‘Heaven is for Real’ asks viewers, ‘What do you believe?’
ALEXANDRIA, VA, April 25, 2014 (LifeSiteNews.com) -- Do you believe in Heaven? Or do you just say it at church on Sunday?
These are two of the core questions asked in the film Heaven is for Real, which came to theaters on April 16. With a cast that includes stars Greg Kinnear and Thomas Haden Church, and based upon the best-selling 2010 novel Heaven is for Real, the family-friendly flick follows Reverend Todd Burpo (Kinnear) as he is faced with physical, spiritual, financial, and psychological challenges, including a burst appendix that nearly kills his son halfway through the movie.
It is at this point Burpo has to deal with his own doubts about God and Heaven. After coming out of emergency surgery, Burpo's son Colton says he saw Burpo and his wife, played by Kelly Reilly, in separate rooms during the surgery -- and, with uncanny precision, describes their actions.
According to Devon Franklin, who is the senior vice president of production for Columbia TriStar Pictures and an ordained Seventh-Day Adventist minister, "we opened in a little over 2,400 theaters" in the opening weekend for Heaven is for Real. He said its second weekend will add 300 more theaters.
Pulling in nearly $30 million in its opening five days, Heaven is for Real is set for another strong weekend. Franklin said a number of changes were made in the transition from the book to the movie to make it appealing to theater-goers. "The book was not written for a movie; it was written in vignettes. We had the challenge, in doing the script, 'How do we craft a movie story out of the book?'"
"What we really felt was that the essence of the journey was Todd, the father, really trying to investigate and understand how is it possible that Colson saw what he saw," Franklin said. Some characters that play pivotal roles in the movie didn't exist in the book -- "We definitely had to take creative licenses here and there," Franklin told LifeSiteNews -- but they "represent" people in the book to "boil down the essence of what the journey was."
While the movie's premise focuses on Colson's visions of Heaven, the visions don't happen until more than halfway into the film. The first half of the movie focuses on the family's financial difficulties and an injury Todd faces. Franklin said this was done to help people "get to a place where you could invest in the story, and invest in -- ultimately -- the mystery of what Colson saw. It was important for there to be an investment, an empathy, and a relatability to the family."
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The family is "doing their best to be the family that they want to be, and that God has called them to be," emphasized Franklin. "It was so important to lay that foundation so then, as Colson gets sick, and as the mystery of Heaven comes into the story, you're already plugged into the family, and have a relationship with them, that allows you to care about what Colson goes through."
In the movie, Todd is a wrestling coach, a volunteer firefighter, a business owner, and a pastor, and is beloved by the townspeople. Franklin says this is accurate to the book, and in both media the entire town joined the family in praying for Colson's recovery -- which was seen as a miracle by doctors and family alike.
"After buying the book, I went out to Imperial, Nebraska, where the [family] lives, and I even went to the fire station. All of that is 1,000 percent accurate and correct." According to Franklin, the town "leaned in" to help when Colson got sick, and again to support the family when Colson's visions became known.
One of the most important themes in the movie is faith and trust in God, which Todd admits to lacking at multiple points. Even one council member for the church for which Todd is pastor expresses cynicism about the idea of Colson seeing Heaven. When asked by LifeSiteNews about this important theme in the movie -- how even Christians can have difficulty when faith is brought to its logical conclusion of miracles and reliance on God -- Franklin said that they wanted "the movie to show" that "there is a spectrum of belief even among believers."
Franklin said the question "What do I believe?" is something that the team wanted discussed by moviegoers. "All of the different points of view about what is okay to believe -- we're so excited that the movie can handle that debate in a balanced way so that everyone can come to the film, enjoy the experience, but come out of it talking."