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    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as preparation for a future work on Straub/Huillet's Moses und Aron and a few bits and pieces on biblical studies.

    Matt Page


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    Tuesday, July 24, 2007

    Evan Almighty Review

    It wasn't until the unexpected success of The Passion of the Christ in 2004 that Hollywood really started to sit up and take notice of the market for religious themed films. Tom Shadyac, however, was way ahead of them. Shadyac was the producer and director of 2003's Bruce Almighty, a film that opted for the unlikely combination of comedy and theodicy. Given that studios now seem to be giving the green light to seemingly any religious film project that comes its way, it's not too much of a surprise to find Shadyac given another bite of the cherry.

    Four years can be a long time in Hollywood, and in the period since Bruce Almighty, the star of that film, Jim Carrey, seems to have started to fade, whereas his sidekick, Steve Carrell, is very much on the ascent. Whilst his work on Anchorman, The 40 Year Old Virgin and the US version of The Office hasn't been to everyone's liking, Carrell has become a star in his own right. The producers of this film can't have been too disappointed, then, when Carrell agreed to take the lead role in Carrey's absence.

    Carrell reprises his role as Evan Baxter, (the newscasting nemesis of the original film's Bruce), who is promoted in the film's opening scenes to the post of senator. It's an awkward start that begs the question as to why such a change was required. Was the script originally conceived without Carrell? Were the senatorial scenes considered too humorous or too critical to allow Baxter to remain a newscaster?

    In any case, the film quickly leaves any trace of Baxter's previous life behind him and submerges itself in its new narrative. The Baxter's move into their huge new home, Evan starts his cushy new job, and one by one we're introduced to a whole new cast, including his wife Joan (...of ark, geddit?) and his three sons (who are not called Shem Ham and Japheth in case you were wondering).

    Life as a senator starts off very positively. Even before Evan's first day he is given a swanky office courtesy of leading senator Congressman Long, who wants Baxter's support for his controversial bill. God however as other ideas, and, once again takes the form of Morgan Freeman to get Evan's attention.

    God's plan is to get Baxter to build an ark, which leaves him a huge variety of ways to announce his message. So there are personal appearances, frequent recurrences of Gen 6:14 ("Make thee an ark of gopher wood"), pairs of animals tracking him to work, and facial hair that won't go away.

    Anyone familiar with Tim Allen's The Santa Clause franchise will no doubt spot the similarity. Indeed there is a significant amount of "borrowing" in this film, which, strangely, doesn't seem to reference the original works all that often. Take for example the scene where a flock of birds all simultaneously swoop into the office of a terrified Evan and then proceed to attack him.
    It's straight out of Hitchcock's The Birds, yet there's nothing that could be considered an actual tribute to the original. None of Hitchcock's memorable shots is reproduced, nor is there any other kind of reference - visual or otherwise.

    There are numerous places where this film draws on others. For example, perhaps the major theme of the film is about following the supernatural revelation given to you, the difficulties of convincing those you love that it's validity, and carrying on in with your calling in spite of the jeers of your neighbours. It's actually very well executed, and surprisingly touching for a slapstick comedy. But I couldn't help wondering whether the main reason that I loved these scenes was because of the powerful effect Field of Dreams has on me.

    Even though Bruce Almighty was, in many ways, an updated version of Goerge Burns's Oh God, it felt fresh and original. Whilst it's not one of the all time great films, it's still pretty good, and combining comedy with more serious spiritual issues made it relatively novel. In contrast Evan Almighty either falls back on re-treading those same ideas, or those from other films. Whilst it's certainly a long way from a bad film, at its best it's merely entertaining.

    That's not to say there aren't some standout moments. This is apparently the most expensive comedy ever made and it boasts some pretty impressive visuals. The scenes of the animals approaching the ark far surpass anything produced by previous films about Noah, particularly the scenes with the animals. Similarly impressive are the climatic final scenes.

    But what kind of God does Evan encounter? Both this film, and the original portray a God who is down to earth, laid back, likeable, has a good sense of humour, and who is powerful, but chooses to involve his people. Here, as with the first film, God is brought into the film by a human request. Evan may not get the answer to prayer he was expecting, but, as God points out, he was the one who wanted to change the world.

    Interestingly Freeman's God is far more the God we see revealed in Jesus than the God of the original flood story. When Evan questions his motives he replies "let's just say that whatever I do I do it because I love you". It seems to contrast with his prediction of a flood, but ultimately he's shown to be true to his word. Perhaps the most significant aspect of the God of the Almighty franchise is that he's a God who prefers to work through his people. While he may laugh at their plans, and use their prayers as an opportunity for growth, he longs to make the world a better place primarily by relying on "one act of random kindness at a time".

    Despite such a positive portrayal of the one, true, Almighty the way much of the Christian media has clamoured to promote this film, regardless of its quality, is rather disappointing. Overall, it's a great film for Christian families to take their kids to, an interesting enough film for adults of faith, and just about entertaining enough to be worth the entry fee. It seems unlikely, however, that a run-of-the-mill comedy such as this would inspire anyone to a new, or more profound, faith.



    • At 11:11 pm, August 20, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said…

      Thousands of people were drowned in the film, you do know that right? Why is that a good film for kids? This was by a fair margin the worst film I have seen in a long time. Bruce was a decent film, this one was all poop jokes. Sorry to say, it also clearly shows how silly the concept of an ark to hold all the worlds animals is. (He forgot to load the food, the water, and all the aquatic animals including the blue whale which would die if exposed to even slightly salt free water.)

    • At 9:32 am, August 21, 2007, Blogger Matt Page said…

      : Thousands of people were drowned in the film, you do know that right?

      I can't actually remember the precise details of this film. I recall all the people in the valley rushing onto the ark at the last minute, and I'm fairly sure we never actually see anyone die. (Please correct me if I'm wrong!) Of course logic would suggest they probably would have, but one of the things I don't like about the film is that it wants to have it's cake and eat it on this particular point.

      : Why is that a good film for kids?

      Am I right in thinking that you're saying that because people "died" in the film it is unsuitable for kids? Cos if so then I'm not sure I agree with that as a hard and fast rule. It seems to me that death is a (sad) part of life - a reality that kids have to learn at some point, and in some way I think the sooner the better. I'm not really comfortable with this idea of hiding kids away from death that seems to be becoming increasingly prevalent. If that's not what you're saying then please forgive me!

      Having said that, then if this film did portray the deaths of "thousands of people" then yes perhaps it does need to be reconsidered - but if that was the case then it's unlikely it would have got a PG certificate on both sides of the Atlantic.

      :Sorry to say, it also clearly shows how silly the concept of an ark to hold all the worlds animals is

      Well I wouldn't subscribe to a literal reading of the Noah story anyway FWIW. Not heard the point about the Blue Whales before though - thanks!



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