Thursday, January 5, 2012

Z Guides to the Movies Luther TOS Review


Z Guides to the Movies are written to help students become more informed movie viewers. They give guidelines to help become a more critical watcher. As our society becomes more digital it is necessary to learn how to critical evaluate what is delivered to us by various forms of electronic media. Besides, isn't is fun to add a movie to our regular studies for a different type of activity? The Z Guides to the Movies helps a parent/teacher make the movie into a learning experience as well.

I was given the opportunity to use and review my choice of the Z Guides study guide.I choose to review the study guide for the movie Luther from 2003. This guide has a grade level of High School.

Z guides to the Movies are designed to be used over the course of a week. All the guides contain ten activities covering a wide variety of topics related to the movie. Many of these activities use research and writing skills, while others use research and are more artistic in their culminating activity. Each activity has a scoring rubric for student and teacher guidance.

These are the activities you will find in the Luther Z Guides to the Movies:

Day 1
Activity 1: Movie Review Questions
Activity 2: A Deeper Look at the Reformers

Day 2
Activity 3: Life of Martin Luther
Activity 4: Luther Word Search

Day 3
Activity 5: The Tongue and the Pen
Activity 6: Catholic Counter-Revolution

Day 4
Activity 7: Luther’s 95 Theses  and the Gutenberg Press
Activity 8: Relics and Symbols of Frederick the Wise

Day 5
Activity 9: Worldview Activity
Activity 10: The Filmmaker’s Art             

In addition to these activities, the Z Guide to the Movies also contains a topic overview, movie synopsis, several questions for family discussion and an answer key.

This Z Guide to the Movies Luther is scheduled to be released by the publisher, Zeezok, in February. Due to this fact I do not have a price available. Other Z guides to the Movies are currently available. Their price is $12.99. Check Zeezok's website for available titles. They also sell movies for some of their other guides as well.

Zeezok also publishes many other education resources covering history, government, music, and literature. They also have eBook publications available as well.

My Thoughts

My 10-year-old daughter and I watched the Luther movie and worked through portions of the guide together. The first day's questions are basic comprehension questions. Application questions come later in the activities.

Even though my children are not high school age, I was interested in this guide as we have watched the movie several times and was looking forward to a more in-depth study. I believe the activities are on a level that my daughter could handle even though she is below the target age.

However, I do have to say I was disappointed in this movie guide. The movie clearly chronicles Luthers' struggle with Roman Catholic doctrine and his searching Scripture for answers to his questions.  His answers are presented in the movie, but they are not addressed or studied in this guide at all.

The movie closes with the meeting in Augsburg in 1530. Presented at this meeting was a document which is known as the Augsburg Confession, which contained the princes' declarations of beliefs. The movie guide also does not address this historically significant and still important confession of the Lutheran Church. It only refers to the 1555 Peace of Augsburg, which was the incorporation of the Augsburg Confession into the public policy of the Holy Roman Empire. The guide immediately takes issue with that document as being intolerant and then introduces Zwinglianism and Calvinism, neither of which play a substantive role in the Luther movie. After all, the guide is about that movie, right?

The movie review questions are very basic, factual questions to check the students viewing and basic understanding of what was presented in the movie. While the guide suggests answering them during the movie, I selected to use them for review when we were done.The problem with the questions is that they do not follow the clear progression of the movie plot. The plot starts with Luther and an angry, thunderbolt-hurling God. It moves through Luther's search for a merciful, loving God. It turns at the point where Luther puts that search into practice with the 95 Theses: Why doesn't the Pope just let everyone out of Purgatory if he can? Why would a loving God commit a shake-down?

That public conflict, together with the overreaction of the Peasants' War and the Roman Catholic zeal to burn heretics, carries the film to the resolution at Augsburg, the Bible in the hands of the people, and a new world order, of which Luther is the preeminent reformer. Five hundred years of church reform were attempted before Luther, but he was the first to be successful and not die for his beliefs (e.g., Zwingli). The movie is clear on Luther's position, while the guide and its questions appear more interested in minutiae and taking issue with the movie.

The activities studying other reformers takes quite a while to be done properly, yet this topic does not have much relevance to the actual movie. Personally I would have rather seen an activity having to do with the Augsburg Confession and what it contains. Free versions of the document exist online. That would be more relevant to the topic of the movie, rather than learning about reformers who lived both long before Luther (Hus) and whose activity did not flourish until after Luther (Calvin, Knox). Wasn't the movie about . . . Luther?

