The level of our intrigue in the stories of God is about to get a test run, as Hollywood delivers the first of its religious lineup to movie-goers this weekend. Expect to see movie trailers about Jesus, Noah, Moses and Mary, plus a family drama about death and heaven, all coming soon from the cinematic preachers of the silver screen.
“Over the next 11 months, Hollywood is planning to release more big biblical movies than it put out during the previous 11 years combined, and the trend shows no sign of slowing down in 2015,” Andrew Romano wrote for The Daily Beast.
I go to the movies to be entertained; I look for a story with a great adventure and I want characters I can identify with. To use the Bible as source material for adventure and characters to identify with is not what I’d expect from Hollywood.
My heroine in this plot is producer and actress Roma Downey. She and television producer husband Mark Burnett co-produced Son of God, which opened in theatres on Friday.
Ms. Downey was the angel Monica who starred in TV’s Touched By An Angel. Mr. Burnett is better known for helping us make emotional connections with real people in his hit reality shows Survivor, The Voice, The Apprentice and Shark Tank.
Together, they bring a powerhouse of emotion and thought to their work. As a child in Northern Ireland, Ms. Downey lost her mother to a heart attack, and Mary, the mother of Jesus, became her own imaginary mother figure. In Son of God, she plays Mary as she comes face-to-face with her on-screen Jesus, Portugese actor Diogo Morgado.
Son of God was 20th Century Fox’s rapid turnaround of The Bible, the runaway success Ms. Downey and Mr. Burnett produced for History TV. That series was another labour of love and conviction, and it racked up more millions of viewers, catapulting History to top ratings. “When looking at the Jesus narrative in The Bible, we all could see it needed to be on the big screen,” Mr. Burnett said. “It’s God in human form, and we wanted to allow a whole new generation to feel it is real, it’s gritty, it had to be told that way.”
There is much that will surprise audiences in Son of God. Ms. Downey has embedded a woman among the disciples (who is mysteriously absent at the Last Supper), and she’s proud of her biblical characters.
“People are telling us they recognize themselves in Thomas’s doubting, in the shame of Peter because he didn’t get it right,” Ms. Downey said. “They are people like you and me struggling to find purpose in their lives, dealing with hopes and fears and the fragility of that.”
But can such religious material be entertaining?
“Entertainment is not a lightweight word,” said Bobette Buster, adjunct professor of cinematic storytelling at the University of Southern California, and a guest lecturer at major film studios.
“It’s one of the most expensive disciplines to master, and film is smarter than just one person, so you are experiencing excellence at its highest level – that’s why we’re compelled,” she said. “A great movie creates a complex chord of emotions, and it also contains clarity of insight. That’s why we say, ‘Wow, I never knew that’ – it lets us see a subject in a whole new light.”
Hollywood should take a bow for turning the spotlight on God.
Lorna Dueck is host of Context TV, seen Sundays on Global and Vision TV.