Updated: Sep 4, 2019
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 2019; PG for thematic content, including peril; streaming via Amazon Video/Prime, FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play (4K), iTunes (4K), Movies Anywhere (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)
Best extra: “A Tapestry of Miracles: Making of”
OVER the last decade, nearly every Hollywood studio has released a faith-based movie or two clearly aimed at believers. Most are loaded with preachy dialogue and minimal special effects – keeping the budget under wraps while garnishing respectable box office returns for “God’s Not Dead” (2014), “War Room” (2015) and “Son of God” (2014) all making over $60 million. “Heaven is for Real” (2014) and “I Can Only Imagine” (2018) each topped $80 million.
Several of the most recent successes were also targeted at general audiences, inspired by true stories of medical miracles. Producer DeVon Franklin, a University of Southern California grad in Business and Cinema/Television, and an ordained minister who began preaching at 15, created “Miracles from Heaven” (2016) starring Jennifer Garner as Christy Beam, mother of Anna, 10, who has a rare, incurable disease. Anna is miraculously healed after a freak accident. Franklin was also an executive producer for the animated film “The Star” (2017) about a brave donkey and his friends who become heroes during the first Christmas.
In 2016, Franklin was a guest on a Christian TV talk show hosted by Sacramento, Calif. pastor/author Sam Rodriguez, who was also interviewing Missouri teenager John Smith. John had spent 15 minutes trapped under a frozen lake before he was rescued and rushed to the emergency room. Without a pulse, doctors continued CPR for another 45 minutes. “There were no vital signs, no heartbeat; he wasn’t breathing,” Franklin says in “A Tapestry of Miracles.” Franklin offered a book and movie deal to John, played on film by Marcel Ruiz, and his mother Joyce that became a bestseller and the foundation for “Breakthrough,” a real and authentic faith-based movie about the young man who, against all probability, returned to life through a flood of prayer.
Franklin recruited NBC’s “This is Us” star Chrissy Metz, for the role of Joyce Smith, a part as critical as John’s himself. Joyce and husband Brian, played by Josh Lucas, adopted John when he was a baby during a Central America mission. After the accident, the medical team waited for her arrival to pronounce time of death. Joyce grabbed his feet, something she did when he was a baby. “They were gray and cold,” Joyce says. Then she began to cry out to God.
“Holy Spirit that raised Christ Jesus from the dead, either You are who You say You are, or You’re not.” — Joyce Smith
Metz, who doesn’t have children, had the right motherly instincts. “[Joyce] refused to accept the prognosis and prayed from every single cell of her body, and heart and soul … for her son’s life,” the actress says.
The ER scene is so emotional the rest of the cast was overcome, says actor Sam Trammell (“True Blood” “The Fault in Our Stars”) who plays Dr. Sutterer, the lead physician. “There’s no way you are not brought to tears,” says Franklin. “It was raw, it was cathartic, it was open, it was transparent, and it was without fear.”
Prayer floods the film from start to finish. There were nearly 70 people in the waiting room the first night at the hospital. During the second night, a prayer vigil of over 300 rallied at the church, Pastor Jason Noble says.
“It’s remarkable because the Word [prayer] stayed throughout the story.” — John Smith
Screenwriter Grant Nieporte (“Seven Pounds”) admits actor Topher Grace, who plays Pastor Jason, rewrote the majority of his sermon, adding a touch of comic flair. The real Pastor Jason and other local pastors were extras in the scene, for which Grace says, “Oh man, this is like taking your driver’s test in front of a bunch of NASCAR drivers.”
Franklin was quite impressed with Grace’s sincere performance as a pastor who “loves the members of his congregation, and who will be there for them, pray with them, and hang with them. It’s a love letter.”
Young actor Marcel Ruiz plays a convincing John, who also had excellent basketball skills. The real John was on the school’s basketball team. He is also a huge fan of Golden State NBA superstar Stephen Curry, who became an executive producer for the movie.
Director Roxann Dawson who has spent the majority of her career behind the camera on TV series: “The Americans,” “House of Cards,” “Mercy Street,” “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and “This Is Us,” partnered with cinematographer Zoran Popovic. They used 3.4K digital cameras (2.39:1 aspect ratio) to capture “Breakthrough.” It was then downconverted for a 2K master and upconverted afterward for Ultra 4K home presentation. “Breakthrough” was mostly filmed in and around Winnipeg, Canada, subbing for the St. Louis bedroom community, where the accident happened. The lake scene was captured on the ice, with underwater and tight shots filmed in a temperature-controlled water tank.
The 4K reveals a nice uptick in overall resolution from facial clarity to costume textural detail, while the HDR toning shows an abundance of super highlights to excellent shadow detail. The 4K and HD versions are both very similar in facial toning, which doesn't happen often. Normally the HD version leans toward an orange cast, but here both are neutral and natural.
The 4K and HD versions exclude Dolby’s height-expansive Atmos soundtrack. The eight-channel DTS-HD provides a well-designed soundstage front to back instead. It’s especially good when Christian artist Phil Wickham sings “This Is Amazing Grace,” with hip hop artist Lecrae joining in. Franklin considers it one of the best worship songs of the last decade. Bass response thrives during a number of the pop tunes heard throughout including “Uptown Funk” from Bruno Mars, “Love Wins” with Carrie Underwood, “Play it Again” performed by Pigeon John, “Hold On” from Mickey Guyton, “Colorful” by Jukebox The Ghost, and a wonderful rendition of worship hymn “Oceans” sung by Taylor Mosby, who plays classmate Chayla.
Additional features include a commentary track with Franklin and Dawson included on the 4K, Blu-ray and digital, full of congratulatory comments for their cast and crew, including how they auditioned Marcel Ruiz seven times for his role as John Smith. Bonus material also includes a deleted song, “Carry My Soul” from Wickham; a short featurette “Trapped in Icy Waters,” which has the actual 911 emergency calls; and a digital exclusive of Metz’s music video for the film’s end-credit song, “I’m Standing with You.”
Some scenes might be too intense for children under the age of 9, but make sure there’s a box of Kleenex for everyone else. You’re going to need them for this inspirational film!
― Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer