Thursday, July 31, 2014

Editorial: Year of the Bible

With “Noah” and “Son of God,” 2014 will be filled with faith-based film success

Christianity —  Burnett and Downey’s “Son of God” is poised to become the most popular Christian film since “The Passion of the Christ.”

Christianity — Burnett and Downey’s “Son of God” is poised to become the most popular Christian film since “The Passion of the Christ.” YouTube screenshot

Only a few days into the new year and 2014 has already been unofficially dubbed “The Year of the Bible” in Hollywood. The title derives its origin from blockbuster hits such as Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah” — starring A-lister Russell Crowe as the shipbuilder — and Mark Burnett and Roma Downey’s “Son of God,” an adaptation of the hit History Channel miniseries, “The Bible.”

Other 2014 releases include Ridley Scott’s “Exodus,” an HBO drama about the apocalypse, “The Leftovers,” a Cain and Abel film directed by Will Smith and Randall Wallace’s film-adaptation of Todd Burpo’s New York Times bestseller, “Heaven is for Real.”

According to Burnett, a dream was sparked in his mind when he sat down with his kids, like he had many times before, to watch Cecil B. DeMille’s classic, “The Ten Commandments.”
Burnett recounts his children commenting that the movie was “not that great,” sparking an interest to create a series that was realized in 2013.

Burnett — famous for reality hits like “The Apprentice” and “The Voice” — was, in my opinion, given the opportunity to create something great, to stream the gospel into the homes of millions of Americans.

According to The History Channel, the 10-hour, six-week series received a cumulative total of 100 million viewers. This sparked a firestorm of interest across the nation that has not been seen since the days of William Wyler’s “Ben-Hur.”

Burnett’s miniseries “The Bible” reestablished an audience that has not had a voice in mainstream entertainment for years — and Hollywood is listening.

Though he was told no one would watch The History Channel miniseries, Burnett persisted.

“We think you’re completely underestimating this faith-based, Christian audience,” Burnett said in response to media criticism. “And we proved that it was enormous, and that it makes sense to create something in that world.”

But Hollywood has not called action on a biblical epic since Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” in 2004. Why the sudden interest? Many speculate it is for the money, while others contend that Christianity is making a societal comeback.

Even if Christendom, a mainstream celebration of Christian culture, is in decline, as mega-church pastor and author from Seattle, Wash., Mark Driscoll believes, there is still a hard and fast demographic that will follow any Bible flick. Though Hollywood’s only interest may be in the money — and the wealth of raw script material — the final cuts still have potential to be box office hits.

“After more than a decade of labored breathing and a weakening heart, Christendom has gone the way of all flesh,” Driscoll wrote in his new book “A Call to Resurgence.”

That leaves only consumerism and capitalism. However, “The Bible” miniseries may have been the test run that started it all. Burnett and Downey proved that the evangelical audience, though unpopular in pop culture in recent years, is hungry for positive attention.

Christian Hollywood films are fulfilling Jesus’ words to “go into all the world and preach the gospel.”

Even amid Hollywood’s artistic license, the general theme of the Bible is still being spotlighted, in glorious high-definition, nonetheless. If American Christians are good at one thing, it is inviting their friends to church. A movie night is the 2014 version of that evangelical ethic.

Our secular culture, and even fringe Christian culture, has been obsessed with the apocalypse ever since the world did not end at the millennium, and again at the end of the misread Mayan calendar. Though I believe that the chatter is coming from no one other than conspiracy theorists and fame-seekers, a question has nevertheless been introduced to our society and has remained largely unanswered.

“What’s happened is (Hollywood has) understood it’s very good business to take Christians seriously, and this is a real serious market,” Phil Cooke, a filmmaker and frequent guest speaker at Liberty University, said.

The Bible holds a treasure-trove of answers to wondering minds, and Hollywood’s monetary motives bring about the pinnacle of evangelistic opportunities: church outside of church.

The History Channel’s “The Bible” miniseries awakened a subdued sect, subsequently creating a win-win situation — Hollywood wins the money, Christianity wins the notoriety. If only Charlton Heston were here to see it all.

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