This week, in my community of arts-and-faith explorers, conversations have been focused on the joy of Christmas carols, the mixed feelings over a new Terrence Malick trailer, the predictably disappointing conclusion to Peter Jackson’s ruination of The Hobbit, some interesting conversations with the Exodus team, and the traditional year-end challenges of drafting various “Best of 2014” lists.

I’m hard at work on my own lists of favorite films and albums from 2014. It’s a particularly challenging year for list-making, because I’ve seen fewer films than usual that I’d consider list-worthy, and yet I’m overwhelmed by the number of impressive albums released this year. I’ll post my picks after Christmas.

Regarding Christmas…

We’re into the last few days before Christmas, and thus the last few days of my first Looking Closer festivals of Christmas playlists. I hope you’re enjoying them.

Keep checking back: I have some very special guests ready to DJ the last few lists.


And, if all goes as planned, I’ll post my own playlist on Christmas Eve.

In case you’ve missed any of them, here’s the list so far — enough Christmas music to give you soundtracks for several Christmas parties.

But as I’ve been editing and publishing these playlists, much more has been happening in Looking Closer’s worlds of art and faith. Here are a few highlights of the past several days…


Terrence Malick fans: Attention! We have a trailer!


I shared some links to the sudden wave of backlash against Peter Jackson’s Hobbit films. These articles are pointing out, as if this is some new insight, that the films are doing more than merely embellishing the books; they’re increasingly repetitive, taking the highlights of The Hobbit and diminishing those moments by re-staging them unnecessarily. What’s more, the Hobbit films are disrespecting the heart of the story. The thing is, those who value the stories that Tolkien wrote have been pointing out these problems since halfway through Jackson’s original Lord of the Rings trilogy, where the downhill slide into excess, recklessness, and disrespect really began.

One person on my Facebook page commented, “Why the vitriol? These are adaptations, and I’m enjoying them.” Well, everyone’s free to enjoy them if they choose. And I’m not feeling any vitriol. But I’m not going to go see this movie. Why would I invest so much time in something that I’m convinced will make me feel even sicker than Jackson’s last few films have made me feel? I can’t just “enjoy” movies that take a classic work of children’s literature and reimagine them in a way that robs characters of their most distinctive qualities, that revels in excessive violence, and that contradicts the central ideals of Tolkien’s story… not unless I’m fine with people making millions and millions of dollars by exploiting and vandalizing the work of a master.

All of the goodwill I felt toward Jackson for the excellent work he did in The Fellowship of the Ring has progressively declined, movie by movie, as he has turned what began as a glorious homage into one of the most appallingly misguided “adaptations” I’ve ever seen at the movies. It’s a tragedy that so many young people will be introduced to the story through these films, robbed of the experience of discovering these characters and these worlds as Tolkien imagined them.

I am so very, very grateful that I was born when I was, so that I can carry the uncorrupted versions of these stories in my head and heart.


I doubt I’ll read a wiser review of The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies than this one by Sorina Higgins at Christianity Today.

Here’s Steven Greydanus on How The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies Betrays Tolkien’s Catholic Themes – and His Religious Fans.”

And here’s his review of the movie.

Earlier: Peter Chattaway chronicles the history of Moses at the movies.


Covering Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings, Alissa Wilkinson asks our new Moses (Christian Bale) and our new Ramses (Joel Edgerton) about Bible reading and the challenges of adapting the Exodus story for the screen.

Steven Greydanus talked with them here.


My favorite Tweet of the week — from Matt Zoller Seitz.