“I CAN ONLY IMAGINE”
Blu-ray, DVD and Digital copy; 2018; PG-13 for thematic elements including some violence; streaming via Amazon Video, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube
Best extra: “Imagine Forgiveness”
FOR SINGER/SONGWRITER Bart Millard, using his imagination growing up in Greenville, Texas, was his only escape from the horrors of his father, Arthur Millard. “My dad wasn’t just a mean dad; he literally was the monster in the basement,” Millard says in “Imagine Forgiveness,” one of nine bonus features on Lionsgate's presentation.
“I Can Only Imagine” is the faith-based docudrama of Millard’s backstory, and the inspiration for the all-time No. 1 Christian single recorded by MercyMe. Directed by Jon and Andrew Erwin, the film made an astonishing $80 million. The brothers also wrote and directed “Woodlawn,” my favorite faith-based film about a real-life spiritual awakening within Woodlawn High School football team in racially divided Birmingham, Alabama, in the 1970s.
Millard can only recall a handful of good moments during his childhood; they’re all attached to songs. “If dad is happy everything is good. Those were the safe moments of my life,” he says. His mother left both of them when Millard was in third grade.
As a teenager, he became “incredibly obsessed” with Christian music listening to the rock band Petra, crossover singers Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant, and U2 with their exciting mix of faith and politics. Music became a natural escape. Millard felt, if he would ever have a chance to express himself, it was going to be through music. He starred in several high school musical productions, which his father never attended.
His father’s downward spiral started after an injury playing football at Southern Methodist University. Arthur became extremely bitter and started drinking. “Anything I pursued seemed unrealistic. To him, everything was unrealistic,” Millard says.
But when Arthur was diagnosed with cancer, his life began to change. “I never guessed God would change him. I thought ‘he's a bad guy and God is my savior and never will they meet,’” Millard says. He became bitter. “I didn’t want grace for Dad. I didn’t trust him. He was to play the villain; I’m the good guy. I’m the rescued one. It wasn’t fair. It’s much like the Prodigal Son story.”
One of Millard’s worst memories is recalled on screen as he questions his father’s newfound faith. J. Michael Finley plays a believable Millard, putting his heart in the tough scene: “Dad, you beat me so bad I couldn’t move. Was I ten or eleven?”
“I remember that,” Arthur Millard responds, played by Dennis Quaid. “That tore me up. I cried all night about what I did to you … I want to make things right between you and me.”
Millard admits, “When I finally let my guard down and trusted that something had changed [within my dad], my view of God became much bigger and intimate, and dad became the most Godly man I knew.” Still, it was a struggle to forgive, which didn’t completely happen until Arthur passed away.
Millard himself married his childhood friend, Shannon, and eventually restored his relationship with his mom.
Video and audio are both standard fare, with no details available via IMDb.com other than it’s captured in 2.35:1 aspect ratio on digital cameras, most likely mastered in 2K. There is solid sharpness and color toning, with a nicely balanced soundtrack delivered on six-channel DTS-HD. Dialogue, mild effects and music are well-balanced.
Honestly, the first-rate bonus features are more compelling than the nearly two-hour movie. It struggles – especially during its first act, with the child actors. Once Finley – an established Broadway actor – appears onscreen as the adult Millard, the story picks up and the script becomes more credible.
Screenplays for most Christian-based films endure subpar writing, killing appeal to anyone other than the faithful.
The exceptional performance of “I Can Only Imagine” at the multiplex may have surprised some in Hollywood, but its biographical story and acting struck a chord with viewers. This could be a winner on Blu-ray or streaming this Father’s Day weekend.
― Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer