MOVIES, ETC.: Was I too rough on Soul Surfer?

Baptist Press
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Posted: Apr 15, 2011 5:30 PM
KANSAS CITY, Kan. (BP)--At the premiere of the dramatization of surfer Bethany Hamilton's extraordinary ordeal/comeback (my second viewing of the film), it hit me just how important "Soul Surfer" could be for moviegoers and those in need of a message about determination and faith.

Hamilton, who lost her arm to a shark attack at the age of 13 and went on to become a world-class surfer, has had an emotional impact on her generation, her resolve putting forth the homily, "If I can make it, so can you." She openly declares her relationship with Jesus Christ and though somewhat distilled, that declaration is nonetheless a component of the film. So, did my fault-finding critique make me a detractor of her cause?

I stand by my initial review (online at http://bit.ly/fTsGFE), which analyzed the picture for what it was, a "lite" version of an extraordinary life. My reason for this second look at the film is to clarify that my candid comments weren't meant to be a signal to stay away. It would be a mistake for moviegoers not to see Soul Surfer. Here's what you missed if you went to see "Arthur" instead:

It's rare to find a teen-geared film that doesn't rely on crudity or titillation in order to entertain. What's more, there are positive messages about family and faith, two ingredients often left out of movies aimed at a young demographic. With their fully realized portrayals, AnnaSophia Robb and Dennis Quaid bring honor to Bethany and her father. Director Sean McNamara has used CGI with standout results, using effects to aid the story, not become it. And on top of that, this film will undoubtedly begin a dialogue between believers and those who don't understand what people like Bethany Hamilton have found, despite what they've lost.

Why then, you ask, did I find so much fault with Soul Surfer in my earlier assessment?

Frankly, I feel the production lacks the soul-surfing dimension Bethany's witness deserves. It's a good movie; I was just hoping for a great one. I can't honestly tell you Soul Surfer handles spirituality as effectively as "Tender Mercies," "Dead Man Walking," "Babette's Feast," or the recent "Of Gods and Men." These were produced by filmmakers brave enough to delve into the dynamics of the human spirit, unafraid to tell the world that their characters believe in Christ Jesus.

That said, Soul Surfer quietly relates an important message about knowing God's Word. In the film, we hear Scripture quoted by Bethany and her dad a couple of times, which raises the question, do you have scripture memorized? At the premiere, I asked the real life Sarah Hill (the youth leader played by Carrie Underwood), how important it is to have Scripture on the tip of your tongue. She answered, "You saw what it did for the Hamiltons. When a crisis struck, they had it, as you say, on the tip of their tongue. It's easier to get Scripture into the heart once it's in your head."

Sarah even suggested a way to aid in memorizing scripture. "Write a Scripture verse down on a card, then read it out loud several times. Going to the trouble of writing it down tells yourself that you take it seriously."

When asked what she hopes people will take away from this movie experience, Robb (who plays Bethany) said, "I know this is the obvious answer, but I hope they'll be inspired. It's a story about faith and perseverance. And while Bethany is amazing, she's still this everyday person. Hanging out with her, she's just Bethany. I'm hoping people will realize they can do anything, too. Because she did it."

Despite its shortcomings, Soul Surfer was the best film in the theatres its opening weekend. It's still the most significant film now in theaters. Go see it.

Soul Surfer is rated PG. Learn more about Bethany Hamilton at http://www.bethanyhamilton.com/, and more about Soul Surfer at www.soulsurferthemovie.com. Phil Boatwright reviews films from a Christian perspective for Baptist Press and is the author of "Movies: The Good, The Bad, and the Really, Really Bad," available on Amazon.com. He also writes about Hollywood for previewonline.org and moviereporter.com.

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