The Encounter – Season 1

This one caught me by surprise because I honestly did not expect any more Encounter films, due to the last one being made way back in 2012 … so imagine my shock when I learned (from random web surfing!) that not only was it returning, but that it is now a full-fledged series … that came out last fall!

The show is about various people in different situations — such as a robbery gone bad, a woman heading home at night, staff in a stressful hospital — as they come face-to-face with Jesus Christ, and He helps them come to Him, or just come back to Him.

While it would have been better to have a full 45-60 minutes to flesh out the narrative in each of the eight episodes, the 30-minute runtime is adequate enough, and in some episodes gets a fairly thorough message across. Unfortunately, even though I really like the actor who portrays Jesus (Bruce Marchiano) and some of the actors do a really good job (like the parents in the penultimate episode), most of these storylines are so quickly-finished and simplified it’s often hard to really dig into anything of substance. In the second Encounter film, the discussion between Jesus and the five people at the resort was fascinating, lengthy and in-depth. That never really happens here, due to time restraints. Also, a couple episodes were very weak, like the eloping young adults and the power outage stories — again, maybe a longer time on screen would have been more impactful.

Even with its flaws on the small-screen, this is a great show to watch, and it’s on PureFlix streaming, which I discovered at the same time … and that has a ton of Christian films on it for a low price. I would recommend checking out the service, and especially this show.

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Left Behind – 2000

Earlier in the year I reviewed the recent Left Behind film that came out, and I felt like it didn’t have much to say in terms of God or getting saved or anything like that. My feeling was if it didn’t have much to say about that, it probably didn’t warrant a viewing.

This original film version starring Kirk Cameron from 2000 does a better job, and wasn’t nearly as low-budget or bad as I remembered. I would say it’s on par with a bigger-budget-than-usual made-for-TV movie from that same era.

The film follows Cameron as a reporter who is on a plane when the Rapture occurs, after he has done a new story in which Israel is nearly invaded by its neighbors. After he lands, end-time events unfold. I’m not sure how true to the movie is to the book, but it’s surprisingly watchable from start to finish.

The weakest parts though are the very odd ones with the airline pilot finding God after a lifetime of neglectful behavior and even cheating on his wife. Maybe it’s portrayed better in book form, but it just isn’t convincing at all here. Also, the ending with the Antichrist is very jarring and felt unnecessary, from a narrative sense. That could have been saved for a sequel (there are two, apparently).

If you find this for cheap or see it on TV, I would say give it a watch. It doesn’t have a ridiculously strong Biblical message, but it does offer much more than the newer film adaptation does.

The Bible: In The Beginning… (1966 Film)

Recently I watched The Bible: In The Beginning, a 1966 film that covers the events of creation until when Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac.

Now, I will say that for a film so old, the visuals hold up — and the scenes in the Noah segment of the movie are really well done (compared to the mostly computer generated effects done nowadays) … and many scenes are well shot and really transport you to a different place — for example, during the Tower of Babel section when you see little people moving in the distance — those are actually actors!

The most effective and interesting parts of the film to me were the Noah and Sodom and Gomorrah parts. The Noah part is impressive due to the animals and care it took to coordinate everything. The sets also looked really neat, and I enjoyed the idea of Noah’s family staying busy during the time on the boat, taking care of the animals. The Sodom and angel scenes though were striking for a different reason — it was an incredibly dark and terrifying thing to watch. The goat with with weird headdress and its human female worshipers was particularly creepy, and the city masked in dark shadows was very unsettling, along with the terrifying mob of men.

Unfortunately the rest of the film just isn’t very good, and has some very questionable content. The very first part of the movie features multiple scenes of male and female nudity, when it could have been implied and not shown. The other part is the casting of George C. Scott as Abraham, who doesn’t look the part at all … and his (and his wife’s) dialog is so hard to understand and bizarre that audiences will get bothered by it. Luckily, Peter O’Toole makes a brief cameo as an angel, and balances things out somewhat, acting-wise.

Personally, I would avoid this long, strangely cast film with pretty graphic content.

Six – The Mark Unleashed

I didn’t plan on watching this film, but one evening after working at my house I turned to TBN and “Six: The Mark Unleashed” came on. Apparently this is a film from 2004, starring well-known stars like Eric Roberts, Stephen Baldwin and Christian film star David A.R. White — and the film’s main star is actually Jeffrey Dean Morgan, best known for his recent work on cable television nowadays.

The story takes place sometime after the Rapture, when all that’s left are the unsaved people of the world, and after a global world leader has taken control of things. The film also implies this is during the Great Tribulation, because the world leader has already begun calling himself God and demanding worship. In exchange for their devotion, people are implanted with a chip on their hand or forehead that gives them access to all sorts of knowledge, and allows them to behave however they wish (carnally) without any punishment.

