Friday, October 14, 2011

Soul Surfer

To tell you the truth, I wasn’t expecting much from Soul Surfer. For weeks, I found one excuse after another for not reviewing the movie. Frankly, most Christian films are not very entertaining. Well, I was wrong about Soul Surfer. Not only is it entertaining and inspirational, but it’s also flat out a solid piece of work. No, it’s not going to win an academy award, and it does contain some flaws; nevertheless, it has all the elements of a good movie.

Soul Surfer is what they call in the industry a crossover movie. It’s a rare bird. A film that can appeal to a primarily Christian audience but at the same time has the ability to reach a broader mainstream audience. And according to the results, Soul Surfer has been a big success earning over $44 million at the box office. There’s a fair amount of Christian content within the film, but it never overwhelms the story. Soul Surfer is not an excuse to be a church resource or study guide. It’s a real movie. The Christian content is authentic and works well within the story.

The film is based on the life of Bethany Hamilton, who lost her right arm in a shark attack off the coast of the Hawaiian Islands. AnnaSophia Robb plays Bethany in the film. Hamilton is a rising star in the world of competitive surfing. At the age of 13, after the attack, her life is in ruins. She’s a natural talent born to surf. She is also a committed Christian, who has to deal with why God would let this happen. Her identity is wrapped up in her pursuit of surfing, and without it her future is uncertain because she believes God made her to surf.

Hamilton decides to fight back and continue to pursue her passion. Can she overcome her disability and become competitive? Soul Surfer is more of a sports movie than just a Christian film. In fact, you might think of it as Rocky, except with a lot of water.

Soul Surfer has an outstanding cast, which raises the overall quality of the film. The producers were wise to bring in top talent, such as Helen Hunt, who plays Bethany’s mother, Cheri Hamilton, and Dennis Quaid, who portrays Bethany’s father, Tom Hamilton. Rounding out the cast is Carrie Underwood, who plays Sarah Hill, the youth pastor who helps Bethany discover what’s really important in life.

Director, Sean McNamara, was determined to bring this story to the big screen after reading Bethany Hamilton’s 2004 biography, Soul Surfer. Finding the right studio and financing was a challenge.

Feeling that the story needed more punch, McNamara went back to the Hamilton’s and got details that were not in the book. That became the difference that made the film a reality.

Central to the story is the conflict that came after the shark attack—dealing with the pain, the family quarrelling, and how they had to come to terms with the events of that fateful day. This approach helped to lift Soul Surfer from being just another movie of the week. My only criticism is I wish they had pushed these themes a little bit harder.

What I also enjoyed about Soul Surfer is the sensational surfing segments. The cinematography is nothing short of brilliant. Of course, shooting in Hawaii doesn’t hurt. Just watching the surfing alone is worth the price of admission. I have no idea how they stay on those boards and perform their moves with such ease.

There you have it—quality acting, an outstanding story, great production values, a killer soundtrack, beautiful scenery, conflict, and one huge bad shark. So if you want to make a successful crossover movie that’s not afraid to mention faith and God, while at the same time never forgetting that it is a movie that has to entertain and captivate its audience, then your blueprint is Soul Surfer

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