By Erica Ogg
There are many ways to cover the same story, and few would expect The Baltimore Sun and NewsMax.com to choose the same angle — or that in their coverage of the churches-only release of the latest evangelical Left Behind rapture movie, NewsMax’s take would be superior.
Left Behind: World at War is the third film installment of a best-selling Christian book series dealing with the apocalypse. It was shown on more than 3,000 screens in churches across the U.S. last weekend and was released on DVD Tuesday.
The third movie is notable in several ways and NewsMax, an unabashed right-wing outlet, gets right to the point. For the first time, a Left Behind movie has major studio backing (Sony). NewsMax also gives the essential stats right up front: “More than 70 million copies of the novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins have been sold, but the previous two ‘Left Behind’ movies flopped at the box office.”
The Baltimore Sun uses euphemism to say essentially the same thing: “But tonight, fans should notice what the filmmakers are calling the ‘quantum leap forward’ in production values — the Hollywood-quality cinematography, sound and special effects lacking in the first two movies.” Why does the Sun’s story reek of PR verbiage? This is after reporter Matthew Hay Brown’s first three graphs, which sound like they came from the back of the DVD.
The Baltimore Sun article spends a lot of time doing a compare/contrast with other Christian-oriented major studio releases like Narnia, and, of course, includes the inevitable Passion reference.
The San Bernardino County Sun takes yet a different tack, namely, what’s the point of all this anyway? Besides simply entertaining Christian audiences, it’s about evangelism.
Executive producer Peter Lalonde tells San Bernardino that “The first 10 minutes following the film … are more important than any segment in it. That is when church leaders and members can answer questions, reiterate the Gospel and pray for those who respond to an altar call.”
San Bernardino writer Brad A. Greenberg astutely adds some Christian academic perspective to his story. A sampling:
Craig Detweiler, a screenwriter and adjunct professor of theology and culture at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena: “They may prove to have another profitable and embarrassing production.”
Thomas Parham, an associate professor of theater, film and television at Azusa Pacific University: :The ‘Left Behind’ series contributes to “the ghettoization of Christian subculture.”
Greenberg doesn’t come right out and say it, but his balanced reporting intimates what not enough people know: Christians are not monolithic – in their theology, economics or cultural expectations and values.
Meanwhile, The Baltimore Sun reporter lets Lalonde tell the story for him. Brown notes that Lalonde’s company has made a low-cost DVD system available to churches to screen Christian movies on a monthly basis. Lalonde adds, “If someone wants to take advantage, they’ll have to make a movie that a pastor will play in his church … [a]nd therefore, we’ve affected the culture and started to have more films made for what I believe is an enormously untapped audience.”
Brown neither explains nor asks how this will make money for the studio distributor when churches are not charging for access to the showings.
NewsMax doesn’t spend any time on the evangelism angle. Instead, it cuts to the heart of the issue: most studio profits come from DVDs, anyway.
Erica Ogg is a writer in Los Angeles.