; my article) a few days ago, and as is often the case with these things, I liked some of the changes and didn’t care all that much for some of the other changes. Maybe some day I’ll make a “viewer’s cut”, just for me, that keeps some of the old bits but includes some of the new bits.

The “director’s cut” is close enough to the previous version that I don’t feel a need to add much to what I have said about the film before. But one thing does jump out at me, namely the way the film’s portrayal of its protagonist, John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell), has become just a little more ambivalent.

In the original version of the film, Murdoch is basically a sort of everyman who wakes up with no memories of his past but discovers that he has a superpower of sorts, namely the ability to re-shape the physical world with nothing more than the power of his mind. Over the course of the film, Murdoch discovers that the world he lives in is a complete fake, created by similarly superpowered aliens who kidnapped a bunch of human beings some time ago and began playing with their memories and identities in order to see if there was anything consistent about these people — anything resembling a soul — that could not be reduced to the simple programming of their brains. By the end of the film, Murdoch has defeated the aliens, and he uses his superpower — which none of the other human beings seem to have — to re-create the world as he sees fit.

Now, in one sense, this would seem to be a happy ending. Murdoch has been trapped in a dark, dreary city for the entirety of the film, wishing that he could visit a bright and cheery place called Shell Beach — and at the end of the film, Murdoch finally gets to go there. However, the reason he gets to go there is because he has created Shell Beach for himself. And lingering over the “happy ending” is the question of whether Murdoch can ever truly be happy in a world that, apart from the personalities of its citizens, offers him no surprises, no otherness, so long as it remains a projection of his own wishes and desires. (Consider, too, that Shell Beach was an idea planted in Murdoch’s mind by the aliens; Murdoch may have conquered the aliens physically, by banishing them from his world, but their influence lingers on other levels.)

To put this another way, Murdoch is a man with the powers of a god, and while the film ends on a happy note — with Murdoch finally mastering his godlike powers — it does not take too much imagination to conceive of a time when these powers might go to his head and drive him mad, or make him insufferable, to say the least.

These are thoughts I have always entertained about the film, ever since I first saw it in the theatre over ten years ago. But it wasn’t until I saw the “director’s cut” this week that I appreciated the extent to which director Alex Proyas is, himself, aware of the potential downside of a man like Murdoch having these powers.

First, at the climax of the film, after Murdoch has vanquished the aliens, the “director’s cut” removes a line of dialogue. In the original version of the film, Murdoch says, “I’m gonna fix things,” and then he talks about the powers he has, and his intention to use them. In the new version, he simply talks about the powers he has, and his intention to use them; the film no longer cues us to see Murdoch’s re-creation of the world as an essentially positive thing — though of course, given how that re-creation is depicted, most of us will see it that way anyway.

Second, and more importantly, at an earlier point in the story, as Murdoch and Inspector Bumstead (William Hurt) are taking Dr. Schreber (Kiefer Sutherland) to the place where they hope to find Shell Beach, Murdoch grills Schreber for information, and at one point he leans over the seat in Bumstead’s car and uses his superpower to inflict physical pain on Schreber. In essence, Murdoch tortures Schreber, however briefly, and his action brings a look of shock to Bumstead’s face. Thus the film explicitly raises the possibility that Murdoch might abuse his powers.

So the “director’s cut” of this film is a little more complicated, morally, than the version which has been out there for the past ten years. And while I might quibble with some of the other changes that Proyas has made to the film, I have to say I rather like this one — if for no other reason than it seems to confirm my more ambiguous reading of the movie’s climax.

Cylons and humans working together!

This is just too much fun. Two days ago, Carmen Andres posted a bunch of photos suggesting that there might be some sort of connection between John McCain and Battlestar Galactica‘s Colonel Tigh. And now that McCain has chosen his running mate, Palmer Houchins of Paste magazine notes that there may be a link between Sarah Palin and Laura Roslin. I think I like this even better than the Sarah Palin – Tina Fey connection that some people have been making. Thanks to Alissa Wilkinson for the link.

AUG 30 UPDATE: Looking at the characters’ biographies rather than their faces, Jonathan V. Last agrees with the Palin-Roslin parallel but thinks McCain is closer to an Adama figure.

SEP 4 UPDATE: The Tigh-Roslin campaign now has a website!

Two more movies not screened for critics.

Gadzooks. There are four movies opening in wide release today, and three of them were not screened for critics. I already mentioned Babylon A.D., but it wasn’t until I checked the release schedule last night that I realized I had heard nothing — absolutely nothing — about screenings for College and Disaster Movie. And next week, of course, brings us only one new wide release, Bangkok Dangerous, and that film, too, is not being screened for critics, as I mentioned last week. No wonder I’ve been spending more time at home lately. I can’t say I’m complaining, mind.

No End in Sight is already out there.

There’s been a lot of buzz lately about the fact that Charles Ferguson’s by-now-somewhat-out-of-date Iraq War documentary No End in Sight (2007) will be made available in its entirety on YouTube next month. But I don’t see what the big deal is; the film has been available on Google Video for almost a year:

Click here if the video file above doesn’t play properly.

And if this is all about the election… Well, hyping this movie at this point in time could go in any number of directions. If you opposed the invasion of Iraq five years ago, as Obama did, you may feel vindicated by the fact that things were so bad there a year or two ago. And if you thought the Bush administration was doing a less-than-ideal job of running the invasion five years ago, as McCain did, you may feel vindicated by the fact that things went as badly as McCain predicted, and that things have improved since this film was made, since Bush took McCain’s advice and went ahead with the surge. To hear some people talk, though, you’d think the film could be interpreted in only one direction.

Yet another slight hint about Star Trek XI.

For those who like to speculate about how far the new Star Trek movie will go with its rumoured exploration of alternate timelines, check out this interview with Zachary Quinto, and his response when he is asked, around the 3:25 mark, how his performance as the young Spock was informed by his knowledge of what the character would become in the existing TV shows and movies:

Click here if the video file above doesn’t play properly. Hat tip to