How Does the "Heaven is for Real" Film Stack Up Against the Book?

Photo Credit: Sony Pictures Releasing
April 18th, 2014

Based on the best-selling book of the same name, "Heaven is for Real" is a Hollywood film that hit theaters on April 16, 2014. The film tells the story of a father and his young son. Todd Burpo, a pastor of a small Christian church, discovers that heaven is real after his son lives through a near-death experience and comes back with stories of what he saw in the afterlife. Fans of the book, which sold over one million copies, will likely wonder how the film stacks up against the original story and what differences they can expect.

Story Behind the Book and Film

Colton Burpo was just four years old when his appendix burst, and though his family rushed him to the emergency room, few knew if the young man would survive. When he finally talked to his family later, he told them a wondrous story about seeing heaven for himself. Though Todd initially denied his son's claims, he later changed his mind after hearing him talk about the things he saw. Colton told his parents about meeting his grandfather, a man he never met in real life, but he also told them about meeting his young sister. Todd and his wife had a miscarriage but never told their son about it. Inspired by his son's story, Todd sat down and wrote a book, which became a bestseller.

Less Religion

Despite a pastor writing the book, it's likely that the film will feature few religious elements. Hollywood knows that Christian films do not typically sell well to a wider audience. Though "The Passion of the Christ" broke box office records, other religious films didn't fare as well in recent years. While fans of the story will likely see some elements of faith and religion, they probably won't see as many of those elements as they anticipated.

Walking the Line

With the Easter season fast approaching, Hollywood seeks to cater to those looking for a moving film that they can share with their families and loved ones. "Noah" and several other biblical films arrive in theaters around the same weekend that "Heaven is for Real" opens. To keep the movie appealing to both believers and nonbelievers in the audience, the producers will have to walk a fine line between using too much religion and not using enough religion. While the film tells the story of a little boy and his near-death experience, some fans of the book will find that it attempts to tell a greater and larger story.

The producers and director will likely introduce new elements not found in the book and take advantage of the comedic talents of Greg Kinnear as well as those of other actors who have experience in comedy, including Thomas Hayden Church. Best known for his work in comedies and as the original host of "The Soup," Kinnear does best when he sticks to cracking jokes, and his comedic moments will probably serve as a nice break from the overall seriousness of the film.

More Family Moments

After deciding that he believed in his son, Todd set out to write a book with the young boy. Some fans of the book pointed out that it's hard to believe which parts of the story came from Colton and which parts came from his father. Though the book does focus on what Colton saw and experienced, it also tells the story through the eyes of his father. Films based on children's emotions and viewpoints typically do well at the box office, but the director of this film will likely focus more on the family and less on Colton. Viewers will see a number of scenes of the family before the boy's emergency and what happened to his family later.

Less Time in Heaven

Colton came back from heaven with stories of seeing flaming swords and other elements that come directly from the Bible. Given the stories currently surrounding the film, fans will wonder what happened to those things he saw and experienced. The film focuses more on the family dynamics and less on his time in heaven. As one producer pointed out, no one knows exactly what heaven looks like and what looks like heaven to one person won't look like heaven to another.

Todd Burpo and his family watched an early screening of "Heaven is for Real" and were overall happy with the film. Todd gushed about it and claimed that the film did justice to his son's story. Whether fans of the book will feel a little different when they see the adaptation on the big screen remains to be seen.