• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as current film releases with spiritual significance, and a few bits and pieces on the Bible.

    Tuesday, March 31, 2009

    More on Ben Hur Mini-Series

    Thanks to both Thomas Langkau and Peter Chattaway for the news on filming locations for the Ben Hur miniseries. In short, Variety, and the German IMDB both carry the news that filming will start in May in Spain, Morocco and Canada. Variety also notes that Steve Shill (Rome) will direct and Alan Sharp (Rob Roy) will pen the script. The production's budget is said to be $22.5 million thanks to a host of co-production partners from various countries.

    Having re-checked the production website there's also a fairly interesting sales flyer to look at, including an intro. from Shrill which promises a gritty, "cinema vérité-style", and an indication of the range of tie-in products we might expect come next Easter. There's also a fairly lengthy synopsis including the following excerpt which may allay the fears of those concerned that the miniseries might water down the Christian message of the original novel.
    Many Judeans are turning to a teacher named Jesus, whom
    some believe is the Messiah, a leader who will drive out the Roman occupiers.

    Ben Hur, encouraged by this possibility, risks his life , fighting with the rebels against the Romans, while Esther faces her worst fear when she finds that Ben Hur’s mother and sister are now lepers.Although Ben Hur is overjoyed to be reunited with them, he is distraught by their affliction. Esther urges him to open his heart to the power of Jesus’ words. Moved by the message of Jesus and the love of Esther, Ben Hur finds the strength to renounce violence, embrace his family, and finally forgive those who sought to destroy him. At last the slave, the charioteer, the rebel, is at peace.

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    Monday, March 30, 2009

    Vaughn to Adapt "American Jesus"

    According to the Hollywood Reporter Matthew Vaughn is to direct an adaptation of Peter Gross and Mark Millar's comic book "American Jesus". I'm not at all familiar with the source material, although as I understand it, the current volume of the comic book "Chosen" is only the first instalment of a planned three-book series. The description given on Amazon is fairly brief:
    Chosen follows a twelve-year-old boy who suddenly discovers he's returned as Jesus Christ. He can turn water into wine, make the crippled walk, and, perhaps, even raise the dead! How will he deal with the destiny to lead the world in a conflict thousands of years in the making?
    It's difficult to know from that whether this film will be seeking to say something significant, or just attempting to make the most out of a well known and much revised story. Millar, who also wrote the comic book "Wanted" that was adapted into last year's movie of the same name, has said that he is a practising Catholic, but I know some Christians fear this film will be blasphemous. That said various films in the past have explored what it might look like if Jesus's second coming was much like his first (as opposed to the impression given in the New Testament that it will be quite different - Acts 1:11, 1 Thes 4:16-17)

    Either way, this might eventually make an interesting double bill with the planned anime version of the Jesus film.

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    Thursday, March 26, 2009

    Warner Bros. to make Methuselah

    Variety reports that Warner Bros. have picked up Methuselah - to be produced by David Heyman and writen/directed by James Watkins. It doesn't appear that the film will be on the biblical character - it's billed as an action-adventure movie where the lead character ages "at a similarly slow rate" to the biblical patriach. So it sounds like this will be more along the lines of Highlander than anything else.

    Even so, given that the biblical Methuselah is reputed to have lived until he was 969 it's possible that the film might have some historical scenes to it, and, as the reason for his deccelerated aging has not yet been given, there remains the possibility that the film might yet link up with the Bible in some way. But given all that we are told in the bible is the following passage from Genesis 5:21-27, it seems unlikely:
    And Enoch lived sixty and five years, and begat Methuselah...And Methuselah lived an hundred eighty and seven years, and begat Lamech.And Methuselah lived after he begat Lamech seven hundred eighty and two years, and begat sons and daughters. And all the days of Methuselah were nine hundred sixty and nine years: and he died.
    For what it's worth, a literal reading of the biblical chronology suggests that he died the same year as the flood. And, of course, such a reading would also contend that he died before his father. It will be interesting to see if either of those elements are reflected in the final film.

    Monday, March 23, 2009

    New Trailer for Year One

    Following on from the clip from and trailer for Old Testament comedy Year One that were released last month, Columbia have now released a new, extended, trailer for the film. The new preview shows Jack Black eating an apple from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the previously excerpted take on the story of Cain and Abel, and a few more scenes from Sodom. The film, directed by Harold Ramis and produced by Judd Apatow, is due for release on June 19th.

    Thanks to Peter Chattaway for the tip off.

