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Stephen Lamb

Fireproof (2008)

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Christian, for what it's worth, I almost wrote a harsh response to your detractors several times; each time it's always been too harsh, so I scrap it. You're exactly the kind of reviewer that site needs, not the other way around.

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Christian, for what it's worth, I almost wrote a harsh response to your detractors several times; each time it's always been too harsh, so I scrap it. You're exactly the kind of reviewer that site needs, not the other way around.

Gracias! Yeah, no need to flame the flame-throwers.

So ... has anyone seen Fireproof in the past few days?

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Christian wrote:

: So ... has anyone seen Fireproof in the past few days?

Well SOMEbody must be seeing it. As of yesterday, with $13.1 million, the film has surpassed the box-office total for all other indy evie movies except the soon-to-be-surpassed One Night with the King ($13.4 million) and the not-so-soon-to-be-surpassed,-but-Fireproof-is-still-on-track-to-beat-it Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie ($25.6 million).

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Ted Baehr, who says that by showing up at the theatre and buying popcorn, "You're not spending money at the theatre, you're spending money into the kingdom of God."

Well, if I ever get a chance to attend a lecture by Ted Baehr, I'm going to sit right in front with a big bag of popcorn.

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There's actually a fairly healthy debate in the combox at Ted Slater's blog, with more than one commenter seeing through Ted's specious Mr. Smith argument. Whereas Christian's review has attracted nothing but two pages of cretinous vitriol. What shall we conclude?

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The number of Christian critics who didn't care for this movie is growing! We're up to ... well, we're up to two, by my count. :)

Full disclosure: I saw only the first 20 minutes of Fireproof. If this causes you to dismiss my assessment of the movie as a cinematic disaster, then you can stop reading right now. I will say in my defense, however, that in those 20 minutes I saw enough bad acting, heard enough bad dialogue, was assaulted by enough amateur lighting set-ups, and was distracted by enough bad directing to give me full confidence in my thinking.

I realize, of course, that for many of my evangelical brethren, it takes more than bad acting, bad dialogue, bad directing, etc., to make a bad movie. It also takes bad intentions, and even I admit that the amateur Fireproof team intended to make a good movie.

And because they made a bad movie doesn

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Well, in my own review, I too noted that the film gets off to a shaky start. Too bad the guy didn't stick with it, but whatever.

I do agree with him that anyone who doesn't watch a movie through to the end probably doesn't deserve to have his review read through to the end. :)

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I do agree with him that anyone who doesn't watch a movie through to the end probably doesn't deserve to have his review read through to the end. :)

FWIW, and to the writer's credit, the item in question does not purport to be a review of the film. He doesn't make any point in his article that can be effectively refuted by noting that he didn't see the entire film.

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FWIW, if you compare the week-to-week figures for Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie and Fireproof, Fireproof did a wee bit less in this, its third week, than Jonah did in ITS third week. However, Fireproof is playing on only 875 screens (after opening on 839), whereas Jonah was playing on 1,581 screens in its third week (after opening on 940). And Fireproof is still ahead as far as the third-week cume goes, with an estimated $16.9 million vs. Jonah's $16 million.

Also, Fireproof is currently running neck-and-neck with City of Ember for the #10 spot this week. If Fireproof wins, then it would be the only indy evie movie to be in the Top Ten for three weeks in a row. (Jonah was in the Top Ten in its first, third and fourth weeks, but not in its second week.)

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FWIW, Fireproof is currently basically tied with Nights in Rodanthe for the #10 spot in the estimates for this week's Top Ten list. If it holds the #10 spot when the actuals come in tomorrow, it will be the first-ever indy evie film to be in the Top Ten for four weeks, consecutively or otherwise.

Also FWIW, Fireproof has grossed about $20.7 million so far, whereas Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie had made about $19.6 million by this point -- and on nearly twice as many screens (1,625 screens for Jonah at this point -- its peak number of theatres -- vs. 905 screens for Fireproof at this point, which is also its peak-so-far).

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FWIW, the Fireproof blog declared today:

Major blockbusters, like the latest movies featuring an English spy or animated zoo animals, can earn scores of millions of dollars in one weekend. But FIREPROOF made a little box-office history of its own this weekend. Finishing No. 13 in its eighth weekend, FIREPROOF topped $30 million, becoming one of only six movies made with a budget of $500,000 or less to top that figure. Among the others: Benji and Napoleon Dynamite.

