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Swept Up into the Magic of Hogwarts

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Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in a series, Significant Films of the 2000s, of articles about the cultural significance of films that were released between 2000 and 2009. Also check out Popsickle’s list of the twenty greatest films of the 2000s.

Harry Potter Books The Harry Potter series follows the story of one young boy who was orphaned at a young age by what he is told was a car accident. He lives with his Aunt, Uncle, and cousin Dudley, though he is relegated to live in the cupboard so that Dudley can have the second bedroom he so desperately needs to store his large collection of toys. This pretty well gives you an idea of what Harry’s place in the family is. The real story begins, however, when Harry gets a mysterious letter from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. This launches the story of his life into a fantasy adventure of epic proportions.

For every person who feels slighted by the people around him—like he got the short end of the stick—this story makes vindication seem possible. For Harry stuck in a boring, claustrophobic existence where even school seems like an escape, his acceptance letter to Hogwarts seems too good to be true. While at every turn his family tells him that he is ordinary and destined for mediocrity, in his new reality, he ventures into a world where he was a celebrity since birth. He discovers that he is really quite special and that his life has incredible purpose. This theme of the story really captures its audience, because every human heart longs for this kind of purpose.

The center of the films’ themes is friendship—especially the core group of Harry, Hermione, and Ron. The friendship of these three has its ups and downs, but never does any one character give up hope in their companions. They show great loyalty and courage even in difficult times.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Poster Power, or more specifically the lust for power, is another major element in the films. It is implied through the life of the villain that the desire for power can easily become an all-consuming and soul-destroying quest. The characters on the side of good are ever vigilant to guard themselves from this kind of attitude even though it makes many advances on their spirits. One of the ways this plot point is explored is through the subject of death. The villain assumes that immortality is the greatest form of power while Harry and his friends risk losing their mortal lives on multiple occasions for each other and for the good of the world at large.

Given the success of the books before the production of the films, it is not surprising that the production is everything that you would expect from blockbusters financed by a major studio. The films quite live up to the fantastic realm described in the novels, from the magical elements to the grandiose settings—especially Hogwarts. The casting is also faithful to the characters created by the author. The central trio of friends has real chemistry, and there are standout performances by Alan Rickman as Professor Snape, constant foil to the heroes, and Helena Bonham Carter as both crazy and evil Bellatrix LeStrange.

Within the next year, two movies will be released that conclude the wildly popular series. The six movies that have been released so far comprise the highest grossing film franchise of all time. As many popular brands are wont to do, Harry Potter has stirred up its share of controversy. Most of this comes from conservative Christian groups opposed to the movies’ positive portrayal of “good” witchcraft. Witchcraft is compared to the sin of rebellion in 1 Samuel 15:23. I will not dispute the view that witchcraft is sin; in fact, I am probably more on the fundamentalist side of that argument than most. However, I would encourage anyone who refuses to read the books or see the movies based on that one fact to reconsider. If the policy is to watch zero movies that contain sin or even sometimes portray sin positively, that would probably discount even It’s a Wonderful Life. Anyone remember how George’s uncontrolled, unrighteous anger toward Zuzu’s teacher is played for humor? But the point of the movie is not that we should imitate that one character quality. Sometimes it is good to evaluate movies based on what overall message they put forth as well as content. As for the content itself, there are definitely pure fantasy elements to the type of witchcraft portrayed. For example, the ability to perform magic is something characters are born into, and in order to do it properly, they must obtain a wand made of unicorn tail or phoenix feather, something you might be hard pressed to find here in the real world.

Harry Potter While primarily marketed to the younger demographic, I wouldn’t discount them as kids’ movies, based solely on peril and violence. One other troubling recurrence that is up for discussion is the blatant disregard for any kind of caution or adherence to rules shown by the major characters. Our heroes constantly make their way into harrowing situations that they tend to escape by a hair. This serves the fictional suspense well but is not an attitude that translates well into non-fiction for those of us who value life and limb.

It is easy to see how so many have been captivated by the rich story of Harry Potter. The series contains the basic ingredients for a classic. Only time will tell how it endures for future generations, but it certainly continues to impact the current culture in multiple facets.

Laura Culp is 25 and lives in Northwest Oklahoma as a full-time creator of signage and part-time student. She would like to thank Angie Culp for her editorial skills and catering.

Drive-thru Church

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Speedometer I presented an after-school Bible club program at a local church. The presentation included a three minute video. The pastor said he could spare 60 seconds for me to speak in addition to the video. He explained he would love to dedicate an entire service to the ministry, but he did not have time. He had another missionary sharing, and the service was already rushed. I had 60 seconds to effectively present the program.

How do you reach a busy world with the Gospel? Talk faster? Alter the message? To reach an energy drink-driven, drive-thru world, you must offer them an alternative to the non-stop pace of everyday life. Church is not another activity tacked onto an already busy week. It is a place that welcomes you to rest—God’s rest.

Energy drinks sport flashy designs to catch your attention as you browse the grocery store. Many churches employ slick graphics to advertise new activities. Creative graphics can be used as tools to minister, but the message needs to be more than a quick energy drink boost; it needs to be spiritual milk helping the church grow. The teaching must have more substance than a fast food burger; it needs to be life-sustaining bread. By looking at Hebrews 4, we can discover several ways to minister by offering rest from the world’s breakneck pace.

Unfortunately the church often makes us busier. A Bible study this morning, a program this evening, a retreat this weekend. Hebrews 4 begins, “since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.” If we are too busy, we might miss out on God’s rest!

Family Praying “For those who enter God’s rest also rest from their own work, just as God did from his” (Hebrews 4:10). A church could periodically dedicate an entire service as a prayer service. The pastor could lead the congregation in prayer for things going on in the community and church and then dismiss. Even if a church did this only once a year, think of how much that one day would contrast with the rest of the congregation’s busy week. The church I grew up in had several family days each year where instead of having an evening service, they encouraged families to stay home and spend time with each other. Even a nursery or mother’s day out program can prove to be more of an invaluable ministry than you might think.

It is important to make God’s rest available at church. Hebrews 4:11 encourages us to “make every effort to enter that rest.” How do we know what God’s rest looks like? God’s definition of rest flies in the face of the traditional definition of staying in bed past noon and eating corn chips while watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer. There is a difference between resting and being lazy. God’s rest is an active rest.

Entertainment (or rather the overabundance of) is making us lazy. I’m a huge fan of entertainment, but I get so tied up in keeping up with my favorite TV series, checking out the newest comics, reading my RSS feeds, and downloading audio dramas to my iPod that I go weeks without producing anything creative myself. Actively resting means getting up and doing something. Maybe actively resting for you is writing a blog entry. Maybe it is getting a group of friends together to write a script for a sketch. Maybe it is riding your bike.

Also, actively resting means studying God’s Word. The writer of Hebrews compares God’s Word to a “double-edged sword” (4:12). Being equipped to live our daily lives requires an active study of Scripture. The reason verse 11 encouraged us to strive for God’s rest was “so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.” You cannot incorporate Biblical principles into sketches you write unless you know Biblical principles.

Fast Car It is especially important for leaders to take time to rest. If you lead a small group in your home, whenever you do get time to study the Bible, you probably spend it preparing for your next small group meeting. Leadership expert Tim Elmore states, “Because leaders spend themselves more than the average person, they need to refuel more often than most people do” (Habitudes #1: The Art of Self-Leadership, 33.) You can’t show others how to rest unless you know how to rest yourself.

The way the King James phrases Exodus 24:12 contains a poignant insight for those striving for God’s rest: “And the Lord said unto Moses, ‘Come up to me into the mount, and be there: and I will give thee tables of stone, and a law, and commandments which I have written; that thou mayest teach them.’” God says to Moses, “Hey, come here…and just be here.” To me that sounds redundant. God already asked Moses to come there. Why did he also need to tell Moses to be there?

Have you ever heard somebody say “I’m here in body but not in spirit”? Maybe you’ve been sitting in class on a Monday: You stayed up late during the weekend, and although you are sitting in your desk, you aren’t all there. God wanted Moses to be there.

When we meet someone for the first time, one of our first questions is usually “What do you do for a living?” We are so concerned with doing, but God is concerned with being. We don’t feel like we’re serving God unless we’re doing something for God. God cares more about who we are on the inside. In our culture, busyness has become a virtue. How was your week? Well, you know, busy. I have so much to do. Sometime in the midst of your busy schedule, “make every effort to enter” God’s rest.

Credits: Speedometer: Nathan Eal / Creative Commons, Family Praying: Matthew Cua / Creative Commons, Fast Car: Ernest / Creative Commons

Matthew D. Miller is editor of Popsickle. He lives in Oklahoma City and enjoys reading, writing, and programming.

