Idol Chatter

Evan_Noah_idol.jpgWhen I was in film school in Los Angeles, I went to sneak previews all the time. It’s a great chance to see movies before critics and friends ruin them for you, and best of all, the audiences are a hodge-podge of teenagers, couples, college students, and families who come for free seats and glory of gloating: “I-saw-it-first.”
So last week when I was invited to an advanced screening of “Evan Almighty in my new hometown of Colorado Springs, I expected more of the same. But this was something entirely different. People in Jesus t-shirts were scattered all over the auditorium. I ran into friends who work at Focus On The Family, Young Life, and many of the other evangelical companies and churches in town. Everyone was talking; entire rows seemed to know each other. I direct theatrical productions for a local megachurch, and this screening felt just like the megachurch’s lobby on a Sunday morning. It was bubbly and fun and loud.
Once the theater was at capacity, a disc jockey from the family-friendly radio station welcomed us to the screening. “This film is just as funny as ‘Bruce Almighty,’” he shouted. “Only this time it’s safe for the whole family!”
The audience cheered. And I cringed.

It was clear whom Grace Hill Media, the event’s host, was targeting. Ever since “The Passion of The Christ’s” 370 million dollar run in 2004, Hollywood has been in pursuit of what has become known as “Passion dollars.”
“The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: The Chronicles of Narnia,” “The Nativity Story,” and most curiously, “Rocky Balboa,” are just a few of the recent films that aimed elaborate marketing campaigns at Christians. Churches are told these movies are evangelistic, and they are encouraged to buy out entire theaters for their congregations. “Rocky Balboa’s” marketing company even offered a ready-made four-week sermon series about the film.
And now, “Evan Almighty”–it’s not just a sequel to the successful Jim Carrey film, but it’s a sequel for Christians.
As the deejay promised, the film was safe. “Bruce” had mild sexual humor; “Evan” has piety–or at least, characters who talk about prayer and God. It’s clean, it’s funny, and it has a clear moral message.
And, at least for the evangelicals who saw the picture with me, it works. Afterward, the movie the theater was buzzing like a group of churchgoers who’d just heard a great sermon. If this theater is any indication, Christians will be voting for “Evan” next week with their box office dollars. But if they do, I shudder to think where the straight-to-evangelicals marketing will stop.
Coming to a church near you: The “Rambo IV” sermon series!
Rob Stennett

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