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FIRST-PERSON: A disappointing movie summer ends with hope

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (BP)–Movie audiences felt that overall this summer’s blockbusters went bust. Even those they liked at the time (“Batman Begins,” “Fantastic Four”) didn’t do the repeat business that mega movies generally generate. And far too many movies were simply dreadful.

Case in point: “House of Wax.” “It’s hot” — that was the Noel Coward-like description by one of its stars, the cultural phenom/curiosity Paris Hilton. Nothing was funny, no one was likable, the look was grimy rather than creepy, and nothing was the slightest bit scary. But hey, according to Paris Hilton, “It’s hot.” Far be it from me to argue with a cultural icon, but many felt the only thing hot in this film was the wax.

It’s almost unfair to spotlight that underachiever from a roster that included “The Dukes of Hazzard” and “Stealth,” but there simply is not enough room here to list, let alone describe, all this summer’s slackers. Suffice it to say, audiences weren’t fooled by the bombastic trailers this year. They rightly summed up most coming attractions as inane or crude. People, even teens, wanted something different. So much so, they were willing to attend a documentary about penguins. This year’s sleeper hit, “March of the Penguins,” takes place in the Antarctic, where every March the quest begins for penguins to find the perfect mate and start a family.

The film depicts how instinct is so potent in these creatures that they will risk starvation and attack by dangerous predators, not to mention unfathomable temperatures, in order to bring forth new life. It’s full of impressive, almost unworldly locations and amazing cinematography, and most importantly, it sends a powerful message concerning the importance of life. In a time when audiences are subjected to “pro” messages concerning euthanasia (“Million Dollar Baby,” “The Sea Inside”), the need for abortion (“Vera Drake”), and desensitizing images of violence toward our fellow man (most films), here is a movie that reveals creatures in the wild sacrificing all in order to preserve life.

Fortunately, fall is arriving and the promise of other good movies is blowing in the wind. “The Greatest Game Ever Played” has already entered theaters and, despite the disputable title, it’s a charming, totally engrossing family pleaser. Basically an unknown underdog story from sports annuals, the true tale takes place in 1913 when 20-year-old Francis Ouimet, engagingly played by Shia LaBeouf, unexpectedly becomes an overnight American hero. In a standoff at golf’s U.S. Open, he stuns American audiences by proving that golf isn’t just a game for the country club elite.

Avoiding the crudity and exploitation associated with many film releases these days, writer Mark Frost (one-time executive story editor for “Hill Street Blues”) fills his inspirational screenplay with humor, pathos and an uplifting message that makes “The Greatest Game Ever Played” this year’s best family film.

Perhaps more rewarding than anything you’ll see in theaters this year is the re-mastered, four-disc collector’s DVD edition of the spectacular “Ben Hur.” The film has been reformatted and includes new features, such as a commentary by Charlton Heston, documentaries on the making of the film, a DVD of the 1925 silent version (incredible), plus an incisive Bible study guide.

The 1959 William Wyler classic has the story of Christ’s impact on mankind at the center of this epic about a Jew who, because of his faith, loses everything he holds dear, only to discover the healing power of Jesus’ love.

Winner of an unprecedented 11 Oscars, “Ben Hur” presents Jesus through the use of long shots and camera angles that focus the attention not on an actor portraying the Christ, but on the people who came into His presence.

The chariot race is considered one of the finest action sequences ever filmed, and the ending will uplift as we see Jesus’ effect on the lives of the house of Hur. It has an intimate story and some of the best dialogue ever penned for a blockbuster. (Catch the figurative language of the converted Ben Hur as he states, “And I felt His voice take the sword out of my hand.”)

I viewed the documentaries included in this set and found them to be both entertaining and informative. Heston’s commentary, done sometime before his battle with Alzheimer’s, is nothing less than what you’d expect from this powerful screen actor. And to top it off, the boxed set includes a Bible study. The study has been designed for both home and church group fellowship use and serves to make the most of a film-watching experience for the Christian viewer.

The cinema, often despite itself, has some promising adventures for the family on the horizon, including a December trip to the land of Narnia.
Phil Boatwright reviews films from a Christian perspective. For further information, go to his website at www.moviereporter.com.

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  • Phil Boatwright