WIMAGF: Left Behind
Expected Release Date: October 3, 2014
Director: Vic Armstrong
Based on: Left Behind by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, published 1995
Overview: People all over the world disappear in an instant, leaving behind empty clothes and confusion. Chaos ensues as Captain Rayford Steele lands his plane and tries to reunite with his daughter Chloe, a firm skeptic who is not as sure as her dad that God’s people have been raptured and they have been Left Behind.
Working in its favor: First of all, it’s a pretty cool “what if” scenario, so that’s working for it. Even if the movie is terrible, which seems likely, it will have people talking about what would happen if all of the believers were suddenly gone. Thus, while it might not be one of the great movies of our time, it will contribute to the viewer’s arsenal of cocktail party small talk.
Potential issue: This has been tried before. Left Behind was made into a movie once already (a series of three movies, actually), and they were so critically panned that the novels’ authors took legal action against the production company that created the films. Trying it again is a risky move. That said, perhaps lessons were learned from the first attempt.
Another potential issue: The novel’s mission. These books were written for entertainment, of course, but they also support the evangelical principle of witnessing, or spreading the Word that Jesus Christ, son of God, died for our sins, and we will be rewarded with eternal life if only we accept His sacrifice. There’s definite risk for the story to get lost in the message, and for the message to alienate viewers who might otherwise enjoy the film. Based on the trailer, however, it seems like the writers and director have chosen to play down the Word, and play up the action and thrills by replacing some of the religious/philosophical conflict with more physical danger (in Ray Steele’s landing and Chloe’s efforts to reunite with her father, for instance).
Last potential issue: The cast. This piece is rife with opportunities for making fun of Nicolas Cage. I’m choosing to respect him as a professional, however (I’ve mentioned my Nic Cage soft spot – I just really like Moonstruck, okay?), and I’m limiting my Cage jokes. The issue is that, whether I limit my jokes or not, so many people see Nicolas Cage as a punchline that they may make assumptions about the quality of the film simply because he’s in it, and that’s a shame. I do think he’d do a fine job playing Rayford Steele, if a movie of this book must be made. He’s skilled at acting sincere about totally unbelievable things.
Wild card(s): The second potential issue is also the wild card. This new adaptation of Left Behind seems to be aiming for a wider audience than only the evangelical Christian set. I fear, however, that when you take out too much of the Christianity, you lose the evangelical fan base while not gaining any other viewers. You also lose the driving conflict of the story, which is not “will Chloe and Ray reunite?” but “will Ray be able to Save those he loves and witness the return of Christ?” Without the theology, strict bible-as-truth theology, the story would be somewhat aimless, with some interesting “what if” scenarios (for those cocktail parties I mentioned earlier). Perhaps, however, Paul LaLonde and John Patus have developed a tight script that takes care of this issue, preserving conflict while not overwhelming the average viewer with The Message. It’s possible. But I doubt it.
Verdict – WIMAGF?: It’s unlikely. Fans of the book will be disappointed with how the story’s been altered and secularized, while everyone else will find the film mildly interesting but not really worth spending time to watch.