Christians Who Cut

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The harsh edge of the blade flashed in the light that came in through the window. Tori squeezed her eyes shut and clenched her teeth as she brought the razor down onto the open skin of her arm. She felt numb and dirty. Both old and new scars covered her body from her thighs to her arms and even on the hidden area of her stomach. Blood beaded on the thin lines made by the blade, and Tori pushed the knife away, disgusted with herself. She’d messed up—again.

Christians Who Cut Every time that Tori promised herself she wouldn’t cut anymore, something would happen that made her give in. Someone would make a mean comment about her at school, she would get in a fight with her parents, or she would simply look in the mirror and think, I can’t stand myself. I deserve this. And then she would be in that same dark place she so often was. It was like she could not stop, no matter how badly she wanted to end this habit.

It was like an addiction.

Tori had been a Christian for several years—ever since she responded to the altar call at summer camp when she was eleven. At first her passion for God grew, but then life started to get hard. Her parents got a divorce. She lost a couple of friends right before she entered high school. Now Tori felt like God was far away. She felt like when she prayed, her pleas were static and distant. She wondered if God could even hear her. She stared at her reflection in the bathroom mirror. She felt ugly and unloved. Maybe I’ve messed it all up, she thought bitterly. I can’t love myself. Maybe God can’t love me either.

A Light at the End of the Tunnel

For most of my middle school years, I struggled constantly with self injury. I was depressed, I felt disconnected from God, and I expressed my hidden pain through the blade of a knife. Self injury may be something that you or someone you know struggles with, and if that is the case, then I hope this article can help you find encouragement.

One of the biggest problems with self injury, namely cutting, is that it is a compulsive behavior. According to Dr. Drew Pinsky, cutting is an addictive syndrome. When you cut yourself, you activate thrill mechanisms and cause a surge of endorphins to rush to your brain. This gives you a false sense of relief and even a high of sorts. Each time something happens that makes you feel sad or upset, you feel the need to turn back to self injury to give you that same release you felt before. Cutting can easily become an unending cycle. You want the temporary relief, so you cut… And then you feel guilty for allowing yourself to cut, and the guilt causes you to cut again… And around and around you go.

Even if you have only been cutting for a few months, it can be extremely difficult to stop. In fact, it may seem impossible. Please know that it is possible to end this addiction. I haven’t cut for nearly three years. It takes courage, strength, and faith in God, but it is possible. If you are struggling with self injury or depression, please keep reading. The points below can help you discover a light at the end of the tunnel—a way out of the unending cycle.

  1. No matter how you feel, you are loved. When you feel depressed and alone, it is easy to feel unloved. The truth is there are people who do love you, people who want to be there for you when you feel this way. You have family members and friends who love you. If no one else, then I love you even though I don’t know you personally. I honestly do love you, and I hurt for you. Above all else, Jesus Christ loves you. He loves you so much that he suffered and died for you. He loves you no matter what you’ve ever done. Deuteronomy 14:1, 2 says, “Do not cut yourselves…for you are a people holy to the Lord your God. Out of all the peoples on the face of the earth, the Lord has chosen you to be his treasured possession.” Even though this verse was written for the people of Israel, it still applies to you as a Christian. You are God’s chosen possession. He doesn’t want you to hurt. He wants you to have peace and joy.

  2. Even when you feel like God is far away, he has never left your side. Guilt is often a huge issue for Christians who cut. Aren’t Christians supposed to be those on fire believers who worship Jesus with every fabric of their beings? They aren’t supposed to be messed up people who have dark secrets that nobody knows about, right? The perfect Christian is a complete myth. Every Christian has problems even if it doesn’t seem like it from their outside appearance. Everyone experiences trials throughout their lives. You can still be a Christian and struggle with self injury. It is an addiction that is hard to overcome. Ask God to help you through this difficult time. He is there for you. He longs to hold you in his arms and take the pain away. When you feel disconnected from God, continue to pray, read your Bible, and go to church. When you continue to worship God though he seems far away, you are expressing to him that you still have faith in what he can do. Hebrews 13:5 says, “God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’” Keep your faith in Jesus and know that he will never lose faith in you.

  3. Talk to somebody about what you’re going through. Proverbs 27:17 says that like iron sharpens iron, one person sharpens another. Find someone who cares about you and can give you accountability and encourage you to work through your emotions constructively instead of through self injury. Ask your friend for guidance, prayer, and understanding. You may even need to find professional help. If you are a minor, talk to your youth group leader or a teacher at your school. Approach your parents about what you’ve been going through. An experienced adult can help you learn to sort through your problems and find hope.

  4. Search for a new way to cope. You may cut to help you release your pent-up emotions, it may be a way to punish yourself for the bad things you have done, or it may be a way to control something in your life when everything else seems to be crumbling all around you. No matter why you cut, you are handling your problems the wrong way. Take up music lessons, start a journal, go to the gym an hour a day… Find something that can start to replace this habit, something that you can turn to when you feel like you need to vent your anger and hurt.

  5. Learn to love yourself again. When you feel hatred and disgust for yourself, it is difficult to honestly want to stop hurting your body. Take out a sheet of paper and write a list of at least ten reasons why you deserve better than cutting. It could be “I’m a loyal friend” or “I’m a beautiful creation of God.” When you feel the urge to cut, remind yourself over and over that you are loved and that Jesus has planned so much more for your life.

  6. Learn to forgive yourself. You may relapse. You may go months without cutting and then mess up again. When you fall, it is easy to feel angry at yourself and want to give up. Instead of punishing yourself for messing up, take it into perspective. Make a calendar of how long you’ve gone without messing up and congratulate yourself for making it that far. Cutting is a hard addiction to overcome. The closer you come to healing shows how strong you are becoming. Jesus forgives you for every sin and mistake, so learn to forgive yourself as well.

If you have a friend who is struggling with self injury, don’t give up on her. She needs your encouragement and support. Don’t constantly talk about her problem but occasionally let her know that you’re there for her and are ready to listen when she needs to vent. Ask your friend if you can go talk to an adult together but don’t try to force the issue unless you believe that her life is in danger or else the stress could cause her to cut again. Spend more time with your friend. Let her know that you love her and want to be around her. Leave her encouraging notes. Compliment her. Whatever you do, don’t criticize your friend about her self injury. Judgemental remarks are likely to cause her to cut even more. Instead let her know that you’re concerned about her safety and want her to stop because you care about her.

If you have suspicions that your friend is suicidal, that is another issue entirely. If your friend is suicidal, then please tell an adult and get your friend help. Making a friend angry—maybe even angry enough to not forgive you—is worth it if it means saving her life.

You may be struggling with self injury right now. If you are, then don’t give up. You are not alone in your addiction. According to CNN.com, one in five teenagers claims to have participated in self injury. Self injury is a difficult thing to overcome, but it is possible. You are loved and cherished by God. Put yourself into his hands. Hope can be found through the Lord. He has so much more in store for you than you can possibly imagine.

Jeremiah 29:11, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

Emily Whelchel is a high school student in Amarillo, Texas. She enjoys writing, playing the guitar and piano, and working at an inner city ministry in her spare time. She has a passion for Africa. Check out her blog.

Popsickle's 20 Greatest Films of the 2000s

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Contributors: Laura Culp, D. W. Hurt, Dempsey Kraft, Daniel J. Lay, Matthew D. Miller, Philip Tallman, and Emily Whelchel

The Popsickle team took a break from writing about the Significant Films of the 2000s to list what we thought were the twenty greatest films of the 2000s.

20. Taken

Taken

I view Taken as Finding Nemo for adults. It portrays the love of a father who will stop at nothing to have his child back. Liam Neeson is what truly makes the movie. He shows how talented he really is in this film. Along with his acting and fighting abilities, he shows that his voice is well trained. After watching the film, one can’t help but say “I will find you” in their best Liam Neeson-like voice. Most of all, the film does a great job of reminding everyone that human trafficking is real, and not everyone’s dad comes to save them. This movie is fictional, but what happens in this movie is not. When watching this film, don’t ever forget that fact. —P.T.

19. Finding Nemo

Finding Nemo

How far would you go to save someone you love? What would you fight to have a loved one back? One clown fish proved that he would do whatever it takes. In a humorous way, this film shows the love of a father. The main storyline of this film is so simplistic, yet it is a brilliant film. Additionally, it is treat for the eyes to watch the clown fish brave the colorful ocean. It is a beautiful sight. Anyone who has ever experienced the deep love of a father will be reminded of it while watching this entertaining movie. —P.T.

18. Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog Millionaire has opened the eyes of many to the life of a “slumdog,” a person of lower caste living in India. Hope is found through the eyes of the meek Jamal Malik when he makes it onto an Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. The film contains many scenes that can only create horror and anger as it reveals frightening truths about child slavery and other severe content, but the message shows without fail that love overcomes all trials and that is what attracts many to this powerful film. —E.W.

