THEATRICAL REVIEW: Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas
Produced by: Raphi Henly, David Shannon, Darren Doane, Amanda Rosser
Written by: Darren Doane, Cheston Hervey
Edited by: Postmill Factory
Cinematography by: Andy Patch
Music by: Brian Popkin
Starring: Kirk Cameron, Darren Doane, Bridgette Ridenour, David Shannon, Raphi Henly, Ben Kientz
The so-called “War on Christmas” has long been the butt of many jokes, particularly because a select number of Christians have taken issue with stores switching from having their employees say “Merry Christmas” to the more generic and all-inclusive “Happy Holidays!” and they have made their voices heard by shouting about it on network news over the years (yes, especially on one in particular). These days, that war still seems to be ravaging on in the minds of many, as indicated by some of the Facebook posts I continue to see every year. I saw my first in early October, actually. “Man, the War on Christmas seems to get started earlier and earlier each year!” I joked in the comments section. The humor and irony was seemingly lost on all but one person, who merely Liked the post. I am unappreciated in my time, it would seem.
Seriously, though, you gotta find some humor in the concept of a group of people who claim that “Jesus is the reason for the season” getting so upset about people not “Keep[ing] the Christ in CHRISTmas!” while binging on material possessions. I concede, however, that it’s equally annoying that anyone would get offended by someone wishing them a “Merry Christmas!” just because they don’t share that belief. In my eyes, yes, Christ should be at the center of Christmas, but when we complain about the rest of the world not sharing in our beliefs, it becomes more about us rather than Him. This whole concept of a “War on Christmas,” as a result, really puts a damper on my Christmas spirit – it even makes me a bit embarrassed as a Christian, to be honest. So when I heard that Kirk Cameron was featuring in a feature length movie about “Saving Christmas,” I couldn’t help but burry my head in my arms and beat the back of it with my fist in frustration.
2014 has been a big a year in which Christian-targeted movies were big at the box office, with both Hollywood and independent “Christian” companies producing such content and marketing it to the utmost of their ability. This was a year when Christians all over were told to text their friends and family that “God’s not dead,” and when Hollywood directors like Darren Aronofsky and Ridley Scott courted controversy for their unorthodox takes on two of the most famous Old Testament stories, daring the devout to come out and complain about all the inaccuracies, whether they be imagined or legitimate (Sorry, guys, but Noah did get drunk). But of all of them, Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas stands out as being the one where I can see pretty much everyone, from non-believers to Fundamentalists, will very likely take issue with the movie for any number of its faults.
This movie’s currently trending now that it’s opening to a wider market… and thanks to Kirk Cameron’s naïve call to action for Christians to give the movie positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes to send critics of the film a message that we don’t care about quality so long as it has a Christian message – at least that’s how it comes off. As a result, what few reviews did show up in the user section were quickly countered by a savaging from the greater number of people who just couldn’t resist making a mockery of Cameron and his followers. It’s now also currently voted the #1 worst movie in history on IMDb, because there’s never a too far when it comes to internet activism.
I actually saw this a while ago, though, when I promised my friend that I would review it. Yes, I drove to the closest of very few theatres that was playing this pre-Thanksgiving in my area and paid good money to see this. I had intended to review it first, but I was so busy at the beginning of Christmas Movie Month and so stressed that I decided to start it off with a movie I liked, so I held off. Little did I know that it was going to attract so much attention in such a small amount of time. I guess I could only wish that the movie would fizzle into an oblivion rather than linger on, or, at the very least, that I would be one of the few talking about it by the time I reviewed it. No such luck this year, though, and now I look painfully behind on the story, which will likely fizzle by the coming week, unless it spawns more bizarre merchandise beyond the recently announced official coffee blend. Oh well.
The funny thing about Saving Christmas, however, is that, while its marketing and title blatantly feeds off of the “War on Christmas” fear, but the film actually isn’t about what anyone might’ve expected. I was expecting Cameron to talk about all the ways in which the secular world is trying to oppress Christians, but it actually pretty blatantly mocks the concept, which I guess is one positive aspect of the film, even if it is done in such a stupid, poorly executed manner. I actually became immediately amused by the fact that the film’s reticle isn’t targeted at the perceived heathens of the world but rather other Christians! Why, you may ask, would Cameron target fellow believers in his endeavor to save the one holiday of the year that they become most vocal about? Because, as Cameron says at one point, we “drank the Kool-Aid” when it comes to the pessimism that surrounds the Christmas holiday, and he illustrates this for us by addressing three concerns that Christians have allowed themselves to succumb to, pointing out why we are wrong to feel that way because, ultimately, every single aspect of Christmas can ultimately be reoriented back towards worshipping Christ. Huh…
It’s an unexpected twist, to be sure, and, as I said before, it’s one aspect of the film of two that I can actually appreciate, but pretty much everything else about Saving Christmas is as bad as anyone could have ever imagined, regardless of whether they knew about the film’s angle. In fact, it’s probably worse, because, most of the time, it might just leave you scratching your head in bewilderment as to what exactly is happening on screen and wondering why someone would conceive of something so bad and then inflict it upon the world like this. I’m talking about something so bad that the first thing I messaged to my friend was that I wished I could go back and experience watching A Madea Christmas all over again.