The few people who resist are unable to buy or sell anything (the first part of the film shows David White’s character and his friend stealing cars in order to get paid, in black market dealings) and are tracked down by devoted followers of the Antichrist. When found, they are given a choice — take the implant willingly, or be sent to jail to be executed (or if they resist too much, be executed immediately).

Unfortunately the movie suffers from some cheesy editing, dialog and bizarre plot points (like David’s friend trying to hack a satellite controlling everyone, or prison cells being covered in Biblical verses, while inmates walk around with Bibles [wouldn’t guards destroy those?]). I can’t really recommend this — not because it’s blasphemous or insulting — but because overall the film isn’t very good.

The Encounter and The Encounter: Paradise Lost

I’m gonna admit it finally — when it comes to an on-screen portrayal of Jesus Christ — which is no small thing to attempt to do for ANY actor (I feel like it’s a role that needs to be done with sincere love and respect in one’s heart, for their creator — more than any other role), Bruce Marchiano is hands-down the best at doing it.

The Encounter and its sequel, The Encounter: Paradise Lost, shows strangers coming together for a short window of time and then Jesus appearing to them — in an effort to give them once last chance to get their lives straightened out — before they die.

I’m unsure if this type of story has been done before in play form, because it seems like something that would be great for such a thing. In the first movie, the strangers are in an old diner during a stormy night that closes down a nearby road they all are traveling on. The second film is set in a hotel in Thailand during a tropical storm, but the people don’t leave this time due to being held hostage by drug dealers.

The films don’t waste time in showing who Jesus is to the strangers. In both He just comes out and admits it straightaway, and after He begins to tell each of them their pasts in vivid detail, they start to listen. They don’t all believe, but He definitely has all of their attention. The second one spends more time in the setup before Jesus enters into the plot, but it’s needed. Personally, I think the sequel was better than the original overall.

These heartwarming and well-made films act as both a story of hope for even the most wicked of people and one of caution to those who refuse to listen. These aren’t films where everyone has a happy ending. It also needs to be said that Bruce’s emotionally convincing portrayal of a loving and concerned Christ is amazing to watch, and you really get the impression the actor loves trying to accurately show how loving, thoughtful and well-spoken Jesus would be, if these situations were indeed true.

These are both excellent films, and you should definitely check them out.

The Book Of Daniel

Pureflix is a major Christian movie studio where I would say the vast majority of Biblical feature films originate from nowadays. In this particular film — The Book of Daniel — the studio (which typically operates on very small budgets, but manages to get one or two decent/known cast member in each movie) attempts to give an overview of Daniel’s life.

Overall, the film does a good job of creating entertaining and visually interesting content for its approx. 90 minute runtime. Now, the movie is not a verse by verse retelling of Daniel’s life, but rather a summary of it, with old-Daniel’s narration serving as the basis for flashbacks, which allow a lot of different content to be covered more easily.

The actor who plays Cyrus is the same one who played the android in the first Alien film, and was also on the TV shows X-Files and Millennium as well — and while he’s the only recognizable actor in the film, he does a good job taking his role seriously and making it worth watching.

I would say give this film a watch if you find it for cheap, or if it’s available for streaming. The set designs are obviously small, some casting choices are odd, some of the effects shots are lacking and some of the material is briefly covered … but in general it’s a solid Christian film, is safe for all audiences and is worth an hour and a half of your time, if you want Christian entertainment.

The Visual Bible: Matthew

This mid-1990s movie covers the entire Gospel of Matthew, from start to finish, verse by verse. An ambitious project, the movie is over 3 hours long and comes on 2-discs, so set aside a couple evenings.

Some things I liked about this movie are its awesome outdoor shots, editing, musical score and the actor portraying Jesus. While I’m not entirely sure what kind of person Jesus was in terms of individual personality mannerisms/inflection/style-of-speaking/body language/etc., I wouldn’t be shocked if Bruce Marchiano’s portrayal was the closest to the source. In this film Jesus is serious when he needs to be, obviously, but He very much enjoys life among his creations (smiling a lot, enjoying his companions), and I would surmise that’s likely how Jesus was, vs. being always angry or moody at those around Him or reclusive or demeaning.

Additionally, I must speak about the movie’s music, which I think helps out the film immensely — it creates an uplifting, joyous tone throughout both parts, and helps highlight pivotal and emotional scenes effectively.

I also must give kudos to whoever edited this, as the switch between Matthew’s narration using his own family as a backdrop (and scribes) vs. showing the life of Jesus really helped the entire story work together visually. This is necessary due to a lot of material needing to be covered, and some things would be hard to easily portray on screen (especially on a limited budget, like when an angel is supposed to appear or certain miracles occur, for example).

In short, this is a very positive and interesting film to watch, and I appreciate the effort and production that went into it. Aside from a few signs of a small budget (some sets/locations/props/costumes are lacking), the entire movie does a great job keeping viewers interested.