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Jonathan's Resource Ezine

Weekly Resources, Ideas and Articles from The Source for Youth Ministry
Tuesday, October 9, 2001

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Most of you got my email plugging the new Christian Movie EXTREME DAYS released in theaters nationally two weeks ago.? I plugged the film, without too much detail, as a good film for teens and a good discussion starter.? Since then I've received a lot of emails asking my opinion of the film.? I've also noticed a peculiar phenomenon with the emerging reviews of this film.? With that in mind, I thought I'd provide a more detailed review.?

Every film maker wants their film to be taken seriously.? I haven't seen either Christian advocates of the film or secular critics being totally honest about EXTREME DAYS.

Christian speakers and organizations seemed to have blindly stamped their approval on the film, just because "it's Christian!"? After all, it's a Christian film . . . we have to support our brothers in Christ.? On the other hand, many secular critics have been extra harsh because the film was "Christian."? The LA Times mocked the film with the following comments: "It's the world's first Christian extreme sports movie! It's enough to make you wonder what might be next if this film is a success (unlikely, given the audience of three it received at a major L.A. theater last Saturday night). Maybe Christian sci-fi ("Hey! These aliens don't accept a long-dead human being from our planet as their personal savior!") or Christian kung fu ("Thou shalt not defeat my crucifix style!")."

I'm not going to float to either extreme with a polarized review to counter the other.? I just want to look at the film honestly for a moment.

Reviewing films is difficult because each of us comes to a film with our own bias.? Being a believer in Christ, I found myself excited by a film that was willing to take the risk of releasing a clean, though-provoking film in the secular market-place.

Unfortunately, the world doesn't have the same bias and is less forgiving to anything that doesn't live up to secular entertainment standards.? Although catchy and fun at times, EXTREME DAYS has had, and will continue to have a hard time penetrating the secular marketplace.? Just because the film is clean or "Christian," you can't neglect the basic elements that make a great film:? well rounded characters, an intriguing premise, innovative and effective visual style, new ideas, good pacing, etc.? C. S. Lewis achieved this with his books THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA. You have great story telling from a Christian perspective. But the most important thing about C.S. Lewis' work is that it was more imaginative than most Children's books at the time. It is great story telling with overt Christian content, yet isn't preachy or manipulative.

Regardless of the fact that most Christians praised this film and happenstancely most secular reviewers hated it . . . audiences voted with their attendance, or lack there of.? Lack of attendance wasn't because the film was Christian, it was because the film didn't have what THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA had even half a century ago.? As a matter of fact, EXTREME DAYS paled in comparison with other films of the day.

When making a film like this, you have to know your audience. If you want wide theatrical distribution in the United States, your audience is predominantly not going to know who DC Talk is, for example.? However the audience does know who Steven Speilberg, Jennifer Aniston and Tom Hanks are. You also will be competing with Steven Soderberg and the Wachowski brothers who are probably talented enough to make LEVITICUS, THE MOVIE become a smash hit (don't look it up, it's not a movie!)

In its defense, EXTREME DAYS had the deck stacked against it to begin with.? You've got a film with no major actors or actresses, no big name director, released by no major studio. Furthermore, you've got no sex, nudity or violence, which, as depressing as the fact is, sells tickets.? Charles Colson, in his recent "BreakPoint" said, "In short, MTV has become a model for business success. Unfortunately, that model targets youth by using the profane. Thankfully, Providence Entertainment has refused to give in to those who feed our kids an endless supply of filth."

So EXTREME DAYS had to work really hard to begin with because it couldn't include any of these cheap thrills.? So it necessitated a good storyline, good performances and good entertainment value, targeting its teen audience.? For teen audiences, I think the film may have squeaked by.? However, most adults aren't going to be enthralled by it, other than the fact that it's the first clean film they can show at youth group since 1987's Princess Bride.

What are the positive aspects of the film. EXTREME DAYS has some funny moments.? After the opening sequence and credits, you see an old video of the main characters when they were kids.? This was funny, comparable to the opening video sequence in Adam Sandler's Happy Gilmore, but without the consistent, blatant sexual references.? Then the film delivered non-stop comedy from Derek Hamilton, who played Matt, the very Keanu Reeves-like character (back in the Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure days).

The love story achieved something different than normal.? It wasn't your typical "guy tries to get in bed with a girl" scenario.? Your lead is simply trying to score points with a girl who's decided to wait for sex until marriage.? Both have a lot of fun together throughout the film and convince you of their growing relationship- no sex required.

EXTREME DAYS touches on some tough issues.? The whole movie revolves around the perception of "the curve balls that God throws us."? Throughout the film we find several characters asking tough questions about why there is pain in this world, why God allows bad things to happen to good people, and can good come out of bad.? The film actually raises some of these questions pretty well.? One scene has Bryan asking his brother Will about how God could have let their sister die.? Will asks Bryan, "don't you think it hurt God too to watch her suffer?"

