Soul Surfer (film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Sean McNamara|
|Produced by||David Zelon
|Screenplay by||Sean McNamara
|Story by||Sean McNamara
|Based on||Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board
by Bethany Hamilton
|Music by||Marco Beltrami|
|Cinematography||John R. Leonetti|
|Editing by||Jeff Canavan|
Brookwell McNamara Entertainment
Island Film Group
Life's a Beach Entertainment
|Distributed by||TriStar Pictures
|Running time||106 minutes|
Soul Surfer is a 2011 American drama film about the life of surfer Bethany Hamilton. At the age of 13, Hamilton lost her left arm in a shark attack. The film focuses on the events surrounding the attack and her struggle during the aftermath. The film is directed by Sean McNamara, who based the screenplay on Hamilton's autobiography of the same name and on the filmmakers' interviews with the family. The title refers to a term coined in the 1960s to indicate someone who surfs purely for pleasure, but the word soul itself has a double meaning in reference to Hamilton's Christian faith, which helped her recover her surfing career after the attack. AnnaSophia Robb stars as Bethany Hamilton, Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt star as Hamilton's parents, and Lorraine Nicholson stars as Alana Blanchard with supporting roles done by Ross Thomas, Chris Brochu, Carrie Underwood, Kevin Sorbo, Jeremy Sumpter, Sonya Balmores, Branscombe Richmond, and Craig T. Nelson.
Plans for a film created by her manager, Roy "Dutch" Hofstetter, existed since shortly after the shark attack on Hamilton in 2003 and her subsequent recovery. After several false starts to production, McNamara was attached to direct the film, and new writers, Michael Berk, Deborah Schwartz and Douglas Schwartz were brought in. While the film is based on Hamilton's 2004 biographical book, the director, producers and writers interviewed the family to learn about unpublished conflicts to include in the film. Filming took place in Hawaii in early 2010, and Robb wore a green sleeve on her arm so visual effects could be added in post-production to create the appearance of a stump. Additional filming took place in Tahiti in August 2010.
FilmDistrict, which was launched in September 2010, formed a partnership with TriStar Pictures to release Soul Surfer in theaters. Sony's Affirm division under the vision of Rich Peluso originally anticipated releasing the film in 300 theaters, but the company was impressed enough with the final product to pursue a release in 2,000 theaters. The film was released in theaters in the United States and Canada on April 8, 2011, and became the highest grossing live action surf film and top selling Sony-Affirm motion picture in history with over $43,000,000 in domestic box office. The film shows Bethany's story, including before the attack, during the attack, and the aftermath.
In 2003, teenager Bethany Hamilton lives in Kauai, Hawaii with her parents Tom and Cheri, and two brothers, Noah and Timmy. All are surfers, but she and her best friend Alana Blanchard have grown up with a passion for the sport and enter a competition. Her church youth ministry leader, Sarah Hill, is disappointed when she has to withdraw from a planned missions trip because of the contest.
Bethany and Alana place first and third, respectively, while the second place winner, Malina Birch, proves to be resentful. Bethany invites both girls up on the winner's box with her, but Malina ungraciously refuses. The Rip Curl surfwear company offers to sponsor her and Alana in competition.
The night before Halloween, Alana and Bethany sneak off with some friends to go surfing. Later while Tom goes to the hospital for knee surgery, both girls go surfing with Alana's father Holt and brother Byron. As Bethany dangles her left arm in the water, a tiger shark appears out of nowhere and sinks its teeth into it, biting it off near the shoulder. Holt gets Bethany out of the water and makes a tourniquet to put on her while Byron calls 911. An ambulance meets them on the way to the hospital. Just before starting Tom's knee surgery, Dr. David Rovinsky is called to the emergency room to treat Bethany. Besides losing her left arm, Bethany also lost 60% of her blood and David calls her survival a miracle.
The onslaught of paparazzi also proves to be a great strain on her family and their privacy. The Hamiltons are grateful to Holt for his quick and super active thinking and decisive action that saved her life. Bethany's injury prevents her participating in the Rip Curl photo shoots, but she wishes Alana well.
Bethany perseveres and after a recuperation period, gets back in the water and learns to surf with one arm. Inside Edition offers to provide a prosthetic arm that is cosmetically perfect and has bendable joints, in exchange for an interview. Bethany angrily rejects it when she learns it will not help her surf as it is not weight bearing, as a result of the size of her arm stump.
Bethany eventually re-enters the competition, telling rival Malina not to go easy on her, and rejects a five-minute head start offered by the judges. She does not perform well because she cannot stay on the board long enough to go out and catch a competitive wave and Malina wins. Disappointed, she decides to give up competitive surfing.
