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Heaven Is for Real Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD Review

Heaven Is for Real (2014) movie poster Heaven Is for Real

Theatrical Release: April 16, 2014 / Running Time: 99 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Randall Wallace / Writers: Randall Wallace, Christopher Parker (screenplay); Todd Burpo, Lynn Vincent (book)

Cast: Greg Kinnear (Todd Burpo), Kelly Reilly (Sonja Burpo), Thomas Haden Church (Jay Wilkins), Connor Corum (Colton Burpo), Lane Styles (Cassie Burpo), Margo Martindale (Nancy Rawling), Jacob Vargas (Michael), Thanya Romero (Rosa), Danso Gordon (Ray), Rob Moran (Dr. O'Holleran), Nancy Sorel (Dr. Charlotte Slater), Darcy Fehr (Lee Watson), Vivian Winther (Katherine Watson), Pete Hudson (Old Man Watson), Ursula Clark (Painting Girl), Mike Mohrhardt (Jesus)

Buy Heaven Is for Real from Amazon.com: Blu-ray Combo Pack DVD Instant Video

Christian movies typically are a small niche of the film business at large, except when they're not. The Passion of the Christ was a bona fide blockbuster by any measure. So was the first Chronicles of Narnia, though it was easier to mistake for simply an epic fantasy
with its state-of-the-art visual effects and nearly $200 million price tag. Other recent Christian films have managed to outperform expectations with minimal costs and production values. Sherwood Pictures, part of a Baptist megachurch in Georgia, has made two films (Fireproof and Courageous) that have done extraordinarily well given their mid-six-to-low-seven figure budgets, but their grosses are only comparable to Matt Damon's non-series misfires and recent movies directed by but not starring Clint Eastwood (classes that overlap twice).

This year, no fewer than three Christian films have made a more significant impact at the box office while spending just a small fraction of what their secular contemporaries do. First, Son of God refashioned footage from the ten-hour 2013 History miniseries The Bible, doing decent but not quite spectacular business in wide release last Lent. Three weeks later, God's Not Dead, a small $2 million independent drama with the modest star power of Kevin Sorbo and Dean Cain, surprised many by earning over $60 M from a theater count that peaked at just 1,860, nearly quadrupling the previous best of small-time distributor Freestyle Releasing.

A month later, Heaven Is for Real came along just in time for Easter and became the biggest hit in modern Christian film outside of Passion and the Narnia series. Arriving from TriStar Pictures, a banner Sony increasingly assigns to minor efforts, this PG-rated drama amassed a major $90.8 M from domestic theaters.

Greg Kinnear plays Todd Burpo, a pastor, garage door repairman, volunteer fireman, and father of a boy who visited Heaven in "Heaven Is for Real."

Based on a true story told in a bestselling 2010 book, this film centers on the Burpos, a family of four from the small town of Imperial, Nebraska. This is a saintly family. The father, Todd (Greg Kinnear), is the respected pastor of Crossroads Wesleyan Church. He's also a volunteer fireman, a high school wrestling coach, and a small garage door repair business owner who isn't above accepting carpets for payment. Todd and his wife, choir director Sonja (Kelly Reilly, looking awfully tan, thin and glamorous for Nebraska), are strapped for cash but getting by with their love unshaken while Todd refuses to accept charity or a raise.

Following a spontaneous weekend vacation to Denver, the Burpos' younger child, 4-year-old Colton (Connor Corum), comes down with a fever. When it doesn't break, he is rushed to the hospital, where he is diagnosed with a life-threatening ruptured appendix. The near-death experience is traumatic for his parents, but Colton survives in great spirits. In time, the boy relays to his father that while being operated on, he left his body, seeing his parents grieving in different parts of the hospital. More interestingly, Colton somehow visited Heaven, without dying. He speaks in great detail of seeing Jesus and hearing angels sing.

Colton's account shakes Todd. The reverend tries to make sense of it in terms of his own faith and struggles. Sonja, on the other hand, chalks it up to the boy's imagination and is uncomfortable with the story being shared. She's not the only one; a local newspaper article invites ridicule and Crossroads' board convenes to consider replacing Todd.

A young boy discovers Heaven is for real in "Heaven Is for Real."

As implied by the employable cast assembled, which also includes Oscar nominee Thomas Haden Church and Emmy winner Margo Martindale, Heaven comes from actual filmmakers, not merely believers using the medium to spread God's Word. Director Randall Wallace counts Braveheart, Pearl Harbor, Secretariat, We Were Soldiers, and The Man in the Iron Mask among his writing and/or directing credits.
His less distinguished co-screenwriter, Christopher Parker, has Vampire in Brooklyn, Mulan II, and 2013 flop Battle of the Year to his name.

Wallace gives the proceedings more polish and power than they would have elsewhere. The film is nicely photographed even on a less than first-rate digital camera and an estimated production budget of just $12 M. It's also well-acted, with the oft-likable Kinnear providing authenticity and humility at the film's core and Reilly acquitting herself in a role that seems destined to elicit message board scorn.

That said, the film is also hopelessly corny at times and easy to mock. Why has it become so strange to encounter a positive portrayal of churchgoing people on film? The wooden, artificial alternatives of the Sherwood movies certainly aren't cutting it.