And the other three were...? Anybody want to guess? I figure The Blair Witch Project has to be one of them.

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My first thought was Night of the Living Dead. IMDB says that it was made for $114,000 and grossed $30,000,000 worldwide. I'm not sure if worldwide sales count, or only U.S.

Also Halloween was made for $320,000 and grossed $60,000,000 world wide, ($47,000,000 U.S). So it fits for sure.

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Hey, look at that: Someone posted a note thanking me underneath my Fireproof review. What a lovely change of pace! :)

dar118 11/24/2008 2:57 PM Thanks for this honest review. The movie was not good from an artistic standpoint. And, as Christians, we must demand the very best in truth, beauty, and art. That's what drew me to the faith and I know that's what will draw more people. When we settle for drivel like Fireproof, we are actually repelling more people than we're attracting.

I'm curious to know what other feedback reviewers of this movie have received, especially recently, now that the heat around Fireproof (no pun intended) has died down somewhat.

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Andrew O'Hehir:

There was no "Juno" or "Little Miss Sunshine" this year, bursting out of the indie ghetto to win America's heart. It always depends on what production methods and distribution pathways you're willing to consider independent, but this year's top-grossing indie was, quite plausibly, the Christian-themed marriage drama "Fireproof," at $33 million and counting. I haven't seen the film and have no cause to disparage it, but I'll go ahead and guess it's not ending up on a whole lot of top-10 lists.

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[NOTE: I'm not going to name names here, because I have no interest in turning this into anything personal. It's just that I want to ask: Am I being boneheaded on this issue?]

Did Fireproof make *any* top ten lists this year?

I'm curious.

I've been taken to task by a Christian critic for turning in my votes on top ten lists without seeing Fireproof, so I'm just curious: Does anybody here think I've been an irresponsible "Christian film critic" by writing up my 2008 lists for a Christian readership without taking the time to see Fireproof?

I replied, saying that there were several big movies I hadn't seen this year, including Benjamin Button or Wendy and Lucy or Still Life or The Wrestler.

When I suggested that, based on my reading, it seemed more important to me to see those films first, I was told that I was sounding like an "elitist" and a "snob."

And I was informed that since my readers expect informed Christian perspective on films like Fireproof, it's important that, before I offer my list of annual recommendations, I make time for movies like that and prioritize them over Wendy and Lucy (which this critic assures me is not a better film than Fireproof).

Anyway, I'm just curious: Am I way off here? Am I being snobbish by prioritizing a viewing of Wendy and Lucy over a viewing of Fireproof before the vote?

If I could have fit in one more movie before I made up my list, what '08 release should I have given higher priority: Fireproof? or Wendy and Lucy or The Wrestler? Or something else?

Obviously, in an ideal world I'd be able to see all of the relevant films and turn in an opinion on each. But as I'm short on time, I have to make choices. And I have to base those choices on research and reading, trying to see the films most likely to be among the best of the year. I haven't seen Fireproof on a single list, and I'm just a little surprised to learn that I was an irresponsible Christian film critic for not prioritizing this film over the others I mentioned.

Edited by Overstreet

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Just lost my post when I hit "submit" and was told that I had to register. This has happened multiple times in the past few weeks, and it really sucks.

To recapitulate: You should see Fireproof, but I don't think your Christian critic friend is right to upbraid you for not seeing it in time for a Top 10 list. However, you might be surprised (pleasantly) by the film. I wasn't, but reader after reader has posted below my review, indicating that the film had a powerfully positive effect on their marriage, or a friend's marriage. Doesn't mean the film is any good inherently, but at least some good has come from it. Plus, Fireproof is now a media empire, with books that are selling well and mention of the show on "Family Life Today" (I listened and heard mention a couple of days ago). I'm sure there must be conferences built around "the Love Dare," or soon will be.

So it's a phenomenon in Christian circles.

But what about Che? Why isn't that on your list of possibilities? It's coming to Seattle in the "roadshow" edition, but perhaps not in time for you to see it before your deadline.

Edited by Christian

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Yeah, Che is a must-see too, from what I've read. But as I'm having trouble carving out even two hours for a film right now... four? As soon as I finish my other, enormous, overdue writing assignment, yes.

