I might have been born the year of Star Wars but I’m very much an 80s kid. That decade of film and soundtracks has a legacy that, at least for me, has lived on. Sure, like many I probably watched films too young that I shouldn’t have, but I remember Aliens, Terminator, Beverly Hills Cop and Top Gun to name just some.
There have been some great films over the years. The way I tell is that on those rare free evenings you can’t find something to watch by flicking through every movie platform under the sun, you finally stumble across that film. Yes, the one you haven’t seen for ages and clicking it you’re absorbed back into a zone where noise and imagery can even knock up feelings, tastes and smells of the past.
A lot has changed in the way we watch. Screens, not TVs. Catch-up, not live. Now, rather than wait till next week, binge watch. We are heavily exposed to popular culture more than ever. Why? Because of access. It’s not just the shared living room telly and remote fight. It’s my own tablet, my phone, my MacBook and the reality is that, like the dæmons of His Dark Materials, we tend to have them always with us. The Bible and media share the same RAM on the same device sharing the same opportunity into our lives.
Watch not worship
The apostle Paul was aware of the gods that were worshipped (Acts 17:23) so we too should be aware of the influence of media that often bleed time and attention more than we realise. It’s about being wise. There’s nothing wrong having your workout playlist set to Hearts on Fire as you reminisce about Stallone’s training in Rocky IV, but Scripture tells us that physical exercise has only some value (1 Tim. 4:8). Watch but not worship.
I am often fascinated by the ability of the film maker to captivate us. After all, they are creators. They too bear the image of God and as they create we are subjected to hallmarks of our great God that are worthy of praise. If you’re watching Avatar 2 (and yes Sigourney Weaver lives on) and you enjoy the eye candy of Cameron’s imagined world, how much more can we worship what the Lord God has actually made? Not painted MDF nor CGI. Not even these gigantic 360 degree LED screens that project backgrounds instead of green screens for actors to visualise. No, none of that. He has given the universe that even the most powerful of telescopes or Musk’s inventions will struggle to see fully. There’s also depravity on our screens so don’t take joy in that, but pray for Christians in this line of work that they would bring glory to God.
The draw of remakes
One thing keeps reappearing – remakes. If you’re a Bollywood fan, here’s a question. Who made the originals? Hollywood or Bollywood? You’d be surprised at how much of what is produced is similar in story and plot. Yes there are Indian superheroes and they eat curry. Films get watched by filmmakers, which helps them produce more. Sometimes it’s original, sometimes a homage or a good plot recycled with a twist, but we have many reboots and remakes. How many Star Trek Enterprise crews are there? How many James Bonds? He dies again in No Time to Die but the end credits say ‘James Bond will return.’ What about the trailer to Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny? It shows a young Indiana. Perhaps the clock is being turned back, another past or another future. Is a reboot on the horizon? The voiceover of Indiana’s sidekick, backed by familiar music, says he misses the various adventures. When Indiana says ‘those days are gone’, he’s told, ‘perhaps not.’ What could this be, as we witness an age-reversed Indiana Jones? Magic, time travel, who knows, but do those special edition complete DVD boxsets you once bought seem pointless, now that a reboot might be on the horizon?
It seems there is a yearning in some films to go back to what works or, if one was cynical, to do what sells. Yet, just as Avatar 2 seems to be pitched at younger people with a similar storyline to draw new audiences than ones blown away in the noughties, then what’s left seems to be a limit. It is fun to have an Indiana or Skywalker for each generation but it’s a repeat isn’t it?
There is an end
The Bible says we’re destined to live once and then die (Heb. 9:27) or rather die once. In an era of Marvel, Chris Hemsworth, who plays Thor, takes another role. He is more intriguing in the docuseries Limitless as he explores the science of eating, fasting, exercise and pushing oneself so that we live longer. You see God’s hand at work in the way he has designed the human body to operate, but you also hear good advice and fallacies mashed together that somehow, we have power within our abilities to live longer. I’m glad films like Top Gun: Maverick live out age on screen with Tom Cruise knowing he may never make one like this again. In the final episode (which I’ve yet to see, and it could be an article in itself!) Hemsworth puts on a suit that helps him experience what it’s like to be an octogenarian.
Therein lies the wonder of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. The old, old story doesn’t need any makeup. It’s not magic but historical and evidence that Jesus offers life after death. One experience I’m sure you and I share is that after investing a great deal of time in a series, we find the ending doesn’t justify the time spent. Disappointment comes and you question what was the point of watching it. You wonder if the writers suddenly knew they were going to run out of budget or were not up for renewal, so they went for a suboptimal ending. There are only a few great endings aren’t there?
God will renew, not reinvent, and there will be a new heaven and a new earth (Rev. 21:1). The fall will never be repeated. There will always be brilliant and original media to watch but they will never come close to imaging or reimagining the reality of what is to come for the Christian. So go on, invite your friends for a film night, go to the cinema, pump iron with friends to your tunes, talk with another, engage with culture and enjoy threads of God’s image that you can praise, but when that fallacy or idolatry appears then mingle and mull the authentic message and the hope Jesus offers and keep praying for this industry.