I love movie critics. My YouTube subscriptions include a host of movie critics like Filmento and The Critical Drinker (the last of which is not appropriate for younger viewers), and its enjoyable to watch them expertly diagnose where a movie goes right and where it flops. Their reviews and criticism help me understand the different elements of a movie, what a character arc is and really unveil the “why” behind a movie just feeling right. It’s this learning that I’m using as I write my book (more on that later), and it helps me appreciate good camera work and music while I’m watching a movie.
Movie critics are a dime a dozen, and with the expansion of “wokeness” in the movie world, it is hard to get honest assessments on movies. Plus, everyone and their brother’s soy latte barista friend is trying to sneak in elements that advance the LGBTQ+, BLM and other causes, even when it doesn’t align with the movie. Nothing says “I hate you” to your movie watchers like subverting their franchises to preach about some woke nonsense.
Knowing that, you would think I would welcome the reviews of Christian and Family based movie critics. These people would warn me to the dangers of watching a movie with my kids, so that I, as a parent, wouldn’t have to explain
human sexuality the poor choices people make in life to my children at an early age. Well, you would think that, and you’d be wrong. To illustrate this point, I’m going to pick two movies, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, and compare their reception.
To set my credentials, I’ve watched both of these movies. I’m a huge Star Wars fan, and a decent Lord of the Rings fan. And, much to everyone’s shock, I’ve let my kids, including my two year old, watch both movies. But let’s imagine I’m none of these things, and I want to get an honest review that tells me not just whether the movie is good, but if its Christian or Family Friendly enough for my kids to watch.
Let’s start with Dove.org. Dove is a label I first saw on a DVD cover for Studio Ghibli. It approved of My Neighbor Totoro, but didn’t have a rating for one of the other Ghibli Studio works. My brother-in-law made the comment “Well, maybe we shouldn’t watch it,” to which I quickly scoffed and said “When did this Dove icon become the mark of the devil.” To give Dove its due, they’ve been around a while and have done some awesome work, like bringing a family friendly movie channel to the Ronald McDonald Houses. So, let’s see what they think of my two movies
What is going on here? How does a movie based on a novel written by a devout Catholic not get the “coveted” Dove rating, yet a poorly written work with plenty of woke-ism to go around gets the nod? Let’s break it down.
Rise of Skywalker (RoS) has a long integrity bar, which when I highlight it says “due to fantasy violence.” OK, there is LOTS of fantasy violence in RoS, with plenty of blaster and lightsaber deaths. But why is that not in the violence section? Oh wait, it is, but it gets downgraded to a 2 instead of a 4. The Two Towers (TTT) has violence too, with plenty of orcs and men meeting their doom at the hands of the Nazgul, random swords or even flying rocks. Yet it gets a 4. Given that swarms of people are killed in each film, this seems a bit unfair.
Dove also seems to have a huge distaste for magic. If you’re a wizard casting spells, Dove.org will give you significant thumbs down. But “the force” is totally ok, because its not wizardry in the magical world that Dove.org raters work in. Also, the lesbian kiss in RoS…totally fine, called a “girl/girl” kiss to downplay it, despite the fact that Singapore, Dubai and others are requiring deletion before the movie shows in their countries.
It’s not just Dove with which I have a bone to pick. Looking at pluggedin.com, the TTT review says “But the often dreary onslaught here may be more than some families want to endure (this is not a film for children).,” yet the RoS review states “The violence, while largely bloodless, can feel more visceral and even grisly than it did in some earlier segments (though, admittedly, even the earliest allowed our heroes to spill the ropelike guts of a tauntaun in The Empire Strikes Back).” It seems like if you choose to show blood, like TTT does, then its over, but if you hack people up with a lightsaber, that’s totally OK.
After delving into these and other websites for too long now, I think I’ve come to three main conclusions. First, you should never trust composite ratings. Dove’s blanket “seal of approval” doesn’t mean anything. Some types of violence are OK, some are not. Remember that 2 vs 4 rating? A 4 rating on anything means you don’t get a Dove seal. I’m going to go out on a limb and say the Dove rater for RoS was a Star Wars fan, and wanted people to be able to take part in the movie, hence the weird classification.
Second, I’m really tired of this focus on magic. Every rating site I went to had this odd hangup on magic. If any character used magic, it was an automatic down vote. Take the Harry Potter series, which are well made movies set in a world where magic exists. Dove does NOT approve of these, and their hangup is all about magic. This point makes me wonder why. I simply explain to my kids that magic is fun in movies, but its not real. Is that really so hard to do? I can’t be the only father to do this. Sure, some kids grow up believing in stupid things like Slenderman and even acting on them. But these cases are rare. Most kids understand the difference between magic in the movies and the real world.
Which brings me to my third, and most important point. These ratings dumb us down and don’t challenge us to think. The Lord of the Rings movies are excellent movies that stay true to the book and challenge us to think about deep topics. Tolkien’s Catholic influence is very much alive in the work, but its not so over-the-top that you can’t apply it to a variety of world situations. The characters are real, have real struggles, and don’t always make the right decisions…kind of like real life. When these characters are challenged, they often have to dig deep within themselves to find the strength to fight great evil…kind of like real life. The last few Star Wars movies far pale in comparison, giving us Mary Sue characters that don’t have to struggle physically, mentally or morally, which makes them completely unrelatable to any real person.
Maybe that’s the real point. The raters at Dove, PluggedIn and others can best identify with Mary Sue characters like Rey and Captain Marvel, who don’t struggle or have to grow to overcome challenges. Maybe these raters have it all worked out, and its simply a matter of them telling us, poor uninformed Christians that we are, of what to watch. I could make several points here about how this talks down to people, or how similar this is to how the BLM or LGBTQ+~ people talk to normal human beings, but I won’t. I’ll leave you with some screen capture of Dove reviews and let you decide for yourself.
This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.