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LEFT BEHIND

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Kirk Cameron, Brad Johnson, Chelsea Noble, Clarence Gilyard, Janaya Stephens, Gordon Currie
Director:  Vic Sarin
Audio:  Dolby Stereo
Video:  Standard 1.33:1
Studio:  Cloud Ten Pictures
Features:  Making-Of Documentary, Music Videos, Trailers, Concert Video, Kirk Cameron Message
Length:  95 Minutes
Release Date:  December 5, 2000

Film ***

Left Behind has been making its way to movie theatres across the country in February of 2001…a full two months after being released on video.  An unusual marketing strategy, to say the least, but it is not a madness without method.  The idea, as actor Kirk Cameron explains in one of the DVD supplements, is to try and reach a broader audience than just those who are familiar with the series of books the film is based on.  The hope of Cloud Ten Pictures (as well as the cast and crew, it seems) is that those who liked the books will see the video, be impressed that the movie is fairly well produced, with a bigger budget than normal for a Christian oriented picture, and therefore encourage friends and family to go with them to see the theatrical release.  The object, Cameron states, is to prove to Hollywood once and for all that there is a market for films with a serious spiritual message. 

The jury is still out on whether the experiment is a success or failure, but the word of mouth generated by this unique publicity stunt did pique my curiosity enough to want to view the film.  Left Behind is a fictional tale based on Biblical prophecies of the end times, starting with the rapture of believers and the dawning of the antichrist, all as foreseen by the Apostle John and recorded in the book of Revelation.

Buck Williams (Cameron) is a cable news network reporter in Israel, covering the story of a new farming technology that will allow grains to grow in desert climates.  While reporting, there is an all out and full scale attack on the nation from all sides.  The Israelis are caught off guard, but before they have a chance to retaliate, the war planes begin dropping from the skies in huge fireballs.  There is no explanation.

Back home, an airline pilot, Rayford Steele (Johnson) is called away from his family and his little son’s birthday to take over a flight.  His household, we see, is a loving one, but not without disharmony.  His wife and son are church goers, he and his teenage daughter Chloe (Stephens) are not.  As fate would have it, Buck ends up on Rayford’s plane, and the two end up joined as witnesses for the greatest supernatural event in history.

In mid flight, it becomes apparent that a number of passengers are missing.  Their clothes are perfectly laid out, but there is no trace of their owners…their bodies seemed to have vanished into thin air.  Panic ensues, especially when it is learned that all children are gone, too.

The plane lands to find a world in chaos and confusion.  People have suddenly disappeared everywhere, leaving crashed cars with no occupants, families and fiends missing, and churches empty.  Rayford returns home in tears to find his beloved wife and son gone. 

Meanwhile, amidst the chaos, a United Nations leader, Nicolae Carpathia (Currie), begins the process of restoring order in a kind and caring fashion.  With the world in disarray, his calm, constructive demeanor becomes a source of comfort for the scared millions left behind.  They are willing to place their complete trust in the man, not knowing that he’s the one mankind has been predicting and fearing for 2,000 years.

With the help of his wife’s pastor (Gilyard), who sadly confesses that despite his prowess as a preacher, he never paid the Bible more than lip service, Rayford, Buck, and Chloe begin to put the pieces together about the rapture, and the beginnings of the Great Tribulation.  The worst seven years in human history is about to take place…but with a renewed faith in God and with each other’s help, they may be ready to face the hardships that lie ahead.

This film does boast more production values than many produced by Christian film companies, and it plays like a real movie from start to finish.  True, a couple of the early special effects shot look a little contrived, but such imperfections are lifted by an intriguing story, and a cast that brings it to life with real conviction.  All involved with the movie, as explained in the featurette, were Christians, and each took a personal stake in the realization of this project.  When they act on screen here, in other words, it’s much more to them than just another job.

Kirk Cameron brings an earnest sensibility to Buck, a character who has to come face to face with concepts he’d never imagined in his life.  I liked him, but if there’s a mark against him, it’s that he still looks too young to even see an R rated movie, much less be an ace cable network reporter (yes, I suppose I’m jealous).  His real life spouse Chelsea Noble (who introduced Cameron to the series of books) is equally effective as the one-time lover of Rayford who ends up frighteningly in the throes of Nicolae.  The entire cast works well together, and their zeal for the film pays off when they bring the story to life in personal ways.

Will the movie appeal to those with no Biblical background or religious beliefs?  Possibly.  The picture isn’t subtle about its messages or loyalties, so there are bound to be those who find the occasional preachiness a bit heavy-handed.  However, they’re still likely to be impressed with the way the film depicts a worldwide supernatural and cataclysmic event.  It could go either way.

Those who do have roots in Christianity, or don’t mind a religious message, will probably find Left Behind both entertaining and thought-provoking.  And, if the film does manage to intrigue a few non-religious people into checking it out, then I guess the experiment will have been a successful one after all.

Video ***

For the most part, this full frame presentation is startlingly good…particularly the early scenes that involve the nighttime attack of Israel.  Blacks are deep and pure with no grain, compression or distortions evident, and colors play well against them, with full integrity and no bleeding.  Daylit scenes are equally beautiful, with crisp detail and sharp imaging throughout.  Occasionally, in some medium lit interiors, there is a bit more softness and less clarity, though nothing distracting.

Audio ***

The soundtrack is quite good, too, for being a simple stereo mix.  It boasts a fair amount of dynamic range during key sequences, plus clear dialogue and strong musical cues throughout.  The panning effects are handled well, with good signal integrity and balance.

Features **1/2

The aforementioned featurette is a good one…hosted by Ms. Stephens, it goes behind the scenes and shows how the production went from novel to screen with the help of a dedicated cast and crew.  There is also Kirk Cameron’s personal message, a collection of Christian music videos and concert performances, and some trailers for other Cloud Ten Pictures films.  The disc also came with two coupons that allow you to see a regular theatrical showing of Left Behind at a matinee ticket price.

Summary:

Left Behind is an event picture, starting with an array of fans loyal to the book series and building up its audience one member at a time.  You can catch it in a theatre near you for a little while longer, or you can pick it up on VHS or this quality DVD if you prefer.  It’s a message film that’s not the least bit shy about its message, and everyone you see in it believes in said message and what they created with this film.  In my opinion, that fresh kind of boldness alone makes it a worthwhile movie.