17. Up

Up

Pixar does what it does best, extolling the simple virtues in life against a backdrop of bright silliness. The real point of the story is the quiet, consistent people that love us and shape our lives and our duty to pass on that kind of kindness to others (even if they annoy us and disrupt our plans). Where this film really excels is telling the audience these things without ever saying a word. The montage sequences with only the score to guide the emotional rise and fall of the plot are stellar. —L.C.

16. Avatar

Avatar

Avatar debuted when three-hour movies had become the norm—some carry an air of being an epic, some just drag out. However, Avatar stands out, because it is an original story. It’s not a reboot, adaptation, or part of an existing franchise. Avatar also sums up the spirit of the decade. It shows our growing interest in environmental concern. It reflects vulnerability to terrorism. The destruction of the Hometree carries the imagery we saw almost a decade earlier when the World Trade Towers came down. In a time when films are revisiting the nostalgia of the 70s, 80s and 90s, Avatar reminded us of what we saw in the first decade of the twenty-first century. —D.L.J.

15. Napoleon Dynamite

Napoleon Dynamite

Napoleon Dynamite created a sensation that even its creators did not expect. The awkward choices in music and dress for the actors only complimented the blundering main character. The world created felt retro and yet very close to home. But perhaps one of the greatest reasons for the film’s surprise success was its quotability. The ridiculousness of the dialogue is funny completely out of context and so has made its way onto t-shirts, bumper stickers, socks, and every young person’s lexicon of randomness. But perhaps more subtly, the film knew what it was. It did not take itself too seriously. It chose its pace intentionally, its color schemes carefully, and took someone who was completely inept and made them graceful. The viewer might not say it, but they wonder, “If Napoleon can get up and dance like that, why can’t I?” —D.W.H.

14. Gladiator

Gladiator

After a lengthy absence of appropriate Roman period films, Gladiator appears on the scene and does not disappoint. Ridley Scott’s film bears real pain, real heroism, and a strong sense of justice—all while appealing to the modern taste for action and blood. The film contains all-star acting (thank you Joaquin Phoenix and Russell Crowe), epic battle sequences, and the sense that cinema is still viable to communicate the deeper truths of life. —D.W.H.

13. The Incredibles

The Incredibles

Among a group of highly talented filmmakers (there are four Pixar films on this list!), writer-directory Brad Bird outshines the rest. In my opinion, the two films he wrote and directed, The Incredibles and Ratatouille, are the two best films Pixar has produced. The Incredibles was not only a fantastic animated film but a superb superhero film too. Although they had superpowers, both children and adults could relate to the troubles the characters experienced. —M.D.M.

12. Serenity

Serenity

About a decade ago there was a short-lived television series that got abysmal ratings, aired for only eleven non-consecutive episodes, and partook in improbable genre mixing (Chinese Western! In space!). This sounds like a lost piece of obscure trivia except for the fact that it went on to garner so much attention that Universal Studios made a feature film based on it. Why? Because it was that awesome. —L.C.

11. Identity

Identity

An updated and more labyrinthine take on the classic Agatha Christie Ten Little Indians structure. A film for those of us who lament that horror films have become gory and plotless things and wonder why we can’t have more Hitchcockesque suspense. The final twist is what most films fail in, but this one gets right. It makes perfect sense within the constraints of what we know about the characters and yet is still hard to see coming for first time viewers. —L.C.

10. Juno

Juno

Director Jason Reitman was just thirty years old when Juno, his second feature, came out. The young director, who now has three feature films in his filmography, has proven one of the freshest, most original talents working in Hollywood today. Hopefully he will become an auteur on the scale of Woody Allen in the decades to come. Juno was also the feature film debut of stripper-turned-screenwriter Diablo Cody. The story affirmed life and became a cultural phenomenon. —M.D.M.

9. Batman Begins

Batman Begins

Batman Begins brought much needed new life back to the Batman franchise. With its gritty real world take on Batman, it allowed us to believe in this superhero again. For so many years, Batman was portrayed as a cheesy colorful superhero. Batman Begins brought in the “dark side” of Batman and the insanity of the villains he faced. Batman is a hero of the night and a man without any real superpowers. He makes us believe that we might even be able to be a superhero some day. Batman Begins brings a whole new level of greatness when it shows us that a hero can be born out of the worst situations possible. Bruce Wayne was stuck in a prison when Henri Ducard sought him out to train him. We need to always be reminded that no matter how bad our situation may appear, God is always seeking us out to become his heroes on the earth. —D.K.

8. Spider-Man 1 and 2

Spider-Man

Spider-Man 1 and 2 relaunched superhero movies and did it in a way never done before. After an era where superhero movies were so far from the comics that even die-hard fans avoided them and so cheesy that the normal moviegoer couldn’t stand them, Spider-Man 1 and 2 reinvigorated the superhero movie industry. Full of action, good versus evil, and drama, these movies draw us all into them. One of the best things about these movies is that the heroes and villains are not one-dimensional. Peter Parker has to try to reconcile his feelings for Mary Jane while understanding the dangers she will face if he pursues her. Even Doctor Octopus ultimately wanted to help the world but fell victim to his ideals when they clearly would not help the greater good. These movies at the very least remind us to reevaluate what our priorities really are. Should we sacrifice everything we are and the people we love for the greater good, or should we seek what is best for others even to the point of laying down our lives? —D.K.

7. Pan’s Labyrinth

Pan's Labyrinth

Pan’s Labyrinth, like Stranger than Fiction, presents the viewer with a film where the lines between reality and fantasy blur. But the similarities end there. The strength of Pan’s Labyrinth comes in the contrasting worlds it presents. The violence and brutality of the Spanish Civil War strongly contrasts with the fairy tales of a young girl. Ultimately, the director uses the mixture of the real and the fantastic to dialogue with the audience. The film’s ending is either happy or tragic. The choice belongs to the viewer. —D.L.J.

6. WALL-E

WALL-E

WALL-E carries an underlying message of hope amidst devastation. The film begins with a desolate image of a lifeless earth that has been destroyed by waste that humans left behind. Throughout the film viewers actually find themselves becoming endeared to a rickety robot whose job is to attempt to clean up the abandoned garbage and make earth habitable once again. In a world where life or hope cannot seem to be found, WALL-E experiences new life and true love, and the hope that follows is what makes a beautiful film by Pixar. —E.W.

5. Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl

Pirates of the Caribbean

Pirates of the Caribbean was based on a theme park ride. No one realized that the film would become such an obsession for viewers across the nation. Each of the characters are engaging and memorable even though most of them are swashbuckling, undead pirates. This film caters to a wide audience as it carries scenes of tender romance, action that keeps you on the edge of your seat, and a factor of genuine humor. Perhaps the most appealing aspect of Pirates of the Caribbean is the sense of adventure and excitement its viewers feel long after they leave the theater. —E.W.

4. Stanger Than Fiction

Stranger Than Fiction

The key quality that makes Stranger Than Fiction stand out among all the films of the past decade is its use of a frame narrative. Lots of great stories are framed narratives, that is, a story within a story. Heart of Darkness, The Princess Bride, Forrest Gump—none of these framed stories mix fiction and reality quite like Stranger than Fiction. But a framed narrative is only a gimmick without a strong story. The journey Will Ferrell’s character takes to discover his creator and then knowing his fate is in the hands of another mortal serves as a catalyst for many discussions on the nature of choice and free will. —D.L.J.

3. Shaun of the Dead

Shaun of the Dead

Shaun of the Dead introduced the filmmaking trio of Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost to the big screen (previously the three had produced the great TV series Spaced). This zombie romantic comedy set the standard for horror comedy that decade. Zombieland, another zombie romantic comedy later in the decade, came closest but still paled in comparison to Shaun. —M.D.M.

2. The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight

Sequels tend to be hit and miss. The Dark Knight is definitely a hit! Drawing much of its material from countless comics, this film brings Batman to life. Unlike the majority of superhero films, this film takes place in a realistic world where men can’t fly, bullets kill people, and sadistic criminals kill for no reason other than their twisted pleasure. The plot of the film is excellent, but the cast is what really sells the film. Of course, Health Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker was Oscar-worthy, but the supporting cast really brought the film together. The performances of Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, and Michael Caine were superb. Overall the film presents itself to be not just an incredible comic book film but a great action/crime movie. A must see for all comic book readers. —P.T.

1. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

Lord of the Rings

These cinematic masterpieces directed by Peter Jackson and adapted from the books by J. R. R. Tolkein represent the most well-loved fantasy series in the world. What once was esoteric and vehemently discussed in bookstores and literature classes firmly rooted itself to the most mundane levels of popular culture. The films made huge advancements in digital effects technology and established a relentless design ethic to be challenged by few. Besides this the films earned an enormous sum of money, established acting careers for many, received a host international awards, and created a renewed interest in fantasy as a seductive, lucrative, and entertaining genre of film. —D.W.H.

