The upcoming Sony Pictures film “Soul Surfer,” slated for release in April, is based on the true story of spirited teen surfer Bethany Hamilton, who lost her arm in a 2003 shark attack, but courageously returned to her board and become a champion again just months after the near-fatal attack.
However, it appears as though the uplifting story, which marks the acting debut of country sweetheart Carrie Underwood, who stars alongside Helen Hunt, Dennis Quaid, and AnnaSophia Robb, hit a slight sour note with the film's producers.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the real-life Hamilton family – all devout Christians – were upset to learn that the words “Holy Bible” were digitally removed from the cover of a book in a scene featuring Hamilton reading while by his ailing daughter’s hospital bedside.
David Zelon, an executive at Mandalay Pictures, pushed to soften the Christian element of the film, presumably in an effort to appeal to non-Christian audiences. However, after the upset family complained they were pleased to discover that the “Holy Bible” had been reinstated in the final cut, THR reported.
“I could see the words bright and clear. I looked at my wife and whispered, ‘Thank you God, they put it back,” Hamilton told THR.
Furthermore, Hamilton said that in one scene Underwood, who plays a spiritual mentor to the group of young Christian surfers, quotes scripture. Some involved with the production were fine with the verse but didn’t want it known that those words came from the Bible, THR reported.
Zelon and Mandalay Pictures would not to comment directly on the Bible-related filmmaking decisions, but did release this statement to FOX411.
“Putting a movie together is a long and arduous process that consists of many decisions, big and small, made by many people from development through the film’s release. As people who collectively have been involved in making movies for many decades, we are not looking to engage in discussions about the process of the intricate decisions that go into the filmmaking process, but rather have the film judged by what appears on the screen,” the studio said. “Mandalay is extremely proud of ‘Soul Surfer,’ and we are excited to share this beautiful and inspiring story with the audience.”
Although Hamilton obviously didn’t always see eye-to-eye with the production team, he is pleased with the portrayal of his family and their beliefs.
“This is the first movie I’ve ever been involved in, and what really counts is what ends up on the screen,” Tom Hamilton told FOX411. “And we are absolutely thrilled with the way the film turned out, and the wonderful way it portrays Bethany’s and our family’s story and faith."
While the conflict regarding “Soul Surfer” highlights the growing difficulty the entertainment industry faces in attempting to appeal to both Christian and non-Christian viewers, one thing is for certain – pro-faith films can bringin big bucks at the box office. Most recently, “The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader” last year drew $291.7 million, while 2009’s “The Blind Side” gleaned $256 million.
So why do many faith-orientated films do so well?
“Films that have strong faith content do it because they understand there's an audience out there. There are 163 million people who go to church every week, and it's a gigantic audience and Hollywood makes movies for every audience,” explained Dr. Ted Baehr, founder and publisher of Movieguide, and Chairman of the Christian Film and Television Commission. “The movies that do better at the box office, like the top 10 films from last year, none of them were R-rated, none of them had violence in them, and none of them had sexual content in them.”
And according to another expert, Christianity is certainly not hurting a film’s bottom line.
“If the Bible and its contents are integral parts of Bethany’s own journey, then it's only fair, as far as the integrity of the project is concerned, to touch upon their relevance,” added Pop Culture expert and host of Clevver TV, Joslyn Davis. “Moreover, based on the overall box office earnings reports of other faith-based film projects, it's clear that the use of religious content does not hinder audiences from heading to theaters. Films like ‘Passion of the Christ,’ and even Justin Bieber's documentary concert film include blatant Biblical references, and have clearly pulled in stellar profits.” DB1
And although Underwood herself is no surfer, it seems she did learn a little of what it is like to be a “Soul Surfer” while making her movie debut in the Hamilton family-based flick.
Deidre Behar contributed to this report