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'Noah' leads new wave of Biblical epic movies

Bible stories may supercede Hollywood's current comic book craze

<p>Son of God, a new release from 20th Century Fox (picture from <a href="http://www.sonofgodmovie.com/home.html" target="_blank">official website</a>)</p>

Son of God, a new release from 20th Century Fox (picture from official website)

  • Daniel Burke for CNN Belief Blog
  • International
  • April 2, 2014
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Forgive Darren Aronofsky if he’s begun to identify with the title character of his new film, “Noah.”

Like the infamous ark-maker, the 45-year-old director has weathered a Bible-sized storm – and it’s not over yet.

Aronofsky’s epic, which stars Russell Crowe and boasts a $130 million budget (with marketing costs to match), rode a swelling wave of controversy into American theaters on Friday.

Despite fierce criticism from some conservative Christians, "Noah" was the top box-office draw last weekend, raking in $44 million in the United States.

Part Middle-Earth fantasy flick, part family melodrama, the film is an ambitious leap for Aronofsky, director of the art-house hits “Black Swan” and “The Wrestler.”

Both of those films were showered with praise and awards. “Noah,” on the other hand, has sailed into a stiff headwind.

Glenn Beck and megachurch pastor Rick Warren blasted the film. The National Religious Broadcasters insisted “Noah” include a disclaimer acknowledging the filmmakers took “artistic license” with the Bible story. Several Muslim countries have banned the movie, citing Islam’s injunctions against depicting prophets.

Even Paramount, the studio releasing “Noah,” has agitated Aronofsky, testing at least five different versions of his film with focus groups.

“I can understand some of the suspicion because it’s been 50 years since an Old Testament biblical epic has come to the big screen,” Aronofsky said recently. “And in that time a lot of films have come out of Hollywood that have rubbed people the wrong way."

2014 is supposed to be the year Tinsel Town reversed that trend and finally got religion.

A decade after “The Passion of the Christ” surprised Hollywood, rankled liberals and raked in $600 million worldwide, big studios are backing a flotilla of faith-based films.

In addition to “Noah,” there’s “Son of God” from 20th Century Fox, which came out in March and is culled from the History Channel’s megahit miniseries, "The Bible."

In April, Sony Pictures will release “Heaven is For Real,” based on the bestselling book and produced by Bishop T.D. Jakes, a Texas megachurch pastor and multimedia entrepreneur.

The movie “Exodus,” directed by Ridley Scott and starring Christian Bale as Moses, is scheduled for December. So, too, is “Mary, Mother of Christ,” which is billed as a prequel to Mel Gibson’s “Passion.”

More biblical epics may be on the horizon. Steven Spielberg is reportedly in talks to direct another movie about Moses, and Warner Brothers recently bought a script about Pontius Pilate.

The box office hasn’t seen this many faith-based films since Charlton Heston delivered the “The Ten Commandments” in Technicolor. And that’s not even counting “God is Not Dead,” the indie sleeper that took in $8.5 million last weekend.

So what’s behind Hollywood’s religious revival?

“The biggest factor is the dynamic growth of the box office in international markets,” said Paramount vice chairman Rob Moore, one of the forces behind “Noah.”

As Hollywood’s supply of comic-book heroes seems to run dry, studios know the Good Book comes with a built-in audience of billions. The Bible’s heroes and villains are jeered and cheered on nearly every continent. Its morally complex stories are rife with blockbuster-ready special effects like locust plagues, apocalyptic floods and talking donkeys.

But the controversy over “Noah” illustrates the promise and the peril of bringing the Bible to the big screen.

Yes, there’s a ready-made audience that loves the book, but will they tolerate a script that strays from Scripture? On the other hand, will increasingly secular young Americans flock to see films that look and sound like sermons?

Full Story: Does God have a prayer in Hollywood?

Source: CNN Belief Blog

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