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    Friday, March 20, 2009

    FFCC Critics on The Robe

    I mentioned at the start of the year that The Robe was being released this month on Blu-ray as well as a special edition DVD. The actual release date in the States was Tuesday (17th), and a couple of the other members of the Faith and Film Critics Circle hav posted their reviews.

    Over at Decent Films Steven Greydanus gives the film a B-, but steers clear of discussing the extras. In contrast, Past the Popcorn's Greg Wright avoids giving the film a rating, but appends a few comments on the extras to the end of his review. Peter Chattaway has also got a copy of this release, and so I imagine it will be only a matter of time before he posts his own comments on it.

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    Thursday, March 19, 2009

    Jesus Flickfest 4

    Thanks to Bill Millar for sending through details of this year's Jesus Flickfest. For those not in the know, Jesus Flickfest is an annual film festival that occurs in the run up to Easter in Winnipeg, Canada. As ever there's an eclectic mix from Last Temptation of Christ to Inside Bob Dylan’s Jesus Years via the festival's traditional high point - the sing-a-long Jesus Christ Superstar. Perhaps the highlight of the programme (reproduced in full below) is Roberto Rossellini's Il Messia, but there are no shortage of good titles, as you can see:
    Directors Cut:
    *L'Inchiesta [The Final Inquiry]
    Son of Man
    Il Messia
    The Colour of the Cross
    Jesus de Montreal
    Je vous salue, Marie [Hail Mary]
    The Last Temptation of Christ
    The Book of Life
    Il Vangelo secondo Matteo

    & hopefully Ferrara's Mary

    Music
    Cotton Patch Gospel [Harry Chapin musical based on Clarence Jordon's writings]
    Singalong Jesus Christ Superstar
    Johnny Cash: The Gospel Road


    Documentaries
    Inside Bob Dylan’s Jesus Years
    Jesus, du weisst [Jesus you know]
    Jesus Camp


    Drama/humour

    Mary, Mother of Jesus
    Peter and Paul
    The Miracle Maker
    The Nativity Story
    Life of Brian
    Johnny got his gun
    Jesus
    Un Bambino di nome Gesu [A Child called Jesus]

    Monday, March 16, 2009

    Ben Hur on BBC Radio 7

    Only just found out about this, but BBC Radio 7 has just finished broadcasting a four part narration of Ben Hur. Michael Gambon is one of those involved, so that, at least, suggests it should be good.

    It's one of a number of things Radio 7 has put on recently that I seem to have only caught when they were all but over - the original "Knowing Me, Knowing You" with Alan Partridge has also just been repeated. Thankfully, the whole series is still available on iPlayer, although part 1 will turn into a pumpkin at noon today, with a new episode expiring every day this week up to Thursday. I'm never sure with iPlayer what is actually available outside of the UK, so apologies if you are and you can't access it.

    The series runs for 4 hours in total making it roughly the same length as the famous 1959 film version of it.

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    Sunday, March 15, 2009

    First Reviews for NBC's Kings

    Unfortunately, my screener for Kings has not arrived, so it will be a while before I'm able to offer my own review of tonight's NBC premiers. There are plenty of others around, however, for those wanting to read about it before or after tonight's showing. Kyle Smith at the New York Post is similarly impressed. His four out of five stars review calls McShane's performance "titanic" and notes how the "show sparkles with imagination, but he ends with the eternal dilemma for biblical adaptations:"Kings may be too campy for some, not campy enough for others". Entertainment Weekly gives it a B+, admiring McShane's acting, but still seeing it as a "work in progress". EW's review also speculates as to whether the show will succeed, a concern taken up also by Variety.

    A handful of reviews find it fascinating even if they are ultimately not particularly taken with it. Time calls it "fascinating pretentious hoo-ha" whilst USA Today settles for "a fascinating mess".

    But some reviewers don't even find it's curiosity factor sufficient to gain their approval. The New York Times finds it "plodding" in spite of it's "bold" reinterpretation, whilst the Los Angeles Times goes for "corny, ponderous, literary, ambitious, obvious and... as slow as molasses".

    Christian reviews seems a little hard to come by, but Christian Cinema suspects that the writers "couldn’t decide whether to be philosophical, politically correct... or corny". But Hollywood Jesus's reviewer is impressed - "The performances from all involved are top notch, the direction is superb".

    Meanwhile, my friend Peter Chattaway has posted a few additional comments about the pilot. His interview with series creator Michael Green has also gone up at BC Christian News.

