Novels and movies are different media, but they face similar challenges. Let's see if I can articulate this. Maybe it comes down to the fact that truth is invariably stranger than fiction. There are certain "rules" writers of fiction follow with varying levels of success. One "rule" is believability. Ray Bradbury could write about fantastical situations that stretch credibility about as far as it could go, and he'd get away with it because his characters were so home-spun, so ordinary, so much like you or me. Or Rowling's Harry Potter, a fantastical character in a fantastical situation, can be believed because of those common, earthy, day-to-day things that anchor them to our own experience of life. There has to be truth in the story in order for it to speak to us.
But there's a lot about real, gritty, in-your-face life that doesn't work on page, stage, or screen. A friend of mine once wrote a novel loosely based on her own life. A publisher rejected it because it was too much to believe. All that stuff couldn't happen to one person. Point in fact, all that stuff can and does happen to people in real life, but it doesn't work like that in fiction. For some obscure reason, readers can believe that a little boy could grow up to be a wizard who defeats the evil that killed his parents when he was a baby, but can't believe that someone can overcome a really muddy, complicated, trauma-filled past.
Another friend spoke in church this morning about her mission trips to Jamaica. I don't think a novel about her life would work, and this is where I get to the "Christian" part of my "essay" here. Her past is muddy, complicated, trauma-filled beyond belief. Sexually abused by age 5, into the occult by age 7, gang-raped 3 times, countless miscarriages, an abortion, 13 suicide attempts, survived a car crash that killed two people, name-a-drug and she did it. I think a good movie or novel could focus on just one of those and work, but if you add all the rest to it, it becomes just too fantastical to handle. Truth, after all, is so often stranger than fiction. And then, what would the novel or movie do with her conversion? How did she manage such a complete and total turn-around?
This is one of the most difficult things for writers to conceptualize because that inner working of the Spirit on the spirit can be so subtle, so patient, so beyond human understanding. I'm having such a hard time here explaining myself. I could write a character like my friend, and paint myself into a corner with it because there is really no way out beyond a deus ex machina, and when writers pull one of those in a book I'm reading, I get all annoyed and accuse "cheat"! But the truth of the matter is, God really did reach down to her, and she responded.
Movies and novels have a precarious balance to maintain between that which takes the watcher/reader beyond themselves and their lives, and that which grounds them in reality. I just think it's very, very hard to write realistically about the "God-element" within the limitations of fiction. I would not want to read or write a novel about my friend's story, but I would definitely read (or write) a memoir about it. When you know what you're reading actually happened to somebody in real life, and it has that transcendent, triumphant, inspirational victory, it is so much more powerful than a made-up story where the author is behind the scenes, pulling the strings to make it happen just so.
So what's wrong with Christian movies and novels? Well, nothing, really, except that when God comes into the picture, the truth becomes too fantastical for the limitations of fiction. Truth is not just stranger than fiction. It's wilder, gentler, stronger, more amazing, and infinitely more compelling. That's all.