The lead girl, Jessie, takes a stand for abstinence in the film as well.? Not in a condescending way, but in a very real effort to communicate that "I've made some mistakes in the past, and I kind of want to save myself for marriage now."? Later, Bryan admits that he respects a girl that actually stands up for her moral convictions, something you don't see normally on the big screen.

You also see Corey react in a very real way when he's mourning his grandfather's death.? Jessie tries to offer some comforting words and mentions that God was still there through the good and the bad.? Corey sarcastically ridicules Jesse with a "Hallelujah!"? The world doesn't always see things in the light that Christians do.? The scene was pretty real to life.

Even though the film was somewhat entertaining, the film definitely has room for improvement.? I think the most irritating aspect was the Warren Miller-like Extreme Sports shots that were perhaps supposed to be the main characters.? I never could figure out if these scenes were just small intermissions in which we got to see some great skateboarding, skiing, surfing and motorcycling, or if we were actually supposed to think that these were the actors.? I personally would have liked a few shots of the actors faces if we were going to be led to believe that it was them, or to be introduced to these "friends" of the actors who were doing all the cool tricks.? Regardless, it insulted the audience's intelligence.
The other area of improvement could have been in the area I call "tension."? Most good films create a tension early on in the film that drives the film AND drives the audience to want to continue to watch the film.? For example, in the 1993 film THE FUGITIVE, Dr. Richard Kimble is convicted for his wife's murder.? He escapes, changes identity and seeks to prove his innocence while Tommy Lee Jones searches for him in every "dog house, out house, hen house, etc."? THAT'S SOME TENSION!!!? I was glued before the train wreck.

EXTREME DAYS was slow to deliver tension.? Only late in the film did you feel the tension in the developing love relationship.? Other than that, it was almost a documentary mixed with a Warren Miller Extreme Sports film.

The box office was brutal to EXTREME DAYS.? It only opened on only 351 screens around the US and dropped to 226 the second weekend.? The film's total ticket sales are at $750,000 total right now, including the huge number of theaters with every seat bought out and not necessarily filled by churches across the U.S.? Let me shed some perspective on this.? The pathetic film DUDE, WHERE'S MY CAR? opened on 2087 screens and made 13 million the first weekend.? Let's face it, the secular film industry knows how to market even the lamest films.

Couldn't marketing have helped?? Well, the distribution company for Extreme Days only spent 3 million TOTAL on marketing for the film (bad move).? ZOOLANDER, released the same weekend, spent 20 million on marketing.? AND, it has a big name director and actors attached to it.? Maybe this is a lesson learned.

It's a tough world when DUDE, WHERE'S MY CAR? can make over 45 million in gross sales when the average review was 4 out of 10 stars.? Meanwhile, clean, thought-provoking films like EXTREME DAYS suffer at the box offices.

Many teens enjoyed EXTREME DAYS and many more will.? Youth workers can use the film as a tool for opening doors to deeper conversation with students.? God has used this film already and I'm sure will continue to use it.? If you haven't seen it, I encourage you to, as an open door to discussions with others.

On the other hand, I hope that EXTREME DAYS has taught us (Christians) a major lesson about releasing films into the secular marketplace.? Audiences aren't going to be more forgiving to a Christian film.? If anything they will be more critical.? Christians might be able to see the good in these films.? Secular audiences, however, want quality content and delivery.? I don't think that's too much to ask for, considering the value of the message we have to deliver.

EXTREME DAYS: Discussion Questions

I promised you discussion questions that you can use with the movie.?
Here's a few:
1.? Will stated that "God throws us curve balls in life?"? What did he mean?

2.? Bryan seemed to think that God was unfair for taking away his sister then Jessie.? Do you think God was unfair?

3.? Will seemed to think that God was pretty cool to provide their sister and Jessie in the first place.? Do you think sometime we like to blame God for bad things, but we forget to blame God for the good things?

4.? Jessie's car was broken down in the beginning of the movie- did this turn out to be a bad thing or a good thing?? Why?? Can good situations happen from bad things?

5.? Jessie had a moral conviction to wait for sex until marriage.? Was this an okay conviction?? Why?

6.? Do you think Bryan eventually respected Jessie's moral conviction to abstain from sex until marriage?? Why?

7.? When you're in a tough situation, or something happens really bad, would you like to go through it alone?? Would you like a God who wanted to be with you in these types of situations, or a God who abandoned you during these situations.

8.? Can you think of a situation where God was there to comfort you?

9.? Would you like God to fill you and comfort you when you are empty?

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