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    Thursday, March 12, 2009

    Oh Go On Then...

    I'll do the GenderAnalyzer thing:
    We think http://biblefilms.blogspot.com is written by a man (83%).
    My "thanks" for the tip off go to Mark Goodacre (92% - 67% - 50% depending which of his three blogs you read). I was pleased to see that Open Heaven's website, which I also run, along with others, came out as 50%.

    Wednesday, March 11, 2009

    Review: Oversold

    On the surface Paul Morrell and Dave Cowan's Oversold is seemingly an unlikely sounding tale of a Pastor who travels to Vegas, falls in love with a stripper (though he's unaware of her profession at the time), and seeks to free her from the situation in which she is ensnared. But, it's deeper than that, Oversold is a multi-layered film which is not only a modernisation of the story of the Old Testament prophet Hosea, but also of Jesus's redemption of us.

    At the centre of the story is Joshua, a young pastor travelling to Vegas to reconnect with his step-brother Ethan, and Sophi, who works in one of Ethan's clubs. Unaware of their connection, the two meet by chance, and, quickly fall in love.

    A popular plot device in many romantic films is that of 'the hidden secret' such as Gregory Peck's undercover reporter in Roman Holiday, Richard Curtis in Some Like it Hot, or any one of the portrayals of Mr Rochester from Jane Eyre. Essentially it's a reflection of the way we all hide aspects of ourselves when we first meet people and struggle to free ourselves from the lies we projected to protect our inner vulnerability.Inevitably, Josh finds out and is deeply hurt, but as he prays about the situation he hears the voice he recognises as God's tell him to marry Sophi. It's here that the story blossoms into a modern parallel of the story of Hosea - the prophet who is told to marry Gomer, a prostitute. Of course we don't know the background between Hosea and Gomer, and she is, of course, a (temple?) prostitute rather than a stripper, but the similarities are certainly close enough for the film to make us look at the story in a new way. Apart from anything, it's interesting that a script written by a church leader concludes with the Hosea character (and his new wife) failing to find acceptance in his church and having to resign.

    Like Gomer, Sophi returns to her dubious profession even after she has married Josh. Ethan, not only unmoved but angered by her redemption is threatening both her and Josh. The use of threats to explain, and in a sense justify, Sophi's actions makes for an interesting re-reading of the book of Hosea. Gomer, is usually viewed far less sympathetically, in part because she represents "unfaithful" Israel. But Israel, and perhaps even Gomer, also faced threats which may have gone some way to explaining their supposed apostasy.In the end both Joshua and Hosea buy back (or redeem) their wives, and yet again the parallels with Jesus come to the fore. The three names are all derived from the same root, meaning "salvation", and the film becomes more and more of a parallel of Jesus's act of redemption. This is, in fact, exactly what Cowan promises us at the start of the film, in one of several narratorial appearances in the film, but it's also a theme that has been woven into the story throughout the film. The movie opens during one of Josh's sermons. He's talking about the calling of Matthew from Matt 9:9-13. It's a clever starting point as it not only tells the story of a sinner catapulted into a new life by Jesus's love and grace, but it also quotes from the very book that the rest of the film is recontextualising - "I desire mercy, not sacrifice" (Hosea 6:6).

    Perhaps the biggest indicator of this is not the film's portrayal of Joshua, but the character of Ethan. Ethan is without parallel in the book of Hosea. Whilst there are mentions of Gomer's lovers there is none of them who stands out as being responsible for her original situation, or her subsequent return.In fact, Ethan represents Satan in Jesus's quest for humanity's salvation. In a richly significant moment we see him dressed in red looking out across the city and reassuring himself that he "own(s) the town". It's not true of course - Ethan only owns a few clubs. But it evokes Satan during Jesus's temptation, taking him high above the city and making the similarly ludicrous claim that the kingdoms of this world were his to give away. The shot itself is reminiscent of a similar scene in Jesus of Montreal where a slimy lawyer offers that film's Jesus character the chance for fame. It's also interesting that the first time we see Ethan he is wearing a shirt with a cross sewn onto the back. It is, of course, a fake cross with no concept of grace, thus it's hardly surprising that Ethan forces Sophi to come back to work for him to pay off her supposed debt to him.