The film presents us with three points of contention it has with the “Scrooges” among us who would rather not get into the Christmas spirit than look at things from a different perspective, and the refutation of these points are basically the whole reason for the film’s existence. These points can be roughly summed up as follows:
- Jesus is no longer the true focus of Christmas, regardless of the presence of nativity scenes.
- Christmas is derived from Druid practices, right down to the big ol’ Christmas tree.
- Santa Claus is a distraction from the true meaning of Christmas. “Santa,” after all, is just an anagram of “Satan.”
That part in #3, by the way, is the second thing I can appreciate about this movie, as I actually had a 7th and 8th grade teacher who, in all seriousness, started off one of his classes in December by making that exact point. At least Cameron and friends can recognize and rightly mock that bit of insanity.
The story, if you can call it that, revolves around Kirk Cameron trying to save Christmas from his fictional brother-in-law– who is named Christian, because symbolism. Christian, you see, has grown weary of the noise and materialism that’s become associated with the holiday and has been kind of a drag on everyone else because of it – particularly his wife, Cameron’s sister. Cameron finds Christian sitting in a and allows him to air his grievances with the way that modern society celebrates what should be one of the holiest of days in Christianity, bringing up the three aforementioned grievances. This is then followed by Cameron’s refutations of those three concerns, to which Christian immediately recognizes as being perfectly valid. And… that is largely the film in a nutshell. While the film occasionally checks in with the whacky party guests inside, including one who is a tinfoil-hat-level believer in the War on Christmas, it really is just these two guys sitting and talking in this one place as the film cuts to dramatic enactments of Cameron’s arguments about just how wrong Christian is to feel the way he does.
Now, I want to preface this by saying that I love Christmas. I find it hard to believe when anyone actually would actually hate it, even if I do acknowledge that that may very well be an actual feeling someone, even a Christian, may feel this time of year. That being said, however, Christian, for the most part, brings up a lot of very good points (see above). It really has devolved into a celebration of materialism over Christ, and I applaud other Christians when they remind other Christians that that should be the center of our attention, just so long as they’re not demanding such an observance from their local Walmart just to make themselves feel better. (Seriously, guys, if it’s forced, then it means nothing, regardless of what’s being said. Just take your “Happy Holidays!” and appreciate that someone remembered to wish you well at all.) But the arguments that Cameron, and, by extension, the filmmakers make are largely just made up revisionist stuff excusing materialism. I’m not even joking or stretching the truth when I say that. This film should’ve been titled Kirk Cameron Justifies Your Spending Spree.
Even though the movie is only 80 minutes long, it is, without a doubt, one of the most excruciatingly tedious experiences I have ever exposed myself to in a theatre, and only part of this is because the film presents questionable theology justified by a lot of crap the filmmakers mostly made up.
Christian’s first argument that Jesus is largely ignored at Christmas in favor of materialism is probably the least convincing of Cameron’s points. The point Cameron makes, that the nativity scene shoved into a corner actually has a lot of meaning afterall, still doesn’t address Christian’s concern that Christ is still an afterthought in people’s minds and hearts. Naturally, the film pretends like Cameron has sufficiently explained it to our simpleton proxy. The film does eventually expand on it later, but I’ll get to that, as it is the biggest point of contention I have with the film. Cameron’s argument against Christian’s second point is probably the film’s most absurd since it basically ignores history and claims that Druids couldn’t have been the inspiration for all the parts of Christmas because we can give all those elements their own Biblical meanings because, hey, Who actually invented the winter solstice, anyway? As I said, there’s a whole lotta hand waving of history going on here. The third point about Santa as a sort of golden calf is justified through some historical context, painting a picture of a St. Nicholas who was not only a strict adherent to the gospel, but also someone who would deliver the smackdown to anyone who would seek to spread any doubt or corruption of the scriptures, complete with a dubstep-scored beating of a guy who dared to call into question parts of his faith. It’s largely just corny, but it’s the part that I have less contention with because, I, too, think that hating on a guy for being generous is ludicrous, and Santa is more like the embodiment of generosity anyway.
The biggest issue, however, at least from a rhetorical standpoint, is when the film tries to tie it all together in a nice package by revisiting the first and second points and emphasizing that the Christmas tree isn’t a Druid symbol but rather symbolic of the Tree of Life that Adam and Eve should’ve eaten from, and the presents, when arranged around the tree, resemble a city skyline – obviously a symbol of a New Jerusalem containing all the promises that the Lord will have for us. Also, materialism isn’t actually bad because it’s symbolic of Jesus taking on a material form, and having material things is a reminder of that, so we should aspire to have more! Excuse the language here, but… WHAT THE HELL!?