A Town Called Odyssey

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Adventures in Odyssey Logo If you grew up listening to Christian radio, you inevitably came in contact with Adventures in Odyssey. Odyssey is Focus on the Family’s long-running radio series that has broadcast close to 700 episodes since it first aired in 1987. Now on its third voice actor playing the lead role of John Avery Whittaker, the series is still going strong.

I don’t remember ever intentionally listening to Odyssey. It wasn’t the type of thing where we went, “Oh, it’s that time of day again,” and then the family would gather around the radio. Nevertheless, I grew up with Whittaker and Eugene and Connie. I felt like I knew them. I could see Whit’s End and Odyssey in my mind. I remember when Hal Smith (Otis from The Andy Griffith Show and the first voice actor to play Whittaker) died.

National radio and TV form part of America’s cultural consciousness. Although one grew up in Oklahoma and the other in California, when the two students meet at college, they have a shared culture they can use to relate to one another. They both grew up watching Home Improvement and playing GoldenEye 007. Odyssey is part of the cultural consciousness of many Christians.

Odyssey was already anachronistic when it premiered in 1987. Stations had quit producing and broadcasting radio dramas in the 1960s. The series began as a thirteen-week test series named Family Portraits set in a small town called—you guessed it—Odyssey. The test series proved so popular that Focus on the Family launched Odyssey USA which was later renamed Adventures in Odyssey.

John Whittaker The series revolves around John Avery Whittaker—or Whit—and Whit’s End, the old-fashioned ice cream parlor owned and operated by the lead character. Whit hired a teenager named Connie to run the counter at Whit’s End. He also hired Eugene, a brilliant yet inept college student who often clashed with Connie. Various kids from around Odyssey are constantly coming in and out of Whit’s End.

If you didn’t grow up with Odyssey, you’re probably wondering what makes this radio series about a small town and ice cream parlor so popular. If you don’t listen to Christian radio, you may not be familiar with the show at all. It fills a niche not being filled elsewhere in media. The continued success of conservative talk radio baffles liberals. Their attempts at liberal talk radio have repeatedly failed. Conservative talk radio fills a niche not being filled elsewhere in media. Yes, there’s Fox News, but face it, the news media—newspapers, magazines, and TV—are overwhelmingly liberal.

Odyssey is a Christian sitcom. You don’t find Christian sitcoms on TV. To many, Christian is a synonym for mediocre. Christian sitcom is just another way to say mediocre sitcom with a moral tacked on at the end. To be honest, that’s what I was afraid Adventures in Odyssey was going to be.

It had been years since I had listened to Odyssey. I had recently discovered old-time radio shows like The Shadow and The Adventures of Sam Spade and loved them. I found a website where I could download most of Orson Welles’ Mercury Theatre on the Air series. On Halloween a few friends and I drove out to a lake and popped a burned CD of “Dracula” into the car stereo. Welles’ deep voice had us jumping at the smallest noise. At our Christmas party, we turned the lights out, lit some candles, and popped in a burned CD of “A Christmas Carol” that first aired in 1938.

Aventures in Odyssey Album 01: The Adventure Begins All this got me thinking about the radio series set in Odyssey that I remembered listening to as a child. Focus on the Family has released the entire series going back to the very first episode on CDs. I ordered the first volume, The Adventure Begins: The Early Classics, twelve episodes from early in the series. I was apprehensive as I waited for the package to come in. Would it be as funny and entertaining as I remembered? Or now that I was older would my more finely-tuned critical sense see the series as a cheesy attempt at Christian indoctrination?

I listened to the first volume not once but twice. It was funny and entertaining. These were artists telling great stories. The stories include morals and Biblical truths, but the messages flow naturally from the stories. A story reflects the values of the storyteller. This is not to say that the morals and Biblical truths in Odyssey are unintentional. There is a difference between unintentional and unnatural though. Christianity and the Bible is important to the producers. It is natural that they would intentionally weave Biblical truths into the episodes. Art reflects what is most important in the artist’s life.

The two-part episode, “The Imagination Station,” that originally aired on March 18 and 28, 1989 introduced a new invention of Whittaker’s that soon became a favorite on the series. Digger Digwillow said the titular Imagination Station looked like one of those old time machines in the comics. His description alludes to the origin of the Imagination Station.

In the bonus material included with the CD release of the episodes, Odyssey co-creator Steve Harris recalls a writer’s meeting where they were discussing writing an episode about time travel. He wanted Odyssey to seem like a real place to kids and was afraid a time machine would make it too fantastical. That’s when they came up with the idea of a machine that would harness a person’s own imagination to make it seem like they were really in the past.

Imagination Station The Imagination Station is obviously a metaphor for Adventures in Odyssey itself. Unlike TV and movies, when listening to the radio, you have to use your imagination to come up with the pictures. The purpose of Odyssey is to make Biblical truths came alive for kids.

There’s a deeper metaphor that can easily be missed. The Imagination Station is a metaphor for the core of Christian theology.

In the first part of “The Imagination Station,” Tom Riley comes to Whit for help with a boy in his Sunday school class who doesn’t pay attention. His parents can’t get him to read his Bible either. He thinks it’s boring. Whit suggests, “Maybe I can try this Imagination Station out on him. If it works the way I hope it will, Digger Digwillow won’t be able to complain about the Bible being boring ever again. He’ll have his own experience to prove it” (emphasis added).

Digger: What is all this stuff? Some kind of museum?
Whit: It’s all part of the Bible room. Exhibits and inventions to help kids bring the Bible to life.
Digger: The Bible. You got any comic books around here?
Whit: No, we don’t need comic books in the Bible room. You don’t care much for the Bible, huh?
Digger: Well, it’s alright, I guess. It’s just that it’s…well, nothing personal, but I think the Bible is kind of, you know, boring.
Whit: Boring? King David, Samson, Elijah, boring?
Digger: Yeah. I mean, I know all about those guys, and, well, I like my comic books better.
Whit: Comic books have their place, but they don’t really compare to the Bible—especially since the Bible is true. You think you know all the stories, huh?
Digger: Yep. My dad went through our Bible at home, and he tried to pick out the interesting ones.
Whit: Hmm, then I suppose you know the greatest story in the Bible.
Digger: Probably. Which one you talking about?
Whit: The story of Jesus.
Digger: Oh yeah, I’ve heard it. He taught people and they killed him and stuff.
Whit: Oh, it’s not as simple as that, Digger. Maybe you don’t know it as well as you think you might.
Digger: Uh-oh, here it comes. What are you going to do, sit me on your knee and tell it to me?
Whit: No, I’ve got a better way.

Take a Ride in the Imagination Station The problem wasn’t that the Bible was boring; the problem was that Digger had never met Jesus. He hadn’t had a personal experience with Jesus. Christians are obsessed with the Bible, because they have had a life-changing encounter with Jesus, who is the central focus of the Bible.

Christians honestly believe the Bible is interesting. They don’t study the Bible out of obligation or religious duty; they study the Bible, because they really want to know what it says. Odyssey isn’t a way to dress up the Bible to make it palatable to kids; it is an honest attempt to introduce kids to the Bible, because the producers are convinced kids will be enthralled with the Bible once they read it.

Whit tells Digger he has a better way than sitting him on his knee and telling him a story. Maybe Whit means you have to find more exciting ways—like a radio drama or an Imagination Station—to teach the Bible in order to make it interesting. I don’t think that’s what Whit meant. You have to meet Jesus before the Bible will be interesting. Whit programs the Imagination Station to transport Digger to Passion Week.

While in the Imagination Station, Digger visits the Last Supper. He brings the bread to Jesus. As soon as he meets Jesus, things begin to change. He tries to relate to John Mark how he felt when Jesus looked at him, but he just stutters incoherently. John Mark responds, “My words exactly.” In the second part, Digger has a conversion experience. He accepts Jesus as his Savior.

Connie Kendall One of my favorite episodes is “Promises, Promises.” It is an early episode—the seventh episode of the series in fact. Connie comments that she believes people are basically good deep down inside. Whit tells her that’s a noble and wonderful sentiment, but unfortunately, it is also one of the most ridiculous things he has ever heard.

Whit explains, “I don’t mean to offend you, but you’re way off when you say that people are basically good deep down. That’s not our nature. For proof all you have to do is look at any one of these youngsters running around here. Now, I don’t have to tell any of them how to misbehave. They already know that. But I sure do have to teach them how to be good.” This is deep theology. But never does it seem forced. It is an organic part of who these characters are.