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Count me as overly-skeptical about a movement, however positive, built upon a movie premise.

"The Love Dare", which is now a supposed best seller, was written as an afterthought to the movie, by the very two non-professionally-trained-in-therapist pastors/screenwriters of _Fireproof_. Meanwhile, actual therapists who have written books from an informed viewpoint, with hundreds of hours of anecdotal evidence to back up their claims, will go utterly unnoticed.

The only reason why people in hurting marriages are picking up the book is that they saw it so heavily advertised in the movie. That's some endorsement. Kevin Trudeau hosts his own informercials, but a movie? And it works because it worked for Kirk Cameron's character? I'm sold.

And according to one movie review site (that placed it on its worst list), the problems with the film could only have been resolved if Cameron's character had stopped being a jerk and picked up a dish to dry. I'm sure most of the Christian audience avoided _Little Children_, or even _The Story of Us_, but while it is motivational to hear of a ragtag church making its own ragtag movies that sell well, but when the story behind the movie is better than the movie, you've got a problem.

You can always catch up with FP on video. If _Love Dare_'s sales figures are any indication, this movie will be in the bubble's eye for as long as the Jabez craze or as Osteen's ouvre.

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I've already said my piece to Jeffrey via email and twitter. Of course, it would have been better for him to have seen FIREPROOF ... hope springs eternal and all that. And I'd kinda agree that an evangelical or Christian critic should be especially alert to works about "us" because we bring expertise that secularised critics lack (to heck with "expertise" ... sometimes we just bring "knowledge"). And if we were talking a Christian film that had the broader impact -- boxoffice and culturewise -- that THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST did, I *would* say a Christian critic's not seeing it would be a problem.

But that affirmative statement doesn't imply the negative statement that it's bad if he didn't -- at least not to the point of a rebuke from another for negligence or for violating some explicit or implicit contract. I myself made a point of seeing FIREPROOF because I had missed FACING THE GIANTS (a point on which I was able to contain my grief) and I wanted to experience the Gibneys for myself. And to be as charitable as I can, the only way this is a great movie absolutely (as opposed to "good amateur work" or the like) is if the 3 M's -- moral/maxim/message -- trump everything. But judged by the same aesthetic standards as VALKYRIE or REVOLUTIONARY ROAD or GRAN TORINO (the last three films I saw at the theater), FIREPROOF simply isn't very good and is often risibly bad. As long as a Christian critic either (1) saw and disliked FACING THE GIANTS, or (2) can truthfully say "people whose critical chops and religious orthodoxy I trust said it was bad," then he's on firm ground. This is in fact something true of all critics ... if you don't care for an auteur's work and the buzz is bad in ways you trust ... no critic has any affirmative obligation to see any film.

Whoever told Jeffrey he committed some sort of professional sin was talking like a tool.

Edited by vjmorton

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This is in fact something true of all critics ... if you don't care for an auteur's work and the buzz is bad in ways you trust ... no critic has any affirmative obligation to see any film.

Whoever told Jeffrey he committed some sort of professional sin was talking like a tool.

This kind of listmaking, that assumes we must include a film like Fireproof on a year end list because it is so associated with our religious identity, is the worst kind of canon-making possible. It assumes that our identity is what grants certain texts authority, rather than that certain texts grant our identity legitimacy. In other words, the Gospel of John isn't in the canon because it is so "Christian." Rather, it is in the canon because by reason of unique historical merit and literary artistry it is a foundational Christian text and we, as the church, are formed and edified by it.

Christian canon-making (and listmaking to a lesser degree) starts with the quality of texts and reasons towards identity, not the other way around. So, if we were being pedantic, we could say that the reasoning of JO's sparring partner here embodies a reversal of the Christian canonical process.

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Question: What are we to make of the claim that Fireproof is the #1 independent film of 2008, box-office-wise?

The first time I heard anyone make this claim was when Andrew O'Hehir raised this possibility over three weeks ago at his Salon.com blog -- hardly the sort of place you'd go to for evangelical jingoism. (O'Hehir has never seen the film, and has no axe to grind against it, though he did note that how we define "independent" is a complicated question.) Since then, I have begun to see the claim made on Fireproof's blog and elsewhere, too.

