One year after moviegoers flocked to the big screen and turned “Heaven is for Real” into a major hit, another near-death-experience movie will hit theaters Sept. 11 when “90 Minutes in Heaven”—based on The New York Times bestselling book—is released.
Comparisons between the two films are inevitable, although they are very different stories … and very different movies.
“Heaven is for Real” is based on the testimony of 4-year-old Colton Burpo, who says he visited heaven while undergoing an operation, although he never died. In “90 Minutes in Heaven,” pastor Don Piper says he visited the entrance to heaven after he was pronounced dead by paramedics following a horrific car wreck.
The film “Heaven is for Real” focuses on the testimony of Burpo and his parents’ struggle in accepting his claims. “90 Minutes in Heaven,” though, spends most of the movie spotlighting Piper’s gut-wrenching hospital recovery after the wreck. Despite pleas from his wife and friends, Piper didn’t want to live, simply because of the joy he says he experienced at heaven’s gate.
The theological debate about “heaven visits” is a worthy one, with both sides making valid points, but for the moment let’s focus only on the latest film’s artistic merits.
Is “90 Minutes in Heaven” worth watching?
Well, it’s certainly a film that’s well done and one that I expect fans of the book will especially enjoy. The same actor (Hayden Christensen) who famously played Anakin Skywalker in the most recent “Star Wars” trilogy plays Piper, and honestly, he is more impressive in this movie than he was in George Lucas’ films. His performance depicting Piper’s recovery is particularly believable. Kate Bosworth, known for her roles in a host of films including “Superman Returns,” also delivers a standout performance as Piper’s wife. With Christensen, Bosworth and even Fred Thompson in the film, acting is definitely a strength.
Singer Michael W. Smith, who does a fine job in a minor role in the movie, told Refreshed he is typically skeptical of heaven visitation stories.
“But when I read the book and read the script, I believed him,” Smith said of Piper. “And I really believed him when I met him. I think this guy is telling the truth. I think he had a real experience. But (the story is) more than just about him going to heaven. It’s about him overcoming adversity, trials and tribulation. He was in so much pain.”
Christianity is front and center in “90 Minutes,” but heaven is not referenced as much as it is in “Heaven is for Real.” During the wreck we see a glimpse of what Piper says he witnessed, but it lasts mere seconds and it isn’t until the final 25-or-so minutes of the movie that Piper even reveals to a friend—and then to his wife—what he says he saw. It is then that we see more of heaven, but even here it’s only friends and family members he once knew who have died and who are welcoming him into its gates. (He does not enter it.) In case you’re wondering, Piper—unlike Burpo—says he didn’t see Jesus.
Often lost in the debate over Piper’s book is the inspiring story of the man, Dick Onarecker, who stopped his car and felt led to pray over Piper’s lifeless body, despite the fact that Onarecker was told he was dead. The movie depicts that scene wonderfully and makes prayer for Piper’s healing a centerpiece of the film. That alone may be worth the price of admission.
“90 Minutes in Heaven” is rated PG-13 for intense accident and injury images. It contains no sexuality or language. Learn more at 90minutesinheaventhemovie.com.
— Michael Foust
Michael Foust has covered the faith film industry for more than a decade.