    The film is surprisingly rich in this kind of symbolism. In a later scene Sophi cuts herself ending up with blood on her hands. Is this representing her being washed in Jesus's blood, or that fact that, like humanity in general his blood is on our hands. Indeed the film's visuals do much to convey its meaning on their own, which always suggests a strong grasp of the medium of film. The film's dialogue is also interesting. In places it's a little clunky, but, on reflection, this is most noticeable at the points in the story when this is, perhaps, what we'd expect in real life. Most courtships are a little clunky. I love the sharp, witty banter of Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep, but for most of us the reality is different. We awkwardly stammer out a few words desperately hoping they will impress, rather than repel, the object of our affections. It's not Hollywood, but I can live with that.

    What I did find surprising about the script, though, are screenwriter Dave Cowan occasional appearances to narrate, and comment on proceedings. Cowan is the pastor of a church of about 100 people based in Phoenix. The film has come about from his vision, and he deserves credit for producing such an impressive piece of work with such limited resources. Being able to draft in his MTV award winning friend Paul Morrell to direct is no doubt helpful but, even so, it's a real achievement. Cowan's intrusions onto the screen are a little unusual, and perhaps betray a lack of confidence in the rest of the production. But then perhaps itjust comes down to a question of genre /medium: is Oversold a dramatic short film or simply a beautifully shot sermon in the style of Rob Bell's Nooma series? Personally I would encourage Cowan and Morrell to pursue the former and leave expounding the meaning of their filmic text to the extra features on the DVD (or for when they show it in a church context). Whilst their work can and will improve, it's already good enough, and strong enough to speak for itself.

    But the thing that impacted me most about the film was the way the role of Sophi was played by Crissy Moran, herself a former porn star. Moran herself admits that her former work in front of the camera required very little acting, and the same could almost be said here, because Oversold is, in fact, her story, a retelling of her discovery of God's love. There's a vulnerability and a subtle brokenness to her performance as if playing this role is still a little painful. But, the true story of redemption that underlies her appearance in this film is so moving it permeates Oversold, like light through a stain glassed window. And it's made all the more powerful by the knowledge that, in contrast to their movie counterparts, the church community behind Oversold did indeed welcome Moran so wonderfully demonstrating that freedom from our pasts isn't just something found in the movies.

    Tuesday, March 10, 2009

    Kings Coming this Sunday

    It's been a while since I wrote anything about NBC's Kings which premières this Sunday (15th March) at 8/7c. (In fact, I've been laid up after an operation so it's been a while since I wrote anything at all).

    I'm still waiting for my screener, which is apparently in the post, so hopefully it'll arrive in time for me to be able to offer a review. Meanwhile, the cast and crew did a Q&A at a screening recently which Peter Chattaway linked to a couple of weeks back.

    I'll be posting more on the pilot for this series over the next week or so.

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    Wednesday, March 04, 2009

    The Corpus Christi Film is a Hoax

    I've received two emails now supposedly as part of a petition to get a film called Corpus Christi banned. Corpus Christi is allegedly a filmed version of the controversial Terrence McNally play of the same name which depicts Jesus and his disciples as homosexuals.

    The major problem with this petition is that it's a hoax. As far as I'm aware, there are no such plans to film such a play, and even if it were being produced on a shoestring budget somewhere in the hope that a handful of gay film festivals might show it, it's unlikely to come to a cinema / DVD store anywhere near anyone who is likely to be offended by it.

    The funny thing is that it's not even a new hoax. I remember it the first time around from the late nineties when people at least had the excuse that they didn't really know what email was. FilmChat blogged about a recurrence in 2005 also mentioning the similarly suspicious Jesus porn film Him. In case anyone needs further proof, hoax spotting website Snopes, in a piece written c.2000, has plenty of information about it including a claim the fact that this rumour has been circulating since at least 1985. And the DVD Corpus Christi is simply a documentary about the historical Jesus. Whilst you're at it, you might like to glance at Snopes' religion category.

    As a rule of thumb, emails asking you to forward them to lots of people - particularly if accompanied by any one of the many forms of emotional blackmail - are usually hoaxes.

    Tuesday, March 03, 2009

    Biblical Studies Carnival 39

    Photo by Tim Parkinson, used under a Creative Commons Licence

    Darrell Pursiful at his blog Dr Platypus has posted the thirty ninth Biblical Studies Carnival. It's one of the (many) Biblioblogs that I was previously unfamiliar with and it's always nice to encounter someone else's work for the first time.

    Next month's carnival will be compiled by James Gregory.

    There's also a new Top 50 Bibliobloggers, although unfortunately yours truly here seems to have dropped 27 plus places. I can't be anymore specific as I'm now out of the Top 50 altogether. Still no idea how it's calculated though...

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