But I can think of at least two quasi-obvious quibbles with that claim.

First, Slumdog Millionaire is now a million bucks or two ahead of Fireproof. (But perhaps that's okay because it was BEHIND Fireproof at the end of the year, and we are keeping its 2008 and 2009 revenues separate; and perhaps that's okay because Fox Searchlight is less "independent" than whoever it was that distributed Fireproof.)

Second, Twilight was not only produced by Summit Entertainment, it was distributed by Summit Entertainment. And are they not "independent" too? Box Office Mojo lists only half-a-dozen other films that Summit has released, and NONE of them have had revenues any bigger than the mid-20 millions. (But perhaps that's okay because Twilight had a much wider release than Fireproof. But what has width of release got to do with a film's "independence" or lack thereof?)

Overstreet wrote:

: [NOTE: I'm not going to name names here, because I have no interest in turning this into anything personal. It's just that I want to ask: Am I being boneheaded on this issue?]

You tell us you don't want this to be personal, and then you ask us if you are being boneheaded? :)

: And I was informed that since my readers expect informed Christian perspective on films like Fireproof, it's important that, before I offer my list of annual recommendations, I make time for movies like that and prioritize them over Wendy and Lucy (which this critic assures me is not a better film than Fireproof).

Erm, apples and oranges, apples and oranges. If you were a full-time film critic, then yes, I would say you should see Wendy and Lucy before finalizing your lists. And if you were a full-time Christian, I would say that... oh, hang on, that doesn't sound right.

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

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Erm, apples and oranges, apples and oranges. If you were a full-time film critic, then yes, I would say you should see Wendy and Lucy before finalizing your lists. And if you were a full-time Christian, I would say that... oh, hang on, that doesn't sound right.

;)

Presumably "full-time Christian film critic" was the phrase you wanted here.

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Erm, apples and oranges, apples and oranges. If you were a full-time film critic, then yes, I would say you should see Wendy and Lucy before finalizing your lists. And if you were a full-time Christian, I would say that... oh, hang on, that doesn't sound right.

;)

Presumably "full-time Christian film critic" was the phrase you wanted here.

So...I am curious...jumping off from the Slum Dog Millionaire post...is this movie just Marriage Porn? Or Christian Porn? :)

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So...I am curious...jumping off from the Slum Dog Millionaire post...is this movie just Marriage Porn? Or Christian Porn? :)

Maybe Sermon Porn?

I finally got around to watching Fireproof, and I liked it. I liked it in the way that in the same way that I "like" sermons that call to mind something important even if I don't like the way they are presented. There are so many parts in which Fireproof is awful, clumsy, and unprofessional in all the ways we would expect it to be. But I can completely imagine people walking away from it with better ideas about marriage and relationships. I keep waiting to feel some intense reaction to it as a flawed work of Christian art and thought. I guess it isn't coming. Part of this is may be because I don't think of it as a "film" as much as a class project put on by some well meaning person at the Bob Jones film school.

Secret Lives of Dentists is still a far, far better film about marriage though.

Edited by MLeary

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I keep waiting to feel some intense reaction to it as a flawed work of Christian art and thought. I guess it isn't coming. Part of this is may be because I don't think of it as a "film" as much as a class project put on by some well meaning person at the Bob Jones film school.

Having not seen the film, I came to this thread to see some actual critical opinion on it. (which I have, and it's mostly confirmed that I still don't think i can bear to watch the film)

But your last sentence is interesting. If you view the film as a class project or student film (which seems to be an apt likening), then do the hordes of Christians raving about the film (and I'm not talking about people who critically examined it as flawed but found value in it personally or variations on that theme) like the film is as good as Citizen Kane, do they represent the parents of the students?

Is it just that Christians are so amazed that fellow Christians made a movie and it wasn't that bad, that they are blinded to it like parents' are blinded to their children's creative output?

It seems that is an easier way to process the proclamations of excellence surrounding this film; knee jerk reactions that just say "well it's better than we've ever done before!" and a dismissal of anyone who thinks that there is any other criteria that this movie needs to be held up against.

If you go to the Fireproof homepage, they edited a 1 minute version of Fireproof for some ridiculous reason, and rather than piquing my curiosity, it just confirmed that the movie is not worth my time for now.

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