The third activity, Life of Martin Luther, is a great idea to help the student learn more about the man and his work outside of the relatively short time presented in the movie. This is to be accomplished with outside (Internet and print) resources. We did not do this as such now as we had done something similar several months ago while we talked about Luther in conjunction with his birthday. We have also been reading recently the book Luther: Biography of a Reformer that is a companion to this movie.

Activity 5 involves designing a cartoon or woodcut like those used in Luther's time and writing a commentary about one of Luther's hymns.The student is directed to use print and Internet sources. The first part of this assignment is a concern especially since several of the items I found when doing an Internet search lead to images which, while quite common in Luther's day, would be considered vulgar today. Many of these images some parents may not wish their students to view let alone draw their own version.

Activity 6 focuses on the Catholic or Counter Reformation. On this topic, as with a number of topics in the guide, there are wordings that either suggest or actually make substantive errors. One sees with regard to the year 1580 that "the lines of Catholic and Protestant lands in Europe were drawn." That neither takes into account the adoption of the Christian Book of Concord in that year—something the guide fails to mention, even though it is the official adoption of the Lutheran doctrinal position (—and the fact of the Thirty Years War (1618–48). It does not take the religious wars in France, the revolution in The Netherlands, and the unsettled state of Bohemia into account. The guide also does not distinguish clearly between the political fact of territorial churches and the doctrinal beliefs of different Protestant groups when it speaks of Catholics stopping the spread of Protestantism.

I also found activity 8 to be disturbing. It directs the student to design some type of relic or symbol for the collection of Frederick the Wise. This is something which Frederick spoke out against in the movie after he was presented with the Golden Rose. Designing something which was spoken against in the movie seems to be against one of the messages the movie was trying to get across.

This same activity also suggests designing a stained glass window to illustrate a bible story. Stained glass windows have no connection to the relics. They were used to teach the illiterate about the Bible, not to provide an object for veneration or devotion.They were also criticized by Protestants like Carlstadt and Zwingli who opposed Luther. This and other aspects of the guide raise my suspicion that the author of the guide was not sympathetic to the subject matter.

The Worldview activity (9) dealing with Reformation martyrs also does not necessarily fit with the movie either as several of the people suggested were quite out of order. Robert Barnes and Patrick Hamilton, along with William Tyndale, have considerable Luther provenance. Thomas More and Thomas Cranmer were both executed by Henry VIII, yet More was a Catholic foe of Luther's while Cranmer was sympathetic of Luther. All this shows was that Henry VIII would start a church and kill many people in order to further his dynasty. What does that really say to the Luther movie or about Protestantism? How would the guide handle John Calvin's burning of Servetus? What about the fact that Luther was against this sort of activity?

Henry opposed Luther until around 1534–36, so he would not have figured into the movie. One sees no mention of martyrs like Heinrich Voes and Johann Esch (portrayed by the fictional martyred "Ulrich" in the film—likely merged with aspects of Luther's supporter Ulrich von Hutten—and misspelled "Ulrick" in the guide). One can find free online sources about Lutheran martyrs and many people portrayed in the movie at It appears that the author of the guide looked no further than Foxe's Book of Martyrs. That seems a bit culturally dissonant from the movie, as if the integrity of the movie did not count.

To me it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to spend all the time (2 hours) watching the movie and then not fully study what the movie is about. There is nothing in the study guide relating to Luther's search for a merciful God, how he grew to understand the Gospel, how he considered translating the New Testament, and his attempts to help the leaders of the Catholic Church see what Scripture says. Thus the whole theme of the movie is missed in this study guide.

An additional resource I would have liked to seen in this guide was a bibliography of selected titles and websites which would be helpful for the outside research required to complete the activities. Due to the size of the web and the many resources it contains it is often difficult for a student to determine authenticity of information found on the web. Some Wikipedia articles are good, while others are not so good. Having a list of possible starting points would have be helpful. The Pitts Theology Library ( can be a place to find woodcuts, for example, but it can also have mature images.

If an educator is using Luther the movie and movie guide during a general study of the reformation and reformers to teach about the time period and events, this guide may be a helpful choice. If the goal is to learn about Luther and his work using the movie guide then I feel people will be disappointed and mislead by a guide which seems ignorant of or slightly hostile to the movie and its message.

I also don't believe that the differences in the age of my children and the suggested age for the guide made these differences. I believe these issues stem more from incomplete and inaccurate statements in the guide.

Zeezok also published "Z Guides to the Movies" for many other movies, time periods, and ages. Other TOS Crew members had the opportunity to review movie guides of the choice. To learn which movie guides others reviewed please visit the Crew Blog.


Disclosure: I received a free download copy of the product in order to write this review. I have not been compensated in any other way.  All opinions expressed here are solely my own. 

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