• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as preparation for a future work on Straub/Huillet's Moses und Aron and a few bits and pieces on biblical studies.

    Matt Page


    Sunday, October 08, 2017

    Noah (2014)

    In comparison to the majority of Bible movies, films about Noah have tended to take a more creative approach to telling the story. Michael Curtiz's 1929 Noah's Ark wraps the main story up in a "modern" day train crash story; thimbles and pipe cleaners lend a distinct charm to Disney's 1959 stop motion short of the same name; and the 1999 TV film, also of the same name, bizarrely combines the story of Noah with that of Lot.

    Darren Aronofsky's Noah (2014), then, is hardly the first film about Noah to take a more creative approach. His is a mythic take, on a story which permeated so many different ancient cultures. Whilst this version is clearly an adaptation of the Jewish version of the story - and whilst Aronofsky himself is an atheist, his Jewish background has clearly been influential - the fantastical approach he has taken with his subject matter works to evoke a story that was known to far more people groups than simply the descendants of Jacob.

    Aronofsky particularly seems to revel in the fact that the Bible is often a strange book, and that few parts of it embody that 'oddness' more than Genesis. Indeed, I don't think you've really taken the Bible seriously until you acknowledge this inherent oddness. Take for example these words from the prologue to the Noah story:
    "When people began to multiply...and daughters were born to them, the 'sons of God' saw that they were fair and took wives for themselves... the 'sons of God' went in to the daughters of humans, who bore children to them..." (Gen 6:1-4)
    And that's one of the passages that Aronofsky leaves out. Add in those making covenants by dismembering animal carcasses and perambulating between them; Lot sleeping with both his daughters on consecutive nights, and Abraham being just moments away from sacrificially chopping up his only son and you have one weird book. Of course, Genesis is not necessarily endorsing all the  actions it describes. However, all too often people behave as if that the world of Genesis was broadly similar to out own, where people thought, felt and generally acted in a similar manner to the way in which we do today, despite the substantial evidence to the contrary, not least in our main source for these very stories.

    What I most appreciate about Aronofsky's Noah, therefore, is that he grasps, and indeed seems to relish, this strange 'otherness'. The film was over twenty years in the making after a project at school on the subject first caught his attention. The result is probably the first Bible film to feel like a cross between Lord of the Rings, Waterworld and Mad Max. As John Wilson put it, Noah isn't so much an adaptation, as a film that uses Genesis as a "mood board" (Front Row, 2014). The resulting film posses a strangely uneven style which many have disliked, but again this is what makes the film so bizarre and so interesting.

    On the surface of course, it's a biblical epic and some of the scenes that Aronofsky has created here are amongst the very best in the genre. Chief among them are the minutes leading up to the launch of the ark which, on the big screen at least, are spectacular. Noah rescues his son Ham from the descendants of Cain, escapes to the ark whilst the 'watchers' protect the ark from the on-rushing hordes, which culminates in their angelic souls spectacularly beaming back up to heaven just as the waters of the deep break forth lifting the ark up and away.  Clint Mansell's score, quite different from the kind of music he has typically produced for Aronofsky, ratchets up the tension magnificently. It maybe the 21st century, but it nevertheless feels very like the moment the Red Sea parts in the 1956 version of The Ten Commandments.

    But this sequence also contains exactly those elements which feel so very far away from the kind of movie that DeMille and his ilk would ever have produced. The 'watchers' are angels (the Nephilim of Gen 4) who have quite literally fallen to earth, and found as they crashed to earth that the earth, or rather its rock, has clung to their bodies. The resulting 'rock monsters' look like the kind of special effect Ray Harryhausen might have created for Jason and the Argonauts (1963). When they die defending the ark their souls are sucked back up to heaven in great beams of light that feels like something from Independence Day.

    The movie's other breathtaking sequence also illustrates the diverse mix of styles that Aronofsky brings together. Shortly after the launch of the ark, Noah retells his family the story of creation accompanied by a time-lapse-styled montage portraying an evolutionary act of creation with a hint of stop-motion. The sequence ends at the Tree of Life (with all the echoes of Aronofsky's earlier The Fountain) with a glowing snakeskin wrapped around Noah's arm like tefillin straps. Throw in the lunar-esque Icelandic landscape; a cameo from Anthony Hopkins that veers a little too closely to Billy Crystal's turn in The Princess Bride; and Noah's nightmares alternating between blood underfoot and water overhead, and it's not hard to see why many dislike the film's unevenness.

