Faith, Media & Culture

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

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Family adventure. The Hunters (based on the Joshua Williamson graphic novel Mirror, Mirror) debuts tonight (10/25) at 8:00 PM (ET) on The Hallmark Channel’s Walden Family Theater.

Synopsis: Based on the infamous magical mirror from Snow White,  the story follows Paxton Flynn (Robert Amell) and his younger brother Tripp (Keenan Tracy) as they embark on a whirlwind international adventure to find their missing parents (Michelle Forbes and Dan Payne) — who, as it turns out, belong to a secret society known as the Hunters. What’s more, as their children they are Hunters too. The mission of the Hunters, we learn, is to protect mystical and mythical artifacts from falling into the hands of those who would use their powers for evil.  The Hunters are to protect the items but never use them for their own ends. The Flynn boys are joined in their quest to find their by Dylan Savini (Alexa Vega), a young female Hunter who happens to have dated Paxton in the past.

Mini-review: Wearing another hat, I’ve spent nearly five years now adapting episodes of the various incarnations of the Cartoon Network series Ben 10 into junior novels. I’ve literally done about a hundred of them. I mention this because The Hunters is almost like a live-action version of Ben 10 — with the same delicate mix of humor, action and heart. And, to me, that’s a good thing — because, even as an adult, I just eat this kind of stuff up.

The Hunters is just a lot of fun with characters that are, at once, witty, swashbuckling and vulnerable. The appealing cast really gels — enough so that it would be great to see them continue on in a series.

Victor Garber (as Hunter gone base Mason Fuller) and Kira Clavell (as his homicidal associate Mai) convey more than sufficient iciness as the cold-hearted villains intent of collecting the shattered shards of the witch’s mirror. When fit together like a puzzle, the pieces are said to provide those who gaze into them their deepest desires. The problem, of course, is that such things tend to bring out the worst in people.

But fear not parents. Whatever violence there is is of the Saturday-morning cartoon variety and the point is clearly that good overcomes evil.

My one quibble with the film is when we learn that Fuller’s Hunter father died while protecting the Holy Grail (often identified as the chalice Christ used at the Last Supper) from no-goodniks. He was apparently severely wounded in the effort and chose to die rather than drinking from it and allowing its healing power to save him. As a Christian, I believe in always accepting God‘s healing power. Obviously, the point was that the guy was a man of character who was willing to sacrifice his life to live up to the Hunters’ code but I just kinda think another relic could have been chosen to made that point.  As it is, that scene just had me feeling some cognitive dissonance

Overall though, this is a fun movie and is Recommended.

BTW, I recently had the opportunity to talk with Terry Drinkwater, the CEO of ARC Entertainment which (with Kickstart Productions) produced the film for Walden Family Theater. Here are some highlights from our conversation.

JWK: What led you to adapt the graphic novel Mirror, Mirror into The Hunters TV movie?

TERRY DRINKWATER: A combination of things. First off, we know one of the objectives of this initiative is to create films that are perfect for co-viewing — that the whole family can enjoy. So, when we’re targeting this, we’re targeting a film that mom, dad, teen kids and younger kids can all enjoy. When we look at how films have performed in the past in that space, the family adventures do extremely well. We were looking for a film that is like a Race to Witch Mountain or Raiders of the Lost Ark — films that are really just fun for the whole family to enjoy. We came across this graphic novel and really thought the concept was (one) that we could turn into a great movie and then, hopefully, if people really enjoy it then one day it could become a series.

JWK: So, you are looking at The Hunters as a series prospect?

TD: Absolutely. We believe the content is perfect for this one.

JWK: I could definitely see it. You know Robbie Amell, who plays the older brother Paxton Flynn, reminds me of a young Tom Cruise.

TD: Right, absolutely! The cast itself was fantastic. They did a great job. It’s, obviously, a very appealing cast.

JWK: I’m impressed by the feature-like quality of these films. The last one, for instance — The Watsons Go to Birmingham — was really excellent. The Hunters, of course, is a totally different genre but they both share that big screen vibe.