Connie still disagrees. To prove Whit wrong, she says she’s going to make a promise to be good and keep it. She writes down a promise to treat everyone she meets with kindness, gentleness, and patience. Whit says he’s going to make it easier for her. He challenges her to pick just one thing, patience, and to set a time limit, four weeks. As you can imagine, Connie doesn’t even make it a week.

Odyssey would often tackle theological issues. Although it is a kid’s program, it also doesn’t shy away from tough issues. There are episodes about divorce (#17 & 18: “A Member of the Family”), the Vietnam War (#28: “The Price of Freedom), and an episode where a young girl dies of cancer (#50: “Karen”).

Matthew D. Miller is editor of Popsickle. He lives in Oklahoma City and enjoys reading, writing, and programming.

Vampires, Werewolves, and Twilight, Oh My!

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Twilight Book Cover Vampires, werewolves, and Twilight, oh my! I first began my experience with the world of Twilight and all things magical to get in touch with the younger teenage girls. I found it to be a world that I knew little about and found it quite odd at first. I mean, who would want to read a weird love story about a teenage girl and a 107-year-old vampire? Like that could ever happen anyway!

I was having a hard time connecting with young teens being a young twenty-something and finding this whole Team Jacob/Team Edward thing a bit confusing. I caught myself making fun of all the other college students my age who were actually reading these books. I couldn’t believe that they would stay up late at night to read a book that was not for a Western Civilization class or their next Biology exam. Really? College girls were even getting sucked into the vampire world now? Even though I thought that the vampire craze was a little ridiculous, I found myself being sucked in pretty quickly myself.

New Moon Book Cover Once I started reading the books, I found them quite enjoyable and hard to put down. It really was not like me at all to read a book for enjoyment. Most books I read were mandatory, but yet I couldn’t put it down. I also found it helpful connecting with younger girls in my youth group back home. I was able to bond with young girls and instantly gained some coolness with them when I had said that I had read all of the Twilight books. For example, I was a sponsor for a weekend Christian retreat dedicated strictly to teenage girls. At first I found it difficult to have a conversation with them about anything because even though I was a teenage girl once, everything they thought was cool had totally changed in the past decade. Then I remembered Twilight. I know, I know, it sounds silly that a book would be an icebreaker with a group of girls, but it really was! We were able to discuss literally for an hour straight which book was the best, what would be better—to be a vampire or a werewolf—and did Bella choose the right guy.

In the Twilight Saga, Bella, the main character of the books, has a dilemma over which guy that is in love with her to choose. Doesn’t every seventeen year old have this problem? Two extremely wonderful guys fighting for her love. Ah, which one to pick? The werewolf, Jacob, is not immortal; he will eventually die. Bella could have a nice long life living with Jacob. However, the other guy she could choose is Edward, a vampire. He will live forever unless he gets decapitated or something like that. If she chooses the path with Edward, she could have the potential to become immortal too. Most people reading the book imagine being put in that same situation. Especially since the author, Stephanie Meyer, wrote the book in first person. And so, discussion with the teenage girls I was sponsoring led to what it would be like to live forever as the Cullen family was doing in the Twilight Saga.

Eclipse Book Cover Is living forever really all it is cracked up to be anyway? Edward and the rest of the Cullens didn’t have a choice in the matter; they were changed into vampires by someone else’s doing. However, Bella would have the choice. She could pick: live a normal mortal life or live forever.

As Christians we have a similar choice: We can live forever in eternity with Jesus Christ who died for our sins, or we could spend eternity in hell because we did not accept Jesus’ free gift of salvation. Hearing girls discuss eternal life really opened for discussion about Jesus telling people that he had come to give eternal life. Jesus said, “I have come that you might have life and you might have it to the full” (John 10:10, NIV). I also talked to the girls about the Bible story of the woman at the well. Jesus Christ told her that he had something far greater than water. He had Living Water. Jesus said in John 4:14, “I offer water that will become a well spring within you that gives life throughout eternity. You will never be thirsty again” (The Voice).

On my journey of reading one of the most popular books of this generation, God made something extraordinary happen: I was able to share with teenage girls the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. Boy, I didn’t see that coming from reading a book about vampires and werewolves! It just proves to me again how God can use anyone or anything to help people build relationships that matter for eternity—true eternity with Jesus Christ.

Christi Mitchell resides in the great metropolis of Oklahoma City. She likes Lisa Frank stationary, Rubik’s Cubes, robots, and zonkeys. When she grows up, she hopes to be like April O’Neil.

Hating in the Name of Jesus

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Protestors Someone I respect once told me that every century or two a significant portion of the Christian community enthusiastically participates in at least one terrible injustice. I don’t know exactly why, but this observation has really effected me. Every time I see Christians on the news in mobs with signs yelling about people they hate I have to wonder if what I see is this generation’s version of Christian white supremacy. I want to know what causes us Jesus followers to undermine our identity as gracious, loving people. My best guess is insecurity. From white supremacy to the Inquisition, most of the blunders in which Christians have been involved seem to have at least this one thing in common. Sometimes it’s theological insecurity, sometimes it’s political insecurity, and other times racial insecurity; the ultimate end is that a particular group of people is identified as a threat to society and dealt with. During these times of injustice, Christians make enemies, and they believe that when he said things like “love even your enemies,” Jesus wasn’t talking about these enemies (see the Sermon on the Mount).

I’m supposed to be writing about worship. So how is injustice and insecurity even remotely related? They pertain to the disposition of the Christian community toward one of Christian music’s own worshipers. This particular worshiper has recently announced that she is a lesbian, she has been a lesbian for some time, and will continue to be both a worshiper of Christ and a lesbian. The Christian community which I am involved in responded, for the most part, with overwhelming insecurity. Jennifer Knapp—in case you haven’t heard the hubbub—is the worshiper that I am talking about. I have enjoyed her music for years and have worshiped God while singing songs she has written.

I must admit that I feel some theological insecurity myself when I think about the ramifications of her coming out. Can I listen to her music? Is it really worship? She always seemed to be a Christ-like woman. Is homosexuality compatible with the gospel? Wait, people genuinely worship with her songs all the time. Does that mean they weren’t really worshiping? If they were really worshiping, then her music must have been used by God. Does God like gay music? Wait, I like gay music—crap.

God Hates Shrimp So why does injustice fit in? It fits in because of the rising insecurity in Christian circles regarding homosexuality. Well, insecurity isn’t the best word; rage would be more appropriate. Disapproval and hatred toward homosexuals are both beginning to be treated as if they must come hand in hand. Can’t I disapprove without hating? In a century or two, will my descendants look back at the Christians of my generation with regret as does my generation now look back at Alabama lynchings done in Jesus’ name?

My mind is constantly haunted by the phrase “make a stand” regarding this topic, because another person who I respect has accused me of neglecting to do so. Even though I think homosexuality is wrong, I would much rather make a stand for grace and Christ-like love (the gospel) than rabid heterosexual totalitarianism (hatred towards other sinners justified by theological insecurity). There is no danger in showing grace towards someone who is wrong. In fact, it is what we are called to do. It’s what Jesus did. It’s our only hope. Grace is safe because grace and moral endorsement are not the same thing. Grace is loving acceptance despite rigid disapproval. Injustice happens when your disapproval lacks love.

If any of us wants the world to be better, God-fearing, or more righteous, it seems obvious that hatred and condemnation are the wrong tools. In other words, if I believe that homosexuality is wrong and I want to make sure wrongness is made right, then my most effective tool is not hatred but love. I cannot show this kind of love if I am trembling in fear and insecurity because the wrongness is icky and gross. God showed grace to whores even though they were icky. Jesus prescribed grace for the lowest of people. A large population of Christians think homosexuality is icky. Are we really going to let that keep us from carrying out God’s greatest commandment?

Jennifer Knapp So what about Jennifer Knapp? If you think she’s wrong, should you make sure not to sing her songs in church, delete her MP3s, and torch all of her CDs? Maybe the right response is neither “yes” or “no.” Maybe it’s “grace.” I’ve decided not to be discouraged from that grace by icky-ness and to remember how I want to be treated whenever my own filth is uncovered.

I can’t pretend that I don’t remember that Jesus also fiercely turned over tables at the temple, told early Christians to separate themselves from immorality, and warned us about “wolves.” I want to do that too, but I want to do it out of strong faith and steadfast love—not insecurity and hatred. I want to be a part of a generation of Jesus followers who understands love. Maybe my generation can be the loving generation without hallucinogenic drugs.

Steven Soward is an avid music listener and teaches guitar to youth and adults in his community. He enjoys religious and philosophical study and has a degree in Religion from Oklahoma Baptist University. He is a Jesus follower.

Planet Earth, The Island of Life

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Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series, Significant Films of the 2000s, of articles about the cultural significance of films that were released between 2000 and 2009.