    The unevenness both unsettles viewers and hints at the divergent sources that lay behind the version that is cherished today. It's not that Aronofsky has pinpointed the exact cultural context of the original stories. He hasn't and clearly didn't intended to. But he has created a context where some of the questions that the text raises, and that the story's characters would have had to face, can be explored. In particular the time spent on the ark during the flood, so often skipped over in other versions of the story, turns into a dark psychological drama, as Noah feels inescapably drawn to take The Creator's work to its grimly 'logical' conclusion by ending even his own family line.

    It's a film, then, that takes seriously the nature of the destruction that "The Creator" (as God is called in this version) unleashes during this story - a point that few critics seemed to appreciated. Ironically, many Christians railed against the film's portrayal of Noah as a homicidal maniac, overlooking the fact that of course the number of deaths at Noah's hands are only a fraction of those who drown in the flood sent by God. To assess this film's Noah as a psychopath is something of a miscalculation. Noah doesn't want to kill his granddaughter - and in fact ultimately he cannot - he just believes that this is what his creator is calling him to do. Noah's readiness to follow even the most horrific of his creator's commands brings him into similar territory as Abraham, sacrificing his offspring because he is convinced God wills it.

    As Peter Chattaway has observed, Aronofsky's other films "often dwell on the idea that purity or perfection is impossible, and that the pursuit of these things is self-destructive." (Chattaway 2014). It's not hard to see how the filmmakers unpack similar themes in Noah. Noah's environmentalist perfectionism is such that he rebukes his child for picking a flower; his destructive obsession drives him to almost kill his grandchild. On a physical level the floodwaters have destroyed the world, but there is also huge destruction on an emotional level. Little wonder that the film's epilogue opens with Noah, alone, getting drunk on the beach. Years before this film was released Aronofsky described this as an indication of Noah's "survivor's guilt" (Aronofsky, 2007), but Noah is also continuing to agonise over the questions which dominated the film's third act. Was he was right or wrong to spare Ila's child? Has his 'compassion' ultimately doomed the world to be destroyed by humans all over again? How can he face his family given how close he came to committing such an horrific act? It's no coincidence that Aronofsky framing of Crowe's Noah repeatedly echoes the famous final shot of The Searchers (1956).

    It's here that his daughter-in-law Ila's words help rehabilitate Noah, in the eyes of his family, to himself, and also, to some extent, to the viewer:
    He chose you for a reason, Noah. He showed you the wickedness of man and knew you would not look away. And you saw goodness too. The choice was put in your hands because he put it there. He asked you to decide if we were worth saving. And you chose mercy. You chose love. He has given us a second chance. Be a father, be a grandfather. Help us to do better this time. Help us start again."
    On all three fronts the rehabilitation is only partly successful, such trauma is not easily overcome, but it does manage to leave the film on a positive note, whilst also challenging its audience to re-examine its own environmental credentials. This, then, is a more hopeful ending than Aronofsky's later mother! which suggests that this film's second chance, if it even is only a second chance, is doomed to fail and will ultimately lead The Creator to endlessly destroy and misguidedly restart the world again. Here though, the despair is not yet so overwhelming. Noah may have begun amidst environmental apocalypse (with an implied modern parallel), but it ends still offering us a fig leaf of hope, urging us to act before its too late.