Bethany decides to surprise Sarah by joining the youth group on another mission trip to help the people of Phuket, Thailand whose devastated by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Despite her recent tragedy, Bethany joins her youth group to help the thai children get over their fear of the ocean. They are understandably afraid of the water, including a little boy. Bethany decides to go into it with a surfboard, hoping this will coax him into it. It works, and the realization that she can use her gift to inspire people motivates her to take up surfing again.
Tom, who believes that Bethany possesses a great surfer's instinct for sensing when the best waves will form, rigs a handle on her surfboard which she can use to prevent falling off while paddling out to the waves, which is not prohibited by the competition's rules. She enters the national championship. During the competition, she performs respectably, though she is still chasing third place. Suddenly, with only minutes left on the clock, the waves die down and all the surfers can only loiter, waiting for the waves to start back up. Tom's belief in his daughter's instinct is proven when she is the only one to sense a big wave forming, and she alone paddles out. When it forms, the others cannot get out in time and she catches it just as the horn sounds. If it is in time, she will win, but the judges rule that the time has expired. Malina is the winner, but she has finally gotten over her differences with her, inviting her up on the platform to share first place.
Subsequently, Bethany lets the reporters interview her. One asks her what she would do if given the chance to undo the loss of her arm. She says that she would still lose it because she can embrace more people now than she ever could with both. The film ends with stock footage of the real Bethany Hamilton surfing after the attack.
- AnnaSophia Robb as Bethany Hamilton
- Helen Hunt as Cheri Hamilton
- Dennis Quaid as Tom Hamilton
- Carrie Underwood as Sarah Hill
- Kevin Sorbo as Holt Blanchard
- Ross Thomas as Noah Hamilton
- Chris Brochu as Timmy Hamilton
- Lorraine Nicholson as Alana Blanchard
- Jeremy Sumpter as Byron Blanchard
- Sonia Balmores Chung as Malina Birch
- Craig T. Nelson as Dr. David Rovinsky
- Cody Gomes as Keoki
- Branscombe Richmond as Ben
- Arlene Newman-Van Asperen as Cydney Blanchard
- Nadeen Ayman as Jenny
- Tiffany Hofstetter as Rosemary
- Dutch Hofstetter Jr. as Brandon
- Bailey Nagy as Olivia Jenner
- Leilani Gryde as Zoe Madsen
- Kristen Steiner as Kaila Kahani
- Bethany Hamilton as Herself (archive footage)
- Alana Blanchard as Herself (archive footage)
Director Sean McNamara cameos as a Rip Curl executive.
Soul Surfer is directed by Sean McNamara, and written by McNamara, the Schwartz's and Michael Berk, and is based on the 2004 biography Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board. The book and the film are based on the real-life experience of Bethany Hamilton, who lost her left arm as a result of a shark attack while she was surfing. She was 13 years old when she was attacked on October 31, 2003. Though she lost her arm, she was motivated to resume surfing and was able to compete in a major surfing competition on January 10, 2004, finishing fifth. Her story of recovering from the attack became widespread, and her family faced multiple media opportunities.
Shortly after the incident and the media attention, the father of Bethany's friends Chantilly and Tiffany, Roy "Dutch" Hofstetter, became the Hamilton family's media manager. Hofstetter, in February 2004, envisioned a film based on Bethany's experience, provisionally titled The Bethany Hamilton Story. Bethany published her biographical book Soul Surfer in 2004, and BBC reported that a film about her life was scheduled to begin filming in January 2005. Production did not begin as anticipated, and Time reported in July 2006 that production was scheduled for later in the year. Variety reported that the project at one point had an investment of $7.5 million and the backing of Peter Schlessel, a Sony Pictures executive.
Though production had not begun by the end of 2006, in January 2007 Sean McNamara was announced to be directing the biographical film. While Hamilton had a series of surfing successes, turning pro in 2007, McNamara and producer David Brookwell with her manager Roy "Dutch" Hofstetter sought more material for the film. The book was considered "a straightforward account" that was targeted to Christian readers, so the filmmakers met with the Hamilton family to determine if there were any unpublished conflicts that could be highlighted in the film. They discovered that the incident had strained the family, that family members questioned their Christian faith, and that Bethany Hamilton struggled with her physical appearance and how boys would perceive her. The media attention on the family was described by Brookwell as "a second shark attack" that had made their lives uncomfortably public.
