Saturday, April 9, 2011

Movie Review: Soul Surfer

I've shared a few book reviews with you so far and after taking our family to see Soul Surfer last night I thought I'd give it some publicity here on my blog.

I don't know if you're like me with regard to your opinion of "Christian movies," but I have been thoroughly disappointed time and again with faith-based movies for a few reasons.  I often think their budget must not be good enough to afford decent effects and actors or whatever because they always seem to be missing something that blockbuster movies seem to have. Some kind of movie-magic. So whenever I hear of a movie that's being pushed for Christian-values, I'm torn because I want to support these types of movies so they can have a better budget for the next one, but I usually feel like it was a little bit of a money-waster because there are a lot of other movies we'd rather see for all their sparkle and polish.

Then there is the other thing about faith-based movies I notice and that's that they try to reach out to the mainstream audience so much that they'll gloss over any reference to Jesus Christ and just do a very generalized reference to God or a Higher Being so as not to offend people of different faiths, who might be spiritual in other ways.

Soul Surfer, I'm glad to say was neither a seemingly low-budget film, nor did it shy away from clearly pointing the characters' faith in Jesus Christ instead of just a Higher Power.

On the plus side of things, the plot moves along at a steady pace and there are plenty of good surfing scenes (important for this movie whose main character's whole existence seemed to be about that).  It made me long for the ocean again, while I'm living here in the desert of New Mexico.  The cinematography was so good, though, I could almost imagine feeling the mist from the waves crashing down on the screen.

The script was decent except for a few schmaltzy moments that I could have done without -- but for the most part, the characters were likable and so I was able to push past those lesser moments and just accept the film for what it's worth.

One negative I will mention is Carrie Underwood's acting skills.  She is a beautiful and musically talented woman and I'm so happy that American Idol discovered her.  That she has been able to live out her faith vocally in mainstream entertainment is an achievement all on its own.  But if she's going to be taken seriously as an actress, she could use a few more lessons in acting.  Fortunately, she did not play a major role and more substantial characters were played by more seasoned actors like Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt.

The movie is rated-PG, though we brought all our kids to see the movie believing that the story of this young woman's faith in the face of adversity was something we wanted to highlight for our children.  We did talk to our youngest two kids to make sure they understood that there would be a shark attack in the movie and asked if that seemed too scary for them.  Both six-year-olds were fine and J even changed into a shark t-shirt before heading to the theater so she would be dressed in theme, I suppose.  (To which, C commented, "Although, I don't think the shark is really the hero in this movie.")

Overall, there was no bad language or real violence in the film (other than waves pummeling surfers) except the one very quick shark attack where we barely even saw the shark.  For the squeamish, I'll warn you that there is blood in the water as Bethany Hamilton was brought out of the water to the reef and then to the shore.  But I think that entire scene lasts only about a minute or two and it would have been difficult to create a realistic movie where a girl is attacked by a shark and loses 60% of her blood without that.  There is no fighting with the shark or excessive screaming, so I think that lessens the scare-factor of the moment for younger children.

Of course, if you know the real story of Bethany Hamilton, you know she lost an arm in the attack and again, the special effects seemed incredibly realistic with the way the actress appears in the film post-attack.  This actually disturbed our middle son, Z, but not because it was grotesque or frightening, mostly because I don't think he'd spent major time really staring at and observing a person missing an arm and it was a curious thing for him.  He can't imagine life without part of his body attached and therefore, he was disturbed in a kind of humbling way that I think could be a good thing in the long run.

As a homeschool teacher, I'm definitely counting the movie in our list of biographical movies we've seen this year, because far as I could tell, most of it was real story and not just dramatized for the movie.  In fact, I loved that during the end credits, they showed clips of the real Bethany Hamilton in many of the same real-life scenes shown in the movie.  It added credibility to it and I was able to explain to the younger kids that though the woman in the film was an actress, that stuff really all happened to the woman in the clips at the end.

As I tucked J into bed last night, I asked her about the movie and she said her favorite parts were when she learned to surf again after she lost her arm and how she was able to help people.  That sold it for me, for sure, because if a six-year-old got the important points of the movie, then it was all worth while.  She stayed interested through the whole movie and got the message.  Good job, makers of Soul Surfer.

I do recommend this movie for most everyone.  Know your kids and how the attack might affect them, but otherwise, the positives far outweigh the negatives.  I hope this is an indication of better Christian movies to come.


  1. Great review! I didn't even know this movie existed, but I remember that story (and didn't realize it's been so long since it happened!!).

    I keep laughing thinking about J putting on a shark shirt! Hilarious!

  2. Thanks for this! I'm interested in seeing it but have heard mixed reviews. And I totally agree with your thoughts on Christian movies in general.

  3. I can't wait to watch this moive! :)

    Thanks so much for the review!