    Aronofsky, Darren (2007). "Just Say Noah" Interviewed by Ryan Gibley for The Guardian, 27 April. Available online - https://www.theguardian.com/film/2007/apr/27/1

    Chattaway, Peter T., (2014) "Flood Theology" in Books and Culture Vol 20 No.3 (May/June 2014)
    Available online - http://www.booksandculture.com/articles/2014/mayjun/flood-theology.html?paging=off

    Front Row (2014) BBC Radio 4, 4 April. Available online - https://soundcloud.com/front-row-weekly/fr-kate-winslet-richard-ayoade

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    Saturday, September 13, 2008

    More on Darren Aronofsky's Noah

    /film posted their interview Darren Aronofsky yesterday, and towards the end of their time together they asked him about his Noah project that I discussed back in May last year. Whilst his answer isn't quite as interesting as it was in his previous interview in The Guardian it's nice to heard he's still passionate about the project. Here's what he had to say:
    Peter Sciretta: Who wrote it?
    Darren Aronofsky: I wrote it. Me and Ari Handel, the guy who worked on the Fountain. It’s a great script and it’s HUGE. And we’re starting to feel out talent. And then we’ll probably try and set it up…
    Peter Sciretta: So this isn’t something you can make for six million dollars?
    Darren Aronofsky: No, this is big. I mean, Look… It’s the end of the world and it’s the second most famous ship after the Titanic. So I’m not sure why any studio won’t want to make it.
    Peter Sciretta: You would hope so.?
    Darren Aronofsky: Yeah, I would hope so. It’s a really cool project and I think it’s really timely because it’s about environmental apocalypse which is the biggest theme, for me, right now for what’s going on on this planet. So I think it’s got these big, big themes that connect with us. Noah was the first environmentalist. He’s a really interesting character. Hopefully they’ll let me make it.
    That part of the interview has apparently gained such a lot of interest that Sciretta posted a follow-up piece just on Aronofsky's Noah in which he adds this to what we already know:
    The idea originated ten years ago, even before Pi, when Aronofsky saw a museum exhibit. But the director’s fascination with Noah’s Ark began when he was only 13-years-old. Aronofsky won a United Nations poetry competition at his Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn school. The poem was about the end of the world as seen through the eyes of Noah. When Brad Pitt abruptly left The Fountain just weeks before principal photography, Aronofsky took some time off and began to develop a variety of different projects, one of them being the Noah screenplay.
    Obviously I'll be reporting on this one as it (hopefully) progresses. Meanwhile, you can read all of the posts I've made on films about Noah here. Incidentally the image above is from Jacopo Bassano's 1574 painting "Noah's Sacrifice" which seems kind of fitting given Aronofsky's earlier comments about Noah's "survivor's guilt".

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    Tuesday, May 01, 2007

    Aronofsky to Make Film About Noah

    In case you've not yet read this story at FilmChat, Looking Closer, or even in The Guardian itself, Darren Aronofsky (The Fountain) is planning on making a film about Noah. I have a feeling that I already knew that before reading it at the above yesterday, but I have no idea where I heard it. Back in January I mentioned that Aronofsky was making a bible film, but then there was no news on a title.

    The interview is mainly about The Fountain - which is released on DVD later this month. After that though, the only one of Aronofsky's other projects that he talks about in this interview is the Noah one. I found this quote particularly interesting:
    The script, Aronofsky tells me, is no conventional biblical epic. "Noah was the first person to plant vineyards and drink wine and get drunk," he says admiringly. "It's there in the Bible - it was one of the first things he did when he reached land. There was some real survivor's guilt going on there. He's a dark, complicated character."
    What I love best about Bible films is when they give you a new angle on a familiar story, so this has got me really excited about this project. The Fountain had a long, complicated a torturous path to production. Hopefully this project will happen a little more quickly.

    Jeffrey Overstreet also has an interesting interview with Aronofsky at Christianity Today.

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    Friday, February 18, 2011

    More on Aronofsky's Noah

    Darren Aronofsky has been taking advantage of the publicity he's been getting from Black Swan, so there have been a couple of articles recently about his plans to make a new version of the story of Noah (see my previous posts). Last week SlashFilm confirmed that not only has Aronofsky decided to make a comic book as a step to filming Noah, but also that there is also some footage on YouTube (though it says it is "private").

    Movieweb are carrying a piece called "Noah Is Dirty and Not PG Says Darren Aronofsky". I couldn't get the actual page to work, but Google has it in its cache. Their article says that the project will actually be a mini-series and that it will be sci-fi adaptation of the graphic novel. Interestingly it also cites the 1976 Sunn Pictures documentary In Search of Noah's Ark as a source of inspiration, one that I've never seen, but that I know Peter Chattaway has fond memories of.

