Movie Review: Journey to Paradise
By Donald James Parker –
A few months ago I was assigned to review a novel by Robin Shope for The Christian Pulse. After reading three of her books to decide which one to review, I chose The Valentine Edition. A short time later, the announcement was trumpeted on Facebook that one of her other books, The Christmas Edition, had been selected to be made into a movie by Salty Earth Pictures out of Wisconsin. I was looking forward to seeing this unique romantic plot brought to life on the screen, and on Christmas day I got the opportunity to watch this flick, which was renamed Journey to Paradise.
On Christmas Eve, I had gone to watch the newest Narnia movie. The shock and awe cinematography and special effects in that film were still indelibly etched in my memory banks the next day as I beheld the obviously small budget film from Salty Earth. It was impossible not to make a comparison between the senses scintillating scenes in The Dawn Treader with the plain Jane look of Journey to Paradise as the opening scene unfolded on the main street of the small community of Paradise. My heart sank because I didn’t want this movie to be a clunker.
The action then flashed back a week into the past, and the story began to share with the viewers the events that led up to the dramatic conflict that director and screen writer Steven Zambo used to try to grab people’s attention in the opening. It was toward the end of the movie that the present and the past merged at the onscreen fight between the antagonists. At that point the story moved on to catharsis and resolution, as all happy endings must. The movie followed the book quite closely, though it deviated sharply in one aspect. The original story took place at a small local newspaper, whereas the film version upgraded the Collins’ family business to a small television station named Paradise Seven. That change did not detract from the story. The mystery concerning the identity and motive of Joe McNamara, who didn’t just coincidentally drop into the TV studio to win a job and the heart of the owner’s daughter, was not only preserved but enhanced by strategic scenes of flashback and use of a DVD player.
Like the cinematography, the acting was a notch below the typical fare from Hollywood. This is something to be expected since the entire budget for this film is probably lower than the salary paid to a single middle tier star for one movie. Overall the ambience reminded me of a soap opera or perhaps a television show from the fifties. The absence of major conflict in this movie gave it a feel of Leave It to Beaver. One member of the cast did stand out to me. Matt Koester as the boy wonder was excellent. His boyish good looks and ability to ooze passion and compassion reminded me of one of my favorites, Jim Caviezel. The rest of the cast grew on me as the movie progressed.
Hollywood movies normally have a bigger than life feeling to them. The acting typically exaggerates real life. Watching a movie where the characters seem like everyday family and friends might seem a bit on the boring side. We usually want to escape from our daily mundane existence to something bigger and more exciting. This story didn’t provide that escape from real life. Perhaps that is a good thing. We sometimes consider our own lives bereft of excitement and of little significance. We muddle through life with the mistaken notion that life is comprised of many meaningless moments with a few blockbuster events thrown in. Somehow we miss the fact that in the small challenges we face every day to fight the good fight and run the good race lies the essence of life. In addition many fail to perceive that without God in the equation, the pursuits of the common man are indeed trivial.
As a lover of small communities and a big advocate of family owned businesses, I found that the threat of a big city chain putting Paradise Seven out of business in this flick heightened the stakes. Also I’m always a sucker for a good romance, and this story fit the bill. This was not just a sanitized fluffy love story where profanity and sex are conspicuous by their absence. This movie contains a Christian message which was not kept subliminal. There was not a lot of mention of Christ, but the small segments that bring the gospel and the Bible to light emphasized nicely the importance of embracing Jesus Christ. A couple of scenes showcased the Bible as a prominent focal point.
So despite a less than auspicious opening and only a modicum of conflict, the ingredient which characteristically makes a movie memorable, this movie burrowed its way into my heart. In comparing this flick to The Dawn Treader, I found that I liked these movies about equally but in different ways. Journey to Paradise is definitely a movie suitable for family viewing, though modern kids may have trouble getting into it. In my heart I would wish that movies like this would help turn back the clock and return our society to a kinder and gentler time when themes of true love and family prevailed. But I’m convinced that will never happen. Instead movie studios like Salty Earth are needed to help shine a light into the darkness that threatens to engulf our world. These types of movies will be instrumental in taking the gospel to all nations on Earth and then the end will come.
Visit the Salty Earth website at www.saltyearthpictures.org where you can buy a copy of this movie.
About the reviewer: Donald James Parker is a novelist and computer programmer who resides in Tennessee. Check out his website at www.donaldjamesparker.com