It is obvious that the masses who embraced Heaven are not movie people. I would guess the average fan of this film goes to church about 50 times a year more than they go to the movie theater. They surely won't mind the absence of the fantastical visual effects and action that most new films occupying over 3,000 theaters feel obligated to supply. More cynical and cinema-literate viewers might well find fault in the presentation, accusing it of manipulation or imagination.

I find myself torn between the two extremes of blind admiration and knee-jerk dismissal. I definitely appreciate that this is far more tactful and sensible than your typical Christian movie. Even if you're too skeptical to accept the movie's claims with the faith of a child, you can still classify this as a comforting tear-jerker. I'm pleased that my fellow critics, who were split on the film, were able to acknowledge some of the artistic value present. That value may not be of great interest to many of those watching with more of an eye towards what it says about salvation and afterlife immortality. But it saves the film for viewers of less conviction. I don't think this movie could or should change anyone's beliefs, but a fast watch that provokes some thought is inherently preferable to the countless movies that aim only to entertain and struggle to do so.

With its exceptional box office run winding down, Heaven Is for Real will hit stores next Tuesday in a DVD and the Blu-ray combo pack reviewed here from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

Heaven Is for Real Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.40:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
BD: 5.1 DTS HD-MA (English, French), Dolby Digital 5.1 (Spanish, Thai, English DVS)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Thai, English DVS)
Subtitles: English, English SDH, Cantonese, Chinese Traditional, French, Korean, Spanish, Thai; BD-only: Indonesian; DVD-only: Portuguese
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled in Chinese Traditional, Korean, Spanish, Thai; DVD-only: Portuguese
Release Date: July 22, 2014 / Suggested Retail Price: $40.99
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50 & DVD-9)
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as standalone DVD ($30.99 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Blu-ray shows off Heaven Is for Real's vibrant colors. Manitoba stands in for Nebraska, showing off very green grass and very blue skies (and that's just on Earth). The digital video cameras are not the best, with movement looking jerky and slightly amateurish but the 2.40:1 transfer otherwise remains sharp and clear throughout. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack satisfies with its crisp dialogue and well-distributed, liberally-applied score.

Bank president, church board member, and volunteer fireman Jay Wilkins (Thomas Haden Church) explains his lack of a family in this expository deleted scene. Randall Wallace directs Greg Kinnear on a fire-fighting scene in "The Making of 'Heaven Is for Real.'"

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray's all-HD extras begin with six deleted scenes (8:23). They offer more of Todd's saintliness (as conscientious wrestling coach, father, and mourner), a glimpse at Sonja's mothering and an explanation for Thomas Haden Church's character lack of a family.

"The Making of Heaven Is for Real" (13:08) presents remarks from the cast and crew on telling this story in the way they did along with some behind-the-scenes footage. It's standard but welcome material that touches upon the locations, casting, and message.

The real Colton Burpo, now a teenager, discusses his 2003 visit to Heaven. Footage of real clouds was used in "Creating Heaven" for this movie.

"Colton Goes to Heaven" (4:17) collects thoughts from the

real Colton Burpo and his parents on his remarkable experience.

"Creating Heaven" (4:24) addresses the film's approach to visualizing heaven, with director Randall Wallace and visual effects supervisor Dan Levitan discusses the techniques and the rationale behind them.

The same disc sold separately, the DVD includes the same six deleted scenes and "Colton Goes to Heaven", leaving the other two featurettes as Blu-ray exclusives.

The discs open with Sony's "Be Moved" promo and trailers for When the Game Stands Tall, Moms' Night Out, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Courageous, and Soul Surfer. Selecting the "Previews" listing repeats all the trailers and no more than that. Heaven's own trailer is unfortunately not included.

The scored, static menu reformats the cover art. The Blu-ray supports bookmarks and resumes playback.

The full-color Blu-ray and plain silver DVD share a slipcovered and side-snapped keepcase, joined by your Digital HD UltraViolet code and an ad for the book and other faith-friendly Sony DVDs and Blu-rays.

Troubled by her son's persistent fever, Sonja Burpo (Kelly Reilly) decides it's time to take him to the hospital.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Artful for a Christian film and refreshingly popular for something driven by characters and dialogue, Heaven Is for Real narrowly earns a passing grade. If you don't believe in a higher power and an afterlife, you may want to pass on this. But though certainly corny on occasion, this drama manages to mostly avoid the mawkishness and amateur hour feel too often attached to religious and spiritual cinema.

Sony's Blu-ray combo pack provides a first-rate feature presentation and an okay half-hour of bonus material. It's a satisfactory release of a film which my opinion will probably do little to change your decision to see or avoid.

Buy Heaven Is for Real from Amazon.com: Blu-ray Combo Pack / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
Directed by Randall Wallace: Secretariat | Written by Randall Wallace: Braveheart | Written by Christopher Parker: Mulan II
Greg Kinnear: Ghost Town Invincible The Last Song I Don't Know How She Does It Stuck in Love
Kelly Reilly: Flight Sherlock Holmes Above Suspicion: Set 2 Above Suspicion: Set 3
Thomas Haden Church: We Built a Zoo Smart People Spider-Man 3 Easy A
Margo Martindale: August: Osage County Million Dollar Baby Hannah Montana: The Movie Beautiful Creatures
Christian Movies: Fireproof The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe Soul Surfer Ragamuffin
Ghost Hereafter Chances Are Heaven's Door Wide Awake The Ten Commandments
New: The Lunchbox Winter's Tale Born Yesterday Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison

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Reviewed July 15, 2014.



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