Planet Earth Still The Planet Earth documentary series was a massive undertaking. It was developed as a television program by the BBC Natural History Unit. Technically it’s not a film. But looking at the grandeur of the production—years of planning, incredible cinematography, worldwide locations, and international marketing—thrusts the series into the realm of films. My only complaint with the series is that while the filmmakers captured astonishing footage, the narrator mentions it too frequently. “This is the first time this has ever been captured on film” is a recurring line in the scripts.

But the footage is astonishing. Forty cameramen working over five years and across two hundred locations took some of the most beautiful nature footage of the decade.

The series first aired on the BBC in 2006. In 2007, a companion film, Earth, was released in theaters. Earth Day 2009 saw a re-release of Earth as part of Disney’s nature documentary program.

The Planet Earth box set is the scope of what I’ll be considering for this article. The set includes the eleven episodes of the series along with the three additional episodes of the companion series, Planet Earth: The Future. These two documentaries cover issues of saving wildlife, conserving the wilderness, and living sustainably. The DVDs also include an episode of Planet Earth: Diaries for each episode. Each of these ten-minute featurettes show how the crew was able to capture such remarkable footage.

Each episode is fifty minutes long totaling over nine hours of runtime for the series proper not including the length of Planet Earth: The Future or the Planet Earth: Diaries. The first documentary is an overview of the diversity of Earth titled “From Pole to Pole.” The rest of the series devotes an episode to the following ecosystems:

  • Mountains
  • Fresh Water
  • Caves
  • Deserts
  • Ice Worlds
  • Great Plains
  • Jungles
  • Shallow Seas
  • Seasonal Forests
  • Ocean Deep

Life Is the Key

Planet Earth Still The keyword for this series is life. The series exposes how the creatures of this planet are in a constant state of preserving their own life. Our planet receives energy from the sun. The plants take sunlight and convert it to a stored form of energy, and from there it spreads through the food chain. Whether it’s the Bactrian camel of the Gobi Desert or the spider crab along the ocean floor, all creatures in this series work to collect food without becoming food themselves.

No species is immortal. Life everywhere works to produce offspring to ensure their species continues. The Earth is the inheritance of our offspring. Considering these goals, we as humans are not so different from the plants and animals we share the Earth with.

What an Honor

As I watch this series, I can’t help but think of what an honor it is to see the breadth of creation in my living room. Being a person who grew up with television, I’ve had images from around the world beamed into my life since before I can remember. Seeing endangered animals without leaving my home? I’ve grown to take it for granted.

Bosch But this is a relatively new convenience. A favorite painter of mine, Hieronymus Bosch, didn’t have this luxury. Bosch was born around 1550 in what is now part of the Netherlands. In his triptych, The Garden of Earthly Delights, Bosch painted a scene from the Garden of Eden. He depicts the garden with exotic animals including a giraffe. When you look at the giraffe, you can tell what it’s supposed to be, but it’s like Bosch was painting the animal from a description or another illustration. It’s unlikely that Bosch ever saw a giraffe.

When I think about it like that, it reminds me of how privileged I am. I can see the majesty of creation from my sofa. That is fantastic.

What We Feel

As emotional beings we remember what we feel better than what we know. In the June 2010 issue of Wired magazine, writer Erin Biba nails the problem on the head. “Scientists feel the facts should speak for themselves. They’re not wrong; they’re just not realistic.”

About two years ago I watched Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. Honestly, the only thing I remember from that film is that Al Gore showed his data with a very fancy presentation program. But he presented lots of data, lots of charts, lots of numbers. I don’t remember any of the facts he showed. I don’t remember anything substantial about the film.

Planet Earth Still But Planet Earth appeals to my heart. I’ll forget numbers, but seeing a mother polar bear bringing her babies onto the ice for the first time? That’s something I’ll remember. Watching the cubs get their footing for the first time on an icy slope. That pulls my heartstrings. They’re cute little things! It’s much more memorable to show the things that make me feel instead of blast me with facts.

Our Place in the World

I’ve only visited a small portion of this planet. I’ve never been to a rain forest. I’ve never been to a pole. In fact, I’ve never been to the southern hemisphere. There are many places I’ve never been, but they are part of my world—part of the miraculous island of life we live on.

In the follow up to the series, Planet Earth: The Future, Dr. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, says “Wilderness always speaks to human beings of transcendence in the widest possible sense. It says, ‘You as a human being are part of a system which is not just about your needs and your concerns. Like it or not, you’re part of something immense and very mysterious.’”

Watching this series reminds me that there are places where life is totally different than my home. I’m from Oklahoma. Here the sun rises overhead on its daily journey—starting in the east and reaching the western horizon at the close of day.

Planet Earth Still Watching “Pole to Pole,” I’m reminded that there are places in the world without daily sunsets. When the sun does rise in these polar regions, it stretches across the sky horizontally, not vertically. During the summer, it does not set. Depending on the time of year, it may not show each day at all. It’s something I’ve never experienced, but it is still part of my world.

Beauty of Creation

Planet Earth Still There is no doubt that the Earth is glorious, but it is also beautiful in its bizarreness. To me the strangest chapter in the Planet Earth series is in the “Jungles” documentary. The program focuses on the bullet ants of the rainforests. These ants occasionally become infected with the spores of a parasitic fungus called Cordyceps. This fungus will infect the brain of an ant and cause the insect to go insane. The ant will climb up to a high perch, cling to a branch with its mandible, and die there. Once the ant is dead, the fungus begins to grow out of the head of the ant. In a few weeks the fungus will release spores from this height to infect more ants to begin its lifecycle again. Through the fantastic use of time-lapse filming, we’re able to watch the fungus emerge from the ant. The actual growth can take up to three weeks. Planet Earth shows the event much more briefly.

Planet Earth in Real Definition

The footage in Planet Earth is astounding. This is some of the most compelling video I have ever seen. However, beautiful footage captured on some of the most advanced cameras in existence can’t fully deliver the beauty of nature. I enjoy being in nature. High definition can’t recreate the feeling of a breeze over my skin while I watch the sunset at the lake or the coolness of moist soil on my hands while gardening.

Animals don’t have to be exotic or endangered to be fascinating. While planting roses, I uncovered earthworms that danced wildly before tunneling back into the soil. It reminded me that under my urban landscape there is a whole ecosystem of burrowers and bacteria that I’m sharing the land with. How many days have I walked over their world without giving any thought to their existence?

While I hold that Planet Earth is one of the most important productions of the decade, I enjoy evenings with the sunset more than evenings in front of my television.

Do you know which plants and animals are native to your region? Which wildflowers are your favorites?

Daniel J. Lay lives in Shawnee, Oklahoma. He grew up in the country north of Tulsa where he spent countless hours playing in the mud and climbing trees. These days he enjoys brightly colored insects and sunsets at the lake. Leeches fascinate him too.

The Lord of the Rings, Relativism, Crystal Meth, and Other Observations

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Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series, Significant Films of the 2000s, of articles about the cultural significance of films that were released between 2000 and 2009.

Introduction

Lord of the Rings Still When I first decided to write this analysis of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, I was excited. Then, I was overwhelmed. Where do you begin a discussion of one of the longest, biggest box office grossing, most beloved film series in the last decade?

Perhaps I should begin at the beginning. The Lord of the Rings trilogy began as a series of books by one of the most endearing fiction writers of the mid-twentieth century, J. R. R. Tolkein. I need not tell you the story; most people have seen the films. If you haven’t, you should. Don’t let the uber-nerds of the world scare you away from something that is truly momentous.

And momentous it is.

Whether discussing acting, writing, storytelling, cinematography, special effects, score, major advancements, or any aspect of film, The Lord of the Rings trilogy marks excellent in all categories. Perhaps I could discuss the details of a good story: themes, archetypes, character development, plot, conflict, rising action, climax, or resolution. Again, I could argue the films’ top marks on all these detailed features. However, instead of creating an article that lingers on the edges of being as long as the movies, I will restrict this article to three main discussions: the creative ethic, the major themes, and the documentary of the films.

The Creative Ethic

Lord of the Rings Still To begin, one of the things that struck me most about the films was the unrelenting commitment to creative excellence. You get the impression during viewing that this world, Middle Earth, really does exist somewhere. It exists in the vast sweeping landscapes of the film. But it also exists down to the gritty details of each person’s clothing and personal affects. From top to bottom, each element was imbued with a creative effort that went beyond the call of the standard film.

In watching the special features, you discover that this was the plan from day one. The director, the art directors, the writers, the actors, the artists, and illustrators had such a love of the books that they took their task of bringing it to the screen with the solidarity and gravity of a monk. You find that the leadership communicated their mammoth task so well that every person who had a hand in the film had their other hand on a copy of the books and their heart plunged down into the romance of Tolkein’s story. The result was a unified, comprehensive artistic study of each element of the story, visual and otherwise. Rarely does a fantasy film come so…complete.

