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Kirk Cameron and the True Meaning of "Fresh"ness

Kirk Cameron and the True Meaning of "Fresh"ness

            Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas is currently showing in a limited release and over at Rotten Tomatoes it’s in dire need of its own rescue. The current critics score is a paltry 9% and the audience score is hovering just below 50%. Here’s a snapshot of the score as of this writing:

            It doesn’t get much uglier than that.

            Christian movies don’t generally fare well with the critics, rightly or unrightly. But one thing that is usually consistent is that, even when critics pan the latest output from Sherwood pictures or Pureflix, the audience usually shows their appreciation. For instance, Mom’s Night Out only managed an 18% rating from the critics, but scored a strong 71% from the audience. God’s Not Dead only managed 17% positive reviews form the paid-prognosticators, but the audience loved it to the tune of 81%. Heaven is For Real scored 20% higher with the audience than with the critics. Courageous had an audience score of 86% and a relatively healthy critics score of 30% (in comparison to the critics score most Christian films get). So even when the output from fledgling Christian film-makers don’t resonate with the critics, they usually have a strong showing with their target audience.[1]

            Saving Christmas seems to be the exception. It got racked by critics and audience alike. As a film-maker there’s not much you can do about the critics, but you can try and drum up support from your fanbase to boost your audience score. This may be a common practice, but I’ve only ever seen or heard of it being done in two instances. Both Left Behind and Saving Christmas made overtures to their fans to go and leave positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes.

            A quick primer on how the Rotten Tomatoes audience score works: you log-in, give it a star-rating from 1-5 and leave an optional review. And that’s it. There doesn’t appear to be any moderating or screening of audience scores and reviews. There’s not even an option for members to report reviews as offensive or spam as is the case with other sites. The audience section is essentially the Wild Wild West, anything goes. Consequently, it’s not a statistic most movies trumpet in their promotional materials, except in certain rare cases.[2]

            As mentioned, Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas is taking a beating from critics and audience alike. To counter this, Kirk took to Facebook and posted this:

            A few hours later he followed it up with this:

            Critics and audience scores don’t align 100% of the time. Critics sometimes love what the audience hates and the audience often prefers things the critics can’t stand. But when they do match-up, it’s usually for a reason. Using that metric (and the film’s trailer), Kirk’s film is a disappointment. And it’s not as if Kirk is unfamiliar with audience love, either. His last venture, a documentary called Unstoppable, scored 71% with the audience. His other documentary, Monumental, scored 81% and his starring-vehicle Fireproof garnered 83%. In other words, Kirk has put himself out there before and he usually gets a vehement nod of approval from his fan base.

            But not this time.

            Honestly, no one likes to be criticized. No one enjoys putting themselves out there to appease the appetite of the public and getting spat out for their trouble. And I don’t fault Kirk for asking those people who liked his film to show their support. What I do take issue with is his couching that request in an “us vs. them” mentality. He opines that the reason the film’s score is low is because “the haters and atheists are coming out of the woodwork” to bash his film. To be fair, a quick perusal of the 10,000+ yields some results that look like hate-spam. To be equally fair, there are a few that look like love-spam, also. My guess would be that both sides are posting reviews that are based less on actual experience and more on strong emotion. I would venture that many people from both sides have posted without actually watching the movie.

            Kirk didn’t ask for people to give his movie false-positive reviews so if his fans are doing this that’s on their conscience. Ditto for people who are hating it without cause. Kirk isn’t responsible for the actions of his fans or his haters. But he is responsible for the tone he sets when he asks people to support his movie. And the tone he set is very poor. Instead of merely asking people for their full and honest opinion, he instead casts his movie in the role of innocent martyr in the war between good Christians and evil atheists.[3] “Save my movie from the evil horde!” is how his post comes across. He played on Christian’s fears of persecution and disdain for evil, liberal Hollywood as a way to boost his movie’s rating and revenue. And while there may be a horde of evil Satanists circling his movie like so many bald vultures, it would be a considerably rare occurrence. The more likely explanation for the movie’s low score is that people watched it and honestly took issue with it.

            Truth be told I like Kirk Cameron. His original Left Behind movie was one of my guilty pleasures when I was younger. It was delightfully ridiculous. I appreciated his willingness to partner with Sherwood Pictures and help elevate their brand and reach. Instead of resting on his laurels and basking in the success of his early years and the evangelical fame of his later years, he’s using that goodwill and trust to try and make meaningful films. But whatever success his previous movies have had, his latest effort is coming-up short. Instead of trying to make excuses for this, I would hope and ask that Kirk admit that his film misfired, take some honest, well-meaning, critical feedback, and come back with his best film yet. Our failures often give us the greatest opportunities to demonstrate Christ-likeness, and if Kirk insists on using this culture war-narrative to explain his film’s struggles, he might miss a great chance to be a film-maker who demonstrates Christ-likeness and models the gospel to his audience.

[1] Most recently Left Behind only garnered 2% from the critics and 60% from audience, a fairly low audience rating for a Christian movie. That’s a worse critic’s score than the original film starring Kirk Cameron and only a 2% bump over its audience score.

[2] Left Behind was roasted by the critics; even Christian publications either damned it with faint praise or were just honest in their negative experience with it. In response the film-makers cited their indifference towards the critics’ venom and pointed to the audience score as proof that people know what they like and they like us, thank you very much. Critics be hanged.

[3] What’s even more disappointing is that Kirk had seemed to distance himself from this kind of rhetoric, which was very encouraging. To revert back to it as a promotional technique seems beneath him

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