McNamara, Brookwell, Hofstetter and Douglas Schwartz spent several years raising money for production. The director wrote an adapted screenplay with Michael Berk, Douglas Schwartz and Deborah Schwartz. Additional uncredited writing was performed by Ron Bass, Jen Smolka and Kara Holden. Before the film entered production, Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions acquired distribution rights for North America and most other territories. The production companies Mandalay Vision, Brookwell McNamara Entertainment and Life's a Beach Entertainment collaborated for the production, with Enticing Entertainment and Island Film Group providing financing. Bethany Hamilton chose with her mother AnnaSophia Robb to portray her, as well as Sonia Balmores Chung and Jeremy Sumpter to play Malina and Alana's brother, Byron. In February 2010, Robb was announced to be part of the film as Bethany Hamilton, along with Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt who were cast as Bethany's parents. Singer Carrie Underwood, in her feature film debut, was cast as a church youth leader. All the surfing scenes after the shark attack were done by Hamilton herself. Filming began the same month in Hawaii. Principal photography and second-unit aerial work took place for 40 days; cinematographer John R. Leonetti shot on 35mm film. During filming, Robb wore a green sleeve on her arm so visual effects could be included later. Though McNamara was editing the film by May 2010, additional filming took place in August 2010 in Tahiti. During post-production, the VFX company Engine Room worked on 450 arm-removal shots, digitally inserting the upper arm residuum in place of Robb's green sleeve. The Hamilton family was involved in the choice of music. Ultimately, the film's production budget was $18 million.
Theatrical release 
In July 2010, USA Today reported Soul Surfer as one of several faith-based films similar to The Blind Side being produced in Hollywood; other films included Get Low, Like Dandelion Dust, and Jumping the Broom. In September 2010, the company FilmDistrict was launched, and the company formed a partnership with TriStar Pictures to release Soul Surfer. FilmDistrict originally committed to release the film at 300 theaters, but when executives saw the final product, they invested $26 million in a print and advertising commitment with the goal of releasing Soul Surfer in 2,000 theaters.
Prior to the film's commercial release, it was screened for religious leaders. A scene in which Dennis Quaid's character reads the Bible in the hospital at his daughter's bedside had the words "Holy Bible" digitally removed from the cover. Bethany Hamilton's father said that David Zelon, an executive at Mandalay Pictures, lobbied to reduce the Soul Surfer's Christian elements so the film could appeal more to non-Christian audiences. The Hamilton family objected, and the words "Holy Bible" were restored in the scene in a follow-up screening. Another debated scene was one in which Carrie Underwood's character, a church youth leader, quotes biblical scripture (Jeremiah 29:11). While those involved with the film were fine with the verse, they did not want the scene to explicitly indicate that its origin was the Bible. Their stance was challenged, and the scene indicates the verse being from the Bible. The Hollywood Reporter cited the dust-up as an example of Hollywood learning to appeal to the faith-based community while still attracting secular audiences. The Blind Side, which accomplished both, had grossed $256 million in the United States and Canada.
The film was released in 2,214 theaters in the United States and Canada on April 8, 2011. It grossed $10.6 million over its opening weekend, ranking fourth at the box office. Sony Pictures reported that 80% of the audience was female and that 56% were under 25 years old.
Critical reception 
Soul Surfer has received mixed reviews from critics. Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gives a score of 45% based on reviews from 99 critics, with an average rating of 5.3/10. The site's consensus is: "There's an amazing true story at the heart of Soul Surfer -- and unfortunately, it's drowned by waves of Hollywood cheese."
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times was mildly positive in his review, giving the film two-and-a-half stars out of four and writing "Soul Surfer is a wholesome movie, intended as inspirational. Whether it will cheer viewers who are not as capable as Bethany is an excellent question. AnnaSophia Robb is a convincing, cheerful heroine. Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt, as Bethany's parents, are stalwart and supportive, although the script indeed leaves them with no other choice." Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly gave the film a B grade, writing "[t]he more cynical viewers out there may say, 'Not for me.' But Soul Surfer, while formulaic in design, is an authentic and heartfelt movie." S. Jhoanna Robledo of Common Sense Media gave the film three stars out of five, writing "Yes, it's a message movie, but the message burrows deep enough under your skin to make the movie, given its utter conventionality, unexpectedly stirring."
In sharp contrast, Glenn Heath, Jr. of Slant Magazine gave the film a rare zero stars, writing "The brazenly cheap look to the special effects sends the film into MST3K territory, and it's certainly the most hilariously awful surprise attack by a shark since Samuel L. Jackson got devoured by one in Deep Blue Sea." Frank Swietek of the website One Guy's Opinion gave the film a C grade, feeling the film was "an earnest family movie that practically drowns in uplift and good intentions."