If you temporarily ignore the fact that many fantasy books and films owe a great debt to Tolkien’s work, you can look at those other fantasies and still find them lacking in some respect. Compare The Lord of the Rings to the film Legend directed by Ridley Scott (one of my other favorite directors). Here you have an amazingly beautiful film. But unlike The Lord of the Rings (LOTR), it borrows its lore about goblins, elves, princesses, unicorns, and heroes almost directly from archetypes that are common to most fairy tales. While this is not a bad aspect in itself, it leaves it open to direct connection or association with other kinds of art. The characters of Jack and Lily are introduced, and we already know everything we need to about them. The filmmaker has no need to tell us that one is the hero and the other is the damsel in distress. After about three seconds, we get it. LOTR brings to the screen whole races that demand explanation. Elves and dwarves we may be familiar with, but what is a Hobbit? What are orcs? Who is this ultimate evil in the east? One of the most satisfying attributes of the LOTR films is that they give you the answer to those questions. The fantasy is so engaging that as I watch, I delight in the details. Just as with a long description of the scenery in one of Tolkien’s books, these investigative portions of each race add to the tone, the voice, and the storytelling of the film.

Each race comes with its own design ethic. The filmmakers read the books for details and then asked, “What would this culture be like? What would its architecture look like? What would its clothing look like? What is its history?” For ninety-nine percent of all other movies, we already have answers to these questions. The history is ours, the clothing, ours, the architecture, all ours.

Lord of the Rings Still In addition to the design questions, the LOTR filmmakers knew that every character is motivated by something—even the monsters. One example would be the creature The Watcher in the Water. Since Tolkein didn’t give explicit details of what the creature was like, the filmmakers saw it as an opportunity to shine. But they did not just run off and make what they wanted. They thought about the text and reasoned that everything in Middle Earth—especially the monsters—is somewhat unique to that place. It would have been much easier to create a big octopus or squid to attack the fellowship in the first film. Instead, they took those elements, expanded upon them, and created something that as far as I know, does not exist on real planet earth. And there it is! Through the miracle of movies and the creative ethic of the LOTR crew and the design team at WETA workshop, a truly terrifying, photo-realistic monster terrorized the screen and drew me in even further into the world of Middle Earth.

It seems a Herculean task to consider each character in as much depth as the creators of the film did, but they did it. They took each idea as far as it would go and with confidence hammered it into the eyes and imaginations of a whole world of people new to the fantasy genre while at the same time satisfying those of us already captured by the genre’s intrigue.

But the creative ethic was not restricted to mere efficiency or attention to detail. No, it truly was creative. Each challenge of bringing the books to life was met not with a handful of ideas but a relentless pursuit of those ideas until a great one was achieved.

We live in a culture that does not value this kind of thinking at all. We’d rather have whatever we want fast and cheap. Take furniture at Wal-Mart as an example. You could spend the money on the lumber, the tools, and the finishes and create a custom desk that is exactly the way you want it and will last a lifetime. Or you could settle and just buy something made cheaply from the big box store that will probably fall apart while you are trying to put it together. What do we value more? Cheap or careful? I would say that by and large, we value the cheap. However, great art that takes the artist countless hours still tickles our imagination. We look at something like the LOTR films and see the detail and come away with one of several conclusions: (1) Those people are complete nerds and have wasted their time, (2) Wow, I respect them for that, but I could never put myself into a project like that, or (3) How do I get a job doing that? I think those of us who put ourselves into our work already get it; everyone else is just trying to get by. My challenge to anyone reading this is: If you are going to do something, why settle, why not do it with excellence?” Look at the result. Worldwide fame, millions of dollars earned, and a work of art that will most likely be preserved beyond your lifetime and into the next. Why can’t our culture respond to all great art like that? Perhaps it is because there is so little art of this quality left in our mechanized, speed-driven culture.

The Themes

The next major thing that makes The Lord of the Rings films significant is their themes. By theme I mean that overarching concept which we seem to pull from the film. It is not necessarily a moral of the story or some catch phrase. Many times they are more complex than that. The LOTR films use the themes from the books. That is to say, themes that are from last century and represent a worldview that has widely been abandoned. Still, they are themes, and therefore, large enough to be applicable to us.

Lord of the Rings Still People today get wiggly when you ask them to define evil. Many people just sit back and say, “Hey, that’s your thing. Do what you want to do, and I’ll keep my values over here.” It is a stance of moral relativism. I believe moral relativism to be self-refuting and therefore nonsense. Rather than attempt to argue that here, I will simply note that Tolkein would agree with me.

There is real, unmistakable evil in Middle Earth—and it should be fought to the last man. Why march across the world into fearful territories of the unknown? Because there is evil, and it must be stopped or all will suffer. Why stand and fight against insurmountable odds on the open field of battle where death is assured unless a miracle occurs? Because there is evil, and it must be stopped. Why align yourself and your future with an obsessed, schizophrenic creature of the deep facing the constant danger of someone’s own mind turning on themselves and then killing you? Simple. Because there is evil in the world, and it must be stopped.

And yet if you stated this as a real reason for going to real war today, people would not accept it. If we go to war in Afghanistan or Iraq or Palestine because it is full of terrorists (evil) and they must be stopped at all costs, people get all frumpy. They claim that this is not a reason to go to war and that it is not our business and that we should just make peace and let them be. They are missing the point of The Lord of the Rings books and of World War II. There is evil out there in the world putting the innocent in danger and killing without question—and it must be stopped. The theme is unmistakable and written by a man who served in the first World War and lived in Britain during the second; in other words, he should know.

Lord of the Rings Still Another theme that arises from the film that seems so foreign to our postmodern American culture is sacrifice. The film is ripe with it. And this is as it should be. The most powerful tales are always about sacrifice: Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, Ridley Scott’s Gladiator, Mel Gibson’s Braveheart, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. All these contain heroes. What makes them heroic is their willingness to lay down that which is most precious for the sake of someone they love. Sometimes it is an individual like Charles Darnay, or it is a group of people like Scotland. And who could forget the world’s most famous story of sacrifice, that of Jesus Christ? Being innocent, he willingly laid down his life to bring man back into fellowship with God. Is there a more powerful tale to be told than this?

The Lord of the Rings shows Frodo and Sam willing to travel into the land of the enemy with less and less hope of returning to protect what they love most, their friends and their land. I wonder if the average American resonated with this? Are we still patriots? Do we love our homes enough to fight impossible odds for the possibility that they may survive the coming onslaught? My guess would be that most would say, “That’s what the army is for.” And may I take a moment to edify those that do serve in our Armed Forces? You do what most won’t, and whatever your reasons for service may be, I hope that one is because you simply love this great land and that another is to protect our homes and families.

Sacrifice continues to show up again and again. Gandalf gives his life so his friends can escape the Balrog. Merry almost dies defending Eowen against the Witch King of Angmar. The Ents march to war to protect their home believing that they will never return. Faramir rides to certain death to earn his father’s favor. Pippin risks all to save Faramir from his father’s madness. Each one of these heroic characters was willing to give of themselves for a greater good.

Lord of the Rings Still A final theme that arises from these stories has to do with obsession. Since there is a perfume named after this and many people use the language carelessly, I will replace the word with one more relevant and precise, addiction. Gollum’s and Frodo’s relationship to the ring can be described in few other words.

Gollum’s relationship to the ring is only detrimental to himself and others. It causes him to spend the greater part of his life in exile and is the direct cause of his long life, unnatural appearance, and psychological misfortune. With the exception of the long life, could the parallels be any clearer? I live in Oklahoma, and crystal meth is a huge issue here. You can drive around town and see people that are literally wasting away. At twenty-five years old, they look like forty. Their teeth and hair are falling out. They are engaged in compulsive behaviors that are destroying their life and the lives of others. If they don’t change what they are doing, they will die and possibly kill someone they love. I cannot list the number of children and homes lost because a reckless adult was using meth. Gollum, it seems, is not such a fantasy character after all. He is my neighbor.

The films paint another version of the obsession issue though. Frodo has the terrible task of carrying the ring to its doom. Everyone he meets, except for Sam, seem drawn by the allure of the ring. The ring becomes more than just something they want. It becomes their drive. The parallels to our culture are straightforward. Some people are hell bent on getting a certain car, a specific house, or a particular kind of mate. It becomes their obsession. Our country is full of people stressing out, working two or more jobs, and tossing their children in the hands of complete strangers for forty hours a week, because they had to have a certain style of living. Suddenly they don’t control their money; their money controls them. Isn’t this what happens to Frodo? The ring starts out as an accessory, but by the end of the trilogy, he is willing to live with the darkness and pain it is inflicting, because he cannot bear to be parted from it. We should learn from this that there is no physical thing in this life that should demand our lives.