TD: Absolutely. That’s one of the things we’re trying to do with all of these films — is to develop a model that brings high-quality, high-production to the small screen — which also helps us when we’re trying to monetize through ancillaries, whether that’s DVDs or, down the road, on digital.  We filmed part of the production in Thailand and then we did a bunch of it in Canada. We were able to make this film very big. We’re pleased with how it turned out.

JWK: So, you actually did some overseas filming?

TD: Yeah. We spent almost two weeks in Thailand filming a big portion of the film.

JWK: How did you assemble the cast?

TD: As we normally do, we have some relationships that we utilized and then (we work with) with casting agents. In all these films we try to find recognizable casts. The source material is also (a factor). There are some really strong roles in it and the fact that we’re talking about it as a backdoor pilot (was an attraction to the actors) and, obviously, when we told them we were going to Thailand they realized it was a real (high-end) production.

JWK: That, plus the fact they get a nice trip.

TD: (laughs) That’s right.

JWK: Were you personally involved in the project from the start?

TD: Yes — myself and Jason Netter from Kickstart Entertainment. We worked very hard on making sure the creative (elements) were good. In particular, my team here at ARC spent a lot of time on the cast because we found that moms are extremely stressed out about entertainment options because they’re not sure about the movies on TV or the songs that their kids listen to or the video games they play. They don’t want them to be teaching their kids things (at odds with what) they’ve taught them. They don’t want to have that “remote” moment. We try to avoid that. What we found is that moms, when they are purchasing movies — particularly on DVD — they look for a cast that’s recognizable and that they trust. That’s one of the first things that they do. The second thing they do is look at the synopsis and the third is the rating.  They’re really important components that we factor into everything we do to try and make (the choice) for her an easier one — and make sure that when she brings that film home to the family that everybody can enjoy it.

JWK: The film strikes that nice balance between action, humor and heart.

TD: Yeah.

JWK: That’s not easy to achieve.

TD: It is very difficult to achieve. In all these films comedy is so important…Whenever you ask people about film, the first thing (they say is) they want to laugh.  That’s an important component to it. And then also the action is very important because you don’t want it to be slow. This was a tough film to do because there were — as you noticed — a lot of chases. a lot of action…It was a big project. Kickstart, who was our producing partner on this, did a fantastic job.

JWK: This also seems like a film that even older teenagers might enjoy. In other words, it’s not just for parents and young kids. I could even see the college crowd enjoying this.

TD: Right, that was part of what we tried to do with the cast. You notice that the kids were a little bit older. We feel like young kids will watch older kids and older kids struggle watching younger kids…We, for sure, wanted this to be enjoyed by mom, dad, older kids and younger kids.

JWK: So, I understand your next original offering on Walden Family Theater is called Pete’s Christmas.

TD: I think you will love that film. It really turned out great. It has a fantastic cast and has a lot of heart. It’s a really, really good film. I’m very proud of that one. I’m proud of all of them but I think Pete’s Christmas will become a classic.

JWK: While all these movies are family films, there is a definite mix of genres. Dear Dumb Diary was a comedy. The Watsons Go to Birmingham had humor in it but seriously dealt with some historic social issues. The Hunters, meanwhile, also has humor but with a lot more action and adventure.

TD: Absolutely. That’s what we’re trying to do. When you look across the six films you see real diversity — but one core component, which is they’re all (about) strong families and are great family entertainment.

JWK: Is it looking good for another season of Walden Family Theater?

TD: That’s what we’re hoping! Yeah, we’re really excited about it. We hope we can continue to do films like this.

JWK: When might we see a series version of The Hunters?

TD: We’ll see how it does and then I think we would probably do it sometime early next year if it (in fact) turns into a series which would be our aspiration. I think…of the six (films we’ve done for Walden Family Theater) this is the one that could really become a series.

JWK: I could definitely see it — but, you know, I could also kinda see a series about The Watsons.

TD: I could too! I really could. Obviously, we could do another sequel to Nim’s Island and there are a lot of Dear Dumb Diary books so they all could (be series).  We were also thinking we could do Re-peat as a sequel to (Pete’s Christmas).


How’s this for a future Hallmark Channel family-friendly line-up?

8:00 PM – Dear Dumb Diary
8:30 PM – The Watsons
9:00 PM – The Hunters

Just a thought.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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