Comparison to actual events 
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (January 2013)|
In one part of the movie, Bethany’s dad drives through the bushes outside the family's home to escape reporters. In real life, the family opted to stay at a rental beach house in Anahola after the shark attack, rather than dealing with the reporters waiting at their home.
In the movie, Bethany's heart stops beating after the attack; real-life medical records indicate that despite the injury her heart did not stop beating, though she lost 60% of her blood.
In the movie, Bethany gets so frustrated that she gives away her surfboards. In real life, she kept the boards in the hope that she would find a way to use them again.
Awards and nominations 
Soul Surfer won the "Best Film for Family Audiences" at the Movie Guide Awards, beating out such films as Hugo, The Adventures of Tintin, The Muppets and Puss in Boots. Dennis Quaid, AnnaSophia Robb, and Kevin Sorbo each received a nomination for "Most Inspiring Performance in Movies in 2011", but they lost to Alex Kendrick of Courageous. The film won the Crystal Dove Seal Award for Best Drama. Composer Marco Beltrami won the Satellite Award for Best Original Score.
- Artios Award for Outstanding Achievement in Casting: Feature – Studio or Independent Comedy, Joey Paul Jensen
- Favorite Book Adaptation
- Choice Movie Drama
- Choice Movie Drama Actress – AnnaSophia Robb
- Best Female Images in a Movie
Further reading 
- Hamilton, Bethany; Berk, Sheryl; Bundschuh, Rick (2006). Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board. MTV. ISBN 978-1-4165-0346-0.
- "Soul Surfer (2011)". Box Office Mojo. IMDB. Retrieved August 17, 2011.
- Campbell, Duncan (February 8, 2004). "To the power of one". The Observer.
- "Surfer Girl Makes Comeback After Shark Attack". cbs News. April 7, 2005.
- "Shark girl surfer hits the waves". BBC. April 6, 2005.
- Stinchfield, Kate (July 30, 2006). "Milestones: Bethany Hamilton". Time.
- Caranicas, Peter (February 1, 2011). "Splashy finish for 'SoulSurfer'". Variety.
- Stewart, Ryan (January 27, 2007). "Soul Surfer Gets a Director, Now Needs a Star". Moviefone.
- Pilkington, Maria (September 27, 2011). "Bethany Hamilton (Soul Surfer) Interview". The 405. Retrieved December 15, 2012.
- McClintock, Pamela (November 1, 2010). "'Soul Surfer' is first FilmDistrict pickup". Variety.
- Clark, Mark (September 24, 2011). "SOUL SURFER Interview With Bethany Hamilton!". WhatCulture!. Retrieved December 15, 2012.
- Siegel, Tatiana (February 3, 2010). "Carrie Underwood to star in 'Surfer' film". Variety.
- Agence France-Presse (May 18, 2010). "Shark bite surf princess still making waves". Bangkok Post.
- Kaufman, Amy (April 7 , 2011). "Movie Projector: With 'Hop' and 'Arthur,' Russell Brand should top box office". Los Angeles Times.
- "More faith-based films along lines of 'Blind Side'". USA Today. July 18, 2010.
- Soul Surfer DVD, scene 3. The Underwood character states chapter and verse.
- Bond, Paul (February 16, 2011). "Producer Tried to Edit Bible Out of Sony’s 'Soul Surfer'". The Hollywood Reporter.
- "Soul Surfer". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixter. Retrieved 14 June 2012..
- "20th Annual MOVIEGUIDE® Faith & Values Awards Gala and Report to the Entertainment Industry Winners List". Movieguide.org. February 11, 2012. Retrieved November 28, 2012.
- "2011 Crystal Dove Seal Award Winners". Dove.org. Retrieved November 28, 2012.
- "Satellite Awards - Soul Surfer". International Press Academy. Retrieved November 28, 2012.
- "2011 Artios Award Nominations for Outstanding Achievement in Casting". Casting Society of America. 2011. Retrieved January 7, 2012.
- "ESPY Awards 2011". International Business Times. July 14, 2011. Retrieved January 7, 2012.
- "'Iron Lady' and 'Kevin' Top Women Film Critics' Awards". indieWire. December 19, 2011. Retrieved January 7, 2012.
- Official website
- Soul Surfer at the Internet Movie Database
- Soul Surfer at AllRovi
- Soul Surfer at Rotten Tomatoes
- Soul Surfer at Box Office Mojo