The 11 members of the Australian band Hillsong United all belong to Hillsong Church, which has over 100,000 parishioners, with large congregations in New York and Los Angeles. A group that started as a small youth band now sells out concerts worldwide and has sold 16 million albums with songs in 60 languages. Viewers of this new documentary Let Hope Rise are given an opportunity to go on tour with the band, getting a glimpse behind the scenes as well as access to front-seat concert footage.
A Commercial or a Worship Experience?
Let Hope Rise is billed as a “theatrical worship experience”. As the opening sequence goes by viewers are actually encouraged to enter into a place of worship and sing along with the songs as the words scroll by on the screen as well. However, I must admit I was disappointed with what followed. With a running time of approximately 1 hour 40 minutes, the first approximately 45 minutes of the movie feels more like a commercial than anything else. Reviewing this movie makes me feel like I did reviewing a couple movies over on our Frame by Frame movie review site a number of years ago. Over the span of one weekend back in 2008 I screened Michael Uslan’s movie The Spirit and the Tom Cruise movie Valkyrie. If you look at those reviews you will discover I wrote how I really wanted to like The Spirit and tank Valkyrie. But the opposite took place.
I did want to like Let Hope Rise, but in the end I came away with a sense of disappointment. I did enjoy the “theatrical worship experience” but I must admit I expected more than just approximately 45 minutes of such an experience. The first half of the movie is disjointed and at times almost schizophrenzic as it jumps back and forth from present day to the past. But even more disappointing are some segments where those involved in the band seem to spend more time trying to distance themselves from accusations of “being in it for the money”. Even more disappointing is when one of the band members says “We are bigger than most secular bands and no one knows who we are”.
If those connected with Hillsong were looking to better their image with some in the Body of the Christ, the first 45 minutes of this movie does not help them at all.
Is All Lost in “Let Hope Rise”?
All is not lost but it’s like my Seminary preaching professor responded to the question; “You’ve heard a lot of sermons through the years. Has there ever been a time when you didn’t get anything out of the message?” He responded saying, “No, but I have had some close calls”.
All is not lost, but I do feel like this was a “close call”. As I said above, I did enjoy the last 45 minutes or so of the “theatrical worship experience”. I also enjoyed seeing the recording and writing process the members of the band went through. I was very encouraged to discover the lyrics of every song written goes by the Pastors of church for final approval. If there are theological issues, the lyrics are sent back for a re-write. As believers we often find ourselves singing songs where “sloppy agape” abounds or even worse, “theological and doctrinal error abounds”. For me personally, this discovery of the song writing process makes the documentary worthwhile.
Is Let Hope Rise worth the price of admission? If you want to experience the life-sized “theatrical worship experience” in a “live type setting” on a big screen with surround sound? Then the answer is “yes”, it is worth the price of admission. However, I have a feeling more people will probably experience the worship atmosphere and documentary journey of Hillsong on the small screen when the DVD comes out.
Yours in movie viewing,