'Soul Surfer' Tells Teen's Faith Story

Soul Surfer—the inspirational life story of surfer Bethany Hamilton, the Christian teen who had her left arm bitten off by a tiger shark—will open in more than 2,000 theaters tomorrow, April 8, across the country and in Canada.

Heavily marketed to the faith-based community, Soul Surfer stars AnnaSophia Robb as Bethany; Dennis Quaid as her father, Tom; Helen Hunt as Bethany's mother, Cheri; and Carrie Underwood as church youth leader Sarah Hill.

Rated PG for an intense accident sequence and some thematic material, the film has received some positive early reviews. The Orlando Sentinel noted that Soul Surfer is "the best faith-based film ever made, an uplifting, entertaining and wonderfully-acted. ... The religious subtext is handled as lightly as you'd expect in a movie about surfers. Bethany's faith gives her stoicism and resolve in the face of a calamity, alters her priorities and gives her purpose."

Variety observed that the family-friendly film "keeps its balance" and is "a kind-hearted coming-of-age drama with killer waves."

Bethany and her parents wanted the story told their way, the Toronto Sun reported. "Definitely my family and I stood firm in what we wanted in the film—definitely our faith in Jesus Christ," she told the newspaper. "It actually is a lot better than I'd even hoped for. We were scared, you never know what Hollywood's going to do when they get a true story."

Now 21, Bethany—who has become a top-performing pro surfer despite her October 2003 injuries—was a stunt double for all of the one-arm surfing in the movie, which was filmed on location in Hawaii, where she and her family live.

The film is based on her Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board (MTV Books), which was sold in some Christian bookstores.

Several Christian-themed products are tied to the movie, including Soul Surfer: Movie Edition (MTV Books) and Devotions for the Soul Surfer (Thomas Nelson). Zondervan has published Rise Above: A 90-Day Devotional, Soul Surfer Bible and Ask Bethany: FAQs: Surfing, Faith and Friends.

Church resource organization Outreach has released four products, including Soul Surfer Church Kit; Soul Surfer DVD Study; Soul Surfer Study Guide; and Soul Surfer: Catching God's Wave for Your Life—a nonfiction book for preteens and teens. In June, Regal Books is publishing Raising a Soul Surfer by Cheri Hamilton—Bethany's mother.

Two Christian chains have promotions tied to the film's release. LifeWay Christian Stores is offering coupons for a $10 ticket to see the film or a $5 concession-stand voucher in DVDs it promotes in two separate emailings. Mardel is also offering the $10 movie ticket. Berean Christian Stores spotlights the Soul Surfer release, encouraging shoppers to "ride the wave with Bethany." The chain also features several movie tie-in products.

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