By Kurt Jensen
Catholic News Service
NEW YORK (CNS) — The long-standing charge against Hollywood by people of faith is that Tinseltown doesn’t take believers seriously when it comes to film fare.
But with a fistful of biblical epics ready to roll out nationwide in 2014 and even beyond, there will be plenty of evidence to test that assumption.
First up on the big screen next year is "Son of God" (Fox, Feb. 28) based on "The Bible," last year’s TV ratings hit for the History cable channel. Directed by Christopher Spencer and using additional footage from the 10-part miniseries, it’s a life of Christ with Diogo Morgado as Jesus and Roma Downey as his mother, Mary.
Moses will certainly get his due in 2014. Just one such treatment is "Exodus" (Fox), already with a Dec. 12 premiere date penciled in. It’s director Ridley Scott’s big-budget retelling of the saga of the Hebrew slaves in Egypt and Moses’ role in leading them to the Promised Land.
The movie stars Christian Bale as Moses, Aaron Paul as Joshua, Joel Edgerton as Ramses, Sigourney Weaver as Tuya (Ramses’ mother) and Indira Varma as Miriam. Scott is using locations in Spain to fill in for ancient Egypt.
In the development pipeline at Warner Bros. is "Gods and Kings," a still-vague project that has only received recent attention because Steven Spielberg dropped out as director, and was replaced by Ang Lee.
In this one, Moses may or may not be portrayed as some sort of action hero, depending on which unreliable website one chooses to visit. Wouldn’t delivering the Ten Commandments and parting the Red Sea more or less qualify him for that title, anyway?
The stone tablets are coming to TV as well. Producer Harvey Weinstein, a co-founder of Miramax Films, just announced plans for a 10-part "Ten Commandments" — one episode per commandment — using big-name directors such as Wes Craven and Lee Daniels. Weinstein or one of his associates let it slip that he’s also considering Madonna to direct an episode.
There’s no indication yet whether "Exodus" or the other adaptations will include Dathan, the skeptical character mentioned in the Book of Numbers and memorably portrayed by Edward G. Robinson in 1956’s "The Ten Commandments" directed by Cecil B. DeMille.
Robinson never actually delivered the sneering line "Where’s your messiah now?" That originated in a stand-up routine by Billy Crystal, but has become so culturally embedded, it’s been quoted by Chief Wiggum twice on "The Simpsons."
Other films, with their announced release dates:
"Noah" (Paramount, March 28). Russell Crowe as the builder of the ark, Anthony Hopkins as Methuselah, and a big floating zoo of computer-generated animals, presumably boarding two by two. Directed by Darren Aronofsky with Emma Watson as Ila, Noah’s adopted daughter, and Jennifer Connelly as Naameh, Noah’s wife.
The $125 million film comes with pre-manufactured outrage — "buzz," if you prefer — because of its angels. Turn, if you will, to the Book of Enoch, Chapter 9, which mentions the archangels Michael, Raphael, Gabriel and Uriel, the last of whom, according to the following chapter, is sent to warn Noah of the coming destruction of the earth.
The Book of Enoch — which is only accepted as canonical by the Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox Churches — doesn’t describe the archangels in detail. Aronofsky, who co-scripted with Ari Handel, decided it would be really spectacular if they were 18 feet tall and had six arms.
That makes them a mite spooky, but they’re supposed to get Noah’s attention, and that would certainly do it. There’s been no advance word on how many rainbows will be seen from atop Mount Ararat.
"Heaven Is for Real" (TriStar, April 16). Greg Kinnear and Kelly Reilly, directed by Randall Wallace, star as Todd and Sonja Burpo, based on Todd’s best-selling book about his son Colton’s glimpse of heaven as the result of a near-death experience during surgery. Connor Corum plays the revivified lad.
"Mary" (Lionsgate, next December). Odeya Rush takes on the role of Mary escaping from King Herod along with husband Joseph. Ben Kingsley plays Herod. It’s directed by Alister Grierson.
"Pontius Pilate" (Warner Bros., 2015). Brad Pitt as Christ’s Roman judge. Pilate has received his own story a few times, but typically, as in the Gospels, he’s a supporting character.
He’s previously been portrayed by Telly Savalas, Richard Boone, David Bowie and — memorably — by Australian actor Frank Thring in 1959’s "Ben-Hur." Thring played the governor of Judea as a sniveling, world-weary oaf. Pitt’s last costume epic was "Troy" in 2004.
"The Redemption of Cain" (Sony, 2015). Listed here because the film, directed by Will Smith, is supposed to be loosely based on the story of Cain and Abel. It also involves vampires, but that, of course, you won’t find in the Book of Genesis. Hence, "loosely."
"Resurrection" (LD Entertainment, 2015 or later). Kevin Reynolds ("Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves") is currently "attached," the trade papers report, to direct the story of the first 40 days following the resurrection of Jesus.
"Ben-Hur" (MGM, 2015 or later). The third big-screen version, following the 1925 and 1959 films. Because, after all, who doesn’t like a good chariot race?
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Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.
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