29 November 2009

Collision: The Movie

I finally got a chance to get my hands on and watch the new "Collision" movie today. For those not familiar with this movie, it is a debate film/documentary between atheist Christopher Hitchens and Christian Douglas Wilson, recorded during a series of on-the-road debates they had, showing highlights of the exchanges during the formal debate sessions, with some of the behind the scene antics and personal comments from each sprinkled throughout.

Hitchens is well known as a political writer and activist, and is often regarded as one of the prominent exponents of "modern atheism," though he refers to himself more as an anti-theist. Per Wikipedia (the most reliable source on the web ;-}) he describes himself "as a believer in the philosophical values of the Age of Enlightenment." His main argument is that since the concept of God or a supreme being is a totalitarian belief that destroys individual freedom, free expression and scientific discovery should replace religion as a means of teaching ethics and defining human civilization.

Douglas Wilson has has recently authored a handful of responses to other atheist authors, like "The Deluded Atheist" responding to Richard Dawkins, "God Is: How Christianity Explains Everything" which is a response to Hitchens' writings, and "Letter from a Christian Citizen" which responds to Sam Harris' book.

This movie began as a series of back-and-forth communications between Wilson and Hitchens, that were later compiled and released as the book "Is Christianity Good for the World?" This launched interest in them doing public debates, which of course led to a "tour" of sorts, and highlights from those various meetings were recorded, adding in behind the scenes interchanges, and released as this movie.

The movie does a good job of presenting both of their views equally and adequately, giving us a good look at some of the issues. Obviously not exhaustive on the subject, and no one cries "uncle" by the end, but points are well made. For me, the high points were hearing Hitchens make comments about never having debated or met someone like Wilson and some of his arguments. He said many people he has debated seem hypocritical, but that Wilson seems the genuine thing, actually believing what he defends.

I think at times though, some of Wilson's arguments get lost on Hitchens understanding. Not sure if he just doesn't fully understand what corner Wilson is backing him into, or if he is not sure how (or if) he can respond. Wilson hits Hitchens with pieces of presuppositional apologetic techniques that in recent decades have been popularized by the late great debater Greg L. Bahnsen. Attempting to pull the carpet of reason out from under Hitchens, it seems all but lost on Hitchens (or so it appears somewhat from the small segments we see).

One of the other things that shines through, is the Christian love and charity that Wilson portrays. At least for the footage of the film, we see them both acting civil and respectable to each other, never demeaning or attacking or being hateful to each other.

The other brief, but powerful highlight to me was when Hitchens brings up the supposed failed prophecies of Jesus and his promised first century return (Matt. 10:23; 16:28; 24:34, etc.). This seems to be a favorite technique by the critics, and has been an attack from Jewish apologists and others against Christianity, and was a contention for men like Bertrand Russell:
I am concerned with Christ as he appears in the gospels…there one does find some things that do not seem to be very wise…for one thing, he certainly thought that his second coming would occur in clouds of glory before the death of all the people who were living at the time. There are a great many texts that prove that…he believed that his coming would happen during the lifetime of many then living. That was the belief of his earlier followers, and it was the basis of a good deal of his moral teaching. – Atheist Bertrand Russell, from his book Why I am Not a Christian
However, for Hitchens, it fails when countered effectively by Wilson's preterist response.

Overall, the movie was entertaining. As a Christian, nothing said by Hitchens had much force, but were typical arguments used as more of an emotional opposition to a creator.

My main complaints against this movie deal more with presentation than content. Whoever was hired to do the camera holding was either drunk, or had no clue how to hold a camera and focus in on the subject. The majority of scenes were jerky, chaotically zooming in on noses, hands, mouths, eyes, etc. and unable to hold still, bouncing around like someone was rolling around with the camera. It was very distracting and very irritating. The "sane" parts were the pieces that were obviously from outside "professional" services (like all of the CBN pieces).

Much of this film appears to come from hand-held cameras, and goes from being grainy, black and white, poor lighting, and other effects. Either this footage was captured without the intent to use it in a professional presentation like this movie, or I assume this might have been someone ideas of "art" for the films sake. Either way, it makes this film come across as a poorly shot home movie, and takes away from what could have been a professional film presentation.

On top of the irritating camera movements from the "drunk" camera man (as we began to call him), the audio suffers in many areas. There are many scenes where you clearly see the speakers are wearing lapel microphones, yet the audio we get for the film is obviously from the condenser mic on the camera. So, we get to hear all of the background noise and hiss in many scenes.

Many of the debate segments take place in restaurants, bars, and small public places, and contain a lot of background noise. In some parts, the film editors knew this was a problem, and we have subtitles, which are helpful, but not always present. To counter this, you must crank up the volume and pay very close attention. Unfortunately, you crank the volume to hear the dialog, and when the segue segments kick in with the various styles of music (some very heavy rock), they blast you away. At other times when the volume seems adequate, the editors have decided to add background music that tends to be way louder than it should, and that distorts the dialog.

Overall, a good film that I would recommend to anyone, but I really wish someone with better skill would remix and edit this film and soundtrack to fix these issues.