The true story behind the hit song is now a movie - I Can Only Imagine.
The true story behind the song “I Can Only Imagine” is revealed in the life story of Bart Millard, lead singer of the band MercyMe. Stars J. Michael Finley, Madeline Carroll, Trace Adkins, and Dennis Quaid.
Directed by: The Erwin Brothers
The song “I Can Only Imagine” has become a modern day “Amazing Grace,” connecting the human soul to the peace found in faith and hope, and it has inspired millions of people, even those without a professed faith. It managed to chart on the Billboard Top 100, as well as country and gospel charts, becoming the most-played modern Christian song of all time.
The story behind the song, however, is just as inspiring, which has now been dramatized in a film about the life of the song’s creator, Bart Millard of the band MercyMe. Growing up, Millard endured years of abuse at the hands of his father, which drove him away from home and into a new family, his rock band. His experience, however, drove him to write the song, and eventually, it drove him home again. Those experiences form the basis of the film, and while I won’t spoil what happens, I Can Only Imagine is a tale of redemption and forgiveness that is a far better film than it should be.
True stories like this often fail as movies because they tend to become overdramatized and needlessly sappy. I Can Only Imagine excels because it rise above expectations and delivers an earnest story that is at times bittersweet and triumphant. There are moments when it tries too hard to be emotionally touching, but it never drifts into Lifetime movie-levels of corny sentimentality.
There are several reasons why the movie works - starting with the directing duo, the Erwin brothers. Andrew and Jon Erwin have a knack for keeping the film balanced, so it neither gets too dark or too sappy. They also know how to frame a scene -the movie looks far bigger than you would expect for a modestly-budgeted film.
J. Michael Finley, a stage actor appearing in his first film, does an admirable job in the lead, giving the character of Bart an easy relatability. There are moments when his acting drifts into the theatrical, and the directors should have taken a few extra takes to allow him to find some nuance. It’s a minor gripe, however, as Finley’s everyman persona serves him well, and he handled the dramatic scenes with Dennis Quaid admirably.
Speaking of Quaid, in the audio commentary, the directors say the film offers up Quaid’s best performance of his career. It’s a bold statement, and an arguable one, but it is safe to say that Quaid is fantastic, fleshing out an unlikable character into a real human being that comes full circle. He is the best thing about this movie.
A surprise hit when it hit theaters in March, I Can Only Imagine is an uplifting, affecting film that shouldn’t be dismissed as schmaltz or a “preachy Christian movie.” It’s a wonderfully powerful film that finds hope in darkness. And it does it well.
VIDEO AND AUDIO
The Blu-ray sports an exceptional technical presentation, transferring a digital image with striking detail. The film employs a deep color palette, especially in the 1980s scenes, and the Blu-ray presents it well.
The audio soundtrack, a 5.1 DTS-HD track, is full and offers nice clarity. The musical scenes are enveloping and rich. Nicely done for a lower budget film, where sound mixes are often shafted.
There is a wide range of special features here, all very well done. Lionsgate made sure the success of the film was answered with a disc full of extras that fans would want to see.
The extras on the disc include:
“Imagine Forgiveness with Bart Millard” featurette. The real Bart Millard tells his life story of triumph and forgiveness over abuse, which is fairly close to what was depicted on screen. Running time: 12:40
“MercyMe: The Early Days” featurette. The members of the band MercyMe describe the struggles of their early years. Running time 7:25
“Casting I Can Only Imagine” featurette. Co-directors The Erwin Brothers discuss how they assembled the impressive cast, including the coup of getting Dennis Quaid in the film. Running Time: 7:23
“The Power of the Song” featurette. Bart Millard discusses the inspiration for the song, and stories of people who have been affected by the song are featured. Running Time: 7:43
“Creating Imagine” featurettes. Three mini-featurettes that cover the film’s production are included here: “Directing Imagine,” “The Visuals of Imagine,” and “Film Score.” They can be viewed individually or together. All are insightful and entertaining, with the “Visuals” featurette showing how they captured an emotional, iconic shot for the film’s ending. Running Time: 14:03
“The Music of Imagine” featurette. The importance of the music to the film is discussed, with a special focus on the casting of theater actor J. Michael Finley as the lead in his first film role. Running Time: 6:48
“On My Way to Heaven” Music Video by Dennis Quaid. You may not know that Dennis Quaid is a musician, and this traditional gospel song, which he wrote for his mother, is included in the film’s soundtrack. Quaid is a fantastic singer, and the song is outstanding. The video also includes an interview with Quaid about his inspiration for the song.
Deleted Scenes. Seven deleted scenes are included: “Bus on Fire,” “The Campfire Scene with Young Bart,” “Having Breakfast,” “Other Scene on the Bus with Brickell,” “Fight Between Mike and Bart,” “Discovering the Tune,” and “Strategy of the Band with New Single.” In the audio commentary, there is some discussion about how the film’s structure changed after filming, from telling the story in a non-linear fashion to linear. They decided a number of scenes had to go to help the film’s pacing, and they are included here. They provide more background into the band’s early struggles, but ultimately their removal makes sense. An introduction to each scene is included. Running time: 16:33
Audio Commentary. Participants include directors Andy Irwin and Jon Erwin, writer Brent McCorkle, MercyMe lead singer Bart Millard, and producer Kevin Downes. This highly entertaining commentary is chock full of anecdotes from the production and insightful banter.
Digital Copy. A digital code, compatible with services including Ultraviolet and iTunes, is included.
Release Date: June 12, 2018
Running Time: 110 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
Subtitles: English for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Spanish
Special Features: “Imagine Forgiveness with Bart Millard” featurette, “MercyMe: The Early Days” featurette, “Casting I Can Only Imagine” featurette, “The Power of the Song” featurette, “Creating Imagine” mini-documentaries, “The Music of Imagine” featurette, “On My Way to Heaven” music video by Dennis Quaid, Seven deleted scenes, Digital Copy.
Audio Commentary: Participants include directors Andy Irwin and Jon Erwin, writer Brent McCorkle, MercyMe lead singer Bart Millard, and producer Kevin Downes.