The film does acknowledge this as being a sort of departure from actual tradition, but it also encourages us to apply such revisionism to all aspects of life, just so long as it’s done in the name of Christ. Now, I actually had a teacher in high school who made it clear to us that we should always be mindful of doing things that would be pleasing to God, no matter what our calling was, and that has always stuck with me, as it gave meaning and purpose to even the seemingly mundane things we do and legitimately justified someone’s calling being something other than ministry, but justifying materialism seems prettycounter to the Gospel, doesn’t it? Then again, Cameron has been a frequent star of TBN specials, and they’re no stranger to the Prosperity Gospel, so I’m not entirely surprised. I wonder, then, what appeal this movie might have to those who can’t afford much, though. Obviously, if you can’t afford many material things, you’re just going to have to be very careful of not forgetting that Christ loves you, I guess? Maybe just a little less? Maybe you’re not trying hard enough to get as rich as Kirk Cameron and family? Yeah, tell that to all the kids who are waiting for their Christmas Angel to answer…
Message aside, though, it’s also a travesty as far as filmmaking goes. There really just isn’t a story to be told here, and the production values are so incredibly low it’s not even funny. It’s actually immensely painful. The runtime is made up of Cameron’s bizarre rationalizations of American Protestant Christian traditions in the form of voiceover played over scenes of mostly static imagery shot from different angles, repeated ad nauseum and employing some of the most egregious uses of slow motion I’ve ever seen in any format. Slow motion has many purposes in filmmaking, and I don’t think anyone on this production knew what any of it actually was. I honestly think that only about 30 minutes of footage was actually shot when they realized they didn’t have enough material to use alongside Cameron’s ramblings, so they decided instead to slow everything down and repeat when necessary, thinking it would make everything seem more poignant, when, in reality, it actually just makes everything that much more tedious. Someone simply walking from Point A to Point B does not necessitate this much slow-mo.
The film really only gets energetic when it shifts occasionally to the people attending the party, and even then it’s mostly an excuse for some terrible humor. When Kirk has finally converted Christian over to his perspective of Christmas, it is then followed by one of the most bafflingly bad hip hop dance sequences ever to be filmed, complete with an ear-bleedingly horrific cover of “Angels We Have Heard on High.” Apart from largely inane choreography, these scenes were apparently filmed at least three different times, at least one of which was obviously in front of a green screen because there was a limitation of space, with the walls of the house they were filming in or some kind of furniture obscuring proper positioning of the camera. It’s immediately apparent not just because the matting is laughably bad in those moments, but it’s also because the extras also inexplicably disappear from shot to shot without explanation and the Christmas tree in the background is suddenly zoomed in disproportionately. However, the audience disappearance also happens from time to time when they are actually on location and filming from that terrible angle they settled on, so… I don’t know. I guess there were scheduling constraints, too. Or maybe their editor was just not very good.
Then again, nothing in this movie is. Apart from may be acknowledging the absurdity of claiming there is an actual War on Christmas in America and that anyone who draws parallels between Santa Claus and Satan is being ridiculous, I cannot for the life of me think of any redeeming quality this film possesses. It contains so much suckitude that it actually negates those two positive points for me. I’ve gone to the theatre to see a lot of really bad films, and I’ve rented and streamed plenty of terrible films on my own out of morbid curiosity. I’ve seen a couple Kirk Cameron-centered productions and used to watch his program on TBN every now and then back when my family didn’t have cable or internet back in high school, back when I had to rely on the bunny ears and a decent signal to get any late night entertainment. None of that crap has made me feel as sick as I became with this production.
It might very well be one of the worst things I’ve ever seen, and I’m not saying that to be hyperbolic or go along with popular culture at the moment. Never before have I felt so much like a hostage to something I was watching. I seriously considered leaving in the middle of this, and the only thing that was keeping me there was the fact that I was determined to keep my promise and spread the bad news about this movie. This really is that terrible, whether you want to look at it from a filmmaking standpoint or even a religious one. I told my brother-in-law about the whole Christmas presents as a New Jerusalem argument, and it managed to make him question is acceptance of Kirk Cameron as a theologian. Now that the word’s officially out thanks to none other than Kirk Cameron himself and his poor understanding of how the internet works, I admit that my perseverance does feel a bit hollow, but, at least I have even more context for my disdain for this man’s flavor of ministry (as if I needed more…). Whatever you do this Christmas season, though, no matter what your creed may be, please just stay clear of Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas. Trust me when I say that he’s doing nobody any favors with this production.
The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 0 / 5