The Documentary

Lord of the Rings Still Having not begun to scratch the surface of the vast depth these films offer, it is time to move the discussion to the final topic of this article: the documentary. It may seem odd to include this, but this is one of the things that really impressed me about the films. While they were shooting three films at once, they were also shooting a fourth—the special features discs on the special edition. Here they explored the author himself, the filmmakers’ journey all the way from concept to screen, and the actors’ involvement in the entire process. No film to that date had done such in depth record keeping on film. They took the viewer behind all kinds of closed doors. It is almost as if a magician showed you how he did his trick, because he knew that the illusion was not nearly as impressive as the reality behind it.

This is a stroke of genius. First, the fans of the novels get the filmmakers’ reasoning for making the changes and diversions from the books that they did. I remember my friend being livid that they skipped the portion of The Fellowship of the Ring that describes Tom Bombadill. I agree that it was a lamentable loss, but after hearing Peter Jackson’s reasons—in humility to be found in few movie directors—I was won over. It simply didn’t move the plot forward.

Another thing that the documentary did was investigate all the creature effects as well as set building and background work. As an artist, I loved seeing the storyboards, the concept art, and the miniatures built to serve the film. But as a film appreciator, watching them combine multiple elements so smoothly was a treasure. I feel as though I appreciate the film more when I watch it. I look at an establishing shot like in Rivendell, and I see the matte paintings blended with miniatures, mixed with digital architecture and film of live actors shot on green screen, covered with a gorgeous color filter, and I think (mouth agape), wow. Before I saw the special features, I only thought, Hey, that’s Rivendell, pretty.

Perhaps the special features service only those who were already fans. So what? With millions of diehard fans across the planet, why not? If nothing else, it only causes those of us in love with the films to fall deeper in it. Kind of like when you are astounded by the perfect woman when you see her. You might think you’re in love. But then you get to know her and find out she really is perfect: nice, creative, humble, passionate, intelligent, and interested in you. That’s when you fall completely head over heels and you buy a ring you can’t afford and ask to marry the girl. I will draw no parallels between those kinds of rings and the one from the films; feel free to do so if you dare.

Conclusion

So after over three thousand words, more could be said, much more. I will leave you with this: These films are significant. They are significant to the history of cinema. They are significant to our culture. They are more than simple movies. They are not some pieces of pop-culture trivia to be memorized and used on game shows. They are true works of art to be appreciated like a Rembrandt or Mozart. So call into work, make some popcorn, and watch The Fellowship of the Ring. Then stretch, gird up your loins, make some bagel bites, and watch The Two Towers. Then rearrange the pillows, throw some chicken wings in the oven, and hold on to your hat for The Return of the King. And if you make it all the way through, take a deep breath, make out some certificates of proof, and hang them on your wall. Your friends will ask, but you’ll smile on the inside knowing you were part of something special.

Credits: All Images Copyright (c) New Line Cinema. All Rights Reserved.

Douglas Hurt is a Christian, husband, father, artist, musician, writer, reader, thinker. He enjoys Rembrandt, Apologetics and Flatfoot 56. He lives in Oklahoma.

Metaphorical Awards Show

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It would seem that the best a Christian can hope to learn about sexuality from Hollywood is what not to do. Paying attention to the metaphors Hollywood uses, it turns out that their message is more conflicted than it appears. Hollywood’s version of sexuality is less liberated than confused, less permissive than tragic.

Hollywood loves their awards shows. If I were ever asked to come up with the awards categories for a television awards show, these are the categories I would create:

And the award for best metaphor for virginity goes to… Kyle XY!

Kyle XY Title The third season of Kyle XY, ABC Family’s prematurely canceled superpowered teen drama, picked up exactly where the second season left off. Kyle and his scooby gang were at prom in the second season’s finale, and the third season premiered with the after prom party. In the finale, Kyle’s dad gave Kyle’s younger brother, fifteen-year-old Josh, a condom. At the after prom party, he and his girlfriend, Andy (who—in what is seemingly an attempt to shake the label that is in the name of the network, ABC Family, that it airs on—has two lesbian mothers), discuss whether they want to go all the way:

Andy: Let me guess. You’re thinking, “Are we really going to be that couple that went to prom and played video games all night?”
Josh: Maybe…a little.
Andy: So you really did want to?
Josh: Do you?
Andy: There are so many arguments against.
Josh: I know, the cliché of it all.
Andy: There’s that, and the what-happens-after.
Josh: I…I just want to get to the during.
Andy: Seriously, say you have this amazing pair of jeans. You love them, they feel great, and they hug your ass. And then you cut them off to make shorts. You can’t ever get them back.
Josh: So we’re the comfortable, ass-hugging jeans, but what if we’re not great as shorts?
Andy: Exactly, and I would hate myself if I gave up a great pair of jeans for some sucky, raggedy cut-offs.
Josh [obviously not getting the permanence of cutting the jeans]: I think the jeans are worth cutting so we can try them on as shorts at least once.
Andy: Josh, it will happen when it’s right—not because it’s prom night or because we’re supposed to. But when everything comes together in the moment, we’ll feel it. We’ll just know.

Cutting jeans to make shorts is a great metaphor for the permanence of giving up one’s virginity. I could imagine a youth pastor using a similar metaphor.

And the award for the best euphemism for losing your virginity goes to… 90210 for the phrase “going to Palm Springs!”

90210 Title When the school’s AC breaks down, classes are canceled for the day (“Love Me or Leave Me,” season 1, episode 13, televised January 13, 2009). Annie, who revealed she was a virgin during a girl’s slumber party in an earlier episode (“Secrets and Lies,” season 1, episode 9, televised November 4, 2008), secured keys to her rich grandmother’s vacation house in Palm Springs. She and her boyfriend, Ethan, plan a getaway…alone…and “we’re going to Palm Springs” quickly becomes code for “we’re going to have sex for the first time.”

The former series airs on ABC Family, and the latter caused a minor stir by portraying oral sex within the first five minutes of the pilot. Guess in which series the teens actually end up engaging in premarital sex. Contrary to what you would probably expect, Josh and Andy on ABC Family’s Kyle XY are the couple who decide to “try on the shorts.”

Ethan’s not a virgin (he was the recipient of the aforementioned oral sex), but although Annie said she was ready to go to Palm Springs, he realized he would be taking something from her that could never be given back. He explained she was different than the other girls because he really cared about her and didn’t want to hurt her. He was afraid if they had sex and then it didn’t work out between them that it would hurt her, so he wanted to wait until they were sure.

When Annie’s parents discover where she sneaked off to, they frantically rush to the vacation house. They are relieved to see through the window that their daughter is asleep in the bed—alone—and that Ethan is sleeping on the couch. Rather than disturb them, they have hot marital sex in their minivan.

In his column in WORLD magazine, Marvin Olasky, the editor-in-chief, stated that the pro-abortion media must be ever vigilant if they are going to convince us that they really believe what they preach about abortion (“Abortion heresy,” January 17, 2009). He cites a recent article in the New York Times in which Times journalist Alex Kuczynski recounted her fifteen failed pregnancies.

At one point, while describing a pregnancy that didn’t make it past ten weeks, Kuczynski refers to her “small dead baby” but quickly regained her vigilance and added that it was no more than a “coagulation of cells.” Finally the journalist and her husband decide to hire a surrogate mother. She describes how it was weird having her baby come out of another woman’s body and then reminisces, “My husband came out and sat next to me. He took my hand. ‘You gave birth to our baby,’ he told me. ‘The doctors went in and took our baby out of you 10 months ago.’” He was referring to when the doctor removed her eggs. Wait a minute! A pro-abortion journalist writing for a pro-abortion publication just let a paragraph slip in calling an egg—an unfertilized egg at that—a baby. Tongue firmly in cheek, Olasky advises the New York Times to fire the editor who let that paragraph slip by.

Juno Poster The screenwriter of Juno, Diablo Cody, says she’s pro-choice and doesn’t think there is anything pro-life about Juno. After letting Juno, Knocked Up, and Waitress slip through (and all in the same year nonetheless), Hollywood needs to be more vigilant if they really want us to believe they are committed to the abortion cause.

Likewise, the media needs to be much more vigilant if they expect us to buy they believe the permissive sexual ethics they preach. Both Kyle XY and 90210 recognize there is something sacred about sex. Unfortunately, the teens are left adrift without any objective standard to guide their sexual behavior. They’ll “just know” when the time is right. Once they finally give up their virginity, they will forever ask, “Was that really the right time?” This is especially tragic because it is possible to know when the time is right. The Bible provides an objective standard: the time is right once you’re married. You then can enjoy hot, passionate marital sex.

Matthew D. Miller is editor of Popsickle. He lives in Oklahoma City and enjoys reading, writing, and programming.
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