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    Friday, September 29, 2017

    mother! (2017)

    Hard quite to know what should be classified as a spoiler for this film. I've tried not to give too much away, but it's hard to discuss it without giving something away somewhere.

    A phrase that's been repeated again and again as critics seek to make sense of Darren Aronofsky's mother! (2017) is for the need for more time to process things. It's a deeply unsettling film where the intense imagery is unceasing. Those are words that describe the emotional experience of watching it as opposed to a philosophical assessment based on it's use of biblical, and indeed numerous other, archetypes, because it's a film that perhaps above all else is designed to make its audience feel. Almost every shot is taken with in the confines of the tumbledown house that Jennifer Lawrence's titular 'mother' and her partner are seeking to repair. Of it's two hour running time, 66 minutes of it are on on Lawrence's face (Kermode and Mayo, 2017) and almost all of the remaining shots in the film are taken from her point of view. It's a performance that's gained wide praise from critics. Aronofsky himself has said that despite having "watched it hundreds of times, I'm always seeing little things that she's doing that I'm just like wow! I've never seen that before" (Kermode and Mayo, 2017). There's an intensity to the film, which combined with the whirling camera and the claustrophobic atmosphere make for extremely uncomfortable viewing.

    What's interesting about mother! (small 'm', absolutely significant) is the way that on the one hand it presents the kind of film that feels unique and original (it's failure to conform to any one particular genre is doubtless part of the reason why many have dismissed it), whilst simultaneously being packed full of references and tributes to both other films and other stories. The archetypal references abound with resonances of God, Mother Earth, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Mary, "The Odyssey"'s Penelope and humanity itself rubbing shoulders with a more gnostic and eastern style philosophy.

    At the same time it evokes such diverse films as The Amityville Horror, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Rosemary's Baby, zombie movies and the work of Lars von Trier. Many have cited Buñuel's Exterminating Angel, but I see plenty of Viridana in it as well.

    Yet at the same time as the cosmic elements of allegory and parable, it's also a story about two individuals, and our differing attitudes to our private spaces. It may be an Englishman's home that is supposed to be his castle, but this attitude clearly crosses gender and continental divides.

    OK real spoilers from here on 
    Having watched this film in close proximity to a further viewing of Noah the portrayal of the Javier Bardem's character, - Him, a God/creator type character - is clearly at the forefront of my mind. Here the character is a selfish narcissist. Him is so wrapped up in garnering praise for himself he is unable to see the damage it is inflicting on what we ultimately discover is his greatest creation. Strangers appear at his door out of nowhere. Are they, too his creations, created to stroke his ego. Is Aronofsky suggesting that God is at least partly culpable for the damage that is being inflicted on our planet? Certainly there's criticism of those that turn up and take from Mother's paradise without considering how their actions are destroying it. End spoilers

    Ultimately, such readings are only those that occur to me. What is great about Aronofsky bizarre and ambiguous work is that it will speak differently to different people. The downside is that so many are horrified by it they don't like what they see.


    Friday, December 12, 2008

    More on Aronofsky's Noah Film

    There's a little more news on Darren Aronofsky's plans for his Noah film. Aronofsky purportedly finished the script back in September, he's now revealed that he's planning to release it first as a graphic novel. Aronofsky is interviewed by Rope of Silicon, and talks about the film briefly:
    RoS: Looking forward to the projects you have coming up, what is the situation with the Noah project?

    DA: We have a script actually, it is a script but there is more work to do. We’re actually going to do a graphic novel of it right now, we’re just starting it, and we’re hiring a writer.

    RoS: And are you shopping the script around to studios and actors…?

    DA: There is an actor attached, but I’m not going to say who, but he’s a big movie star.

    RoS: Steve Carell… [joking]

    DA: [With a smile] Yeah, exactly… Eventually we’ll set it up, but we’re just figuring it out. It’s a very difficult film to get made and we’re slowly working on it to get it put together.
    I wonder if part of the thinking behind the graphic novel idea is its similarity to storyboarding? And, of course, it's also a cheap way to test out the market for such a film, whilst simultaneously building that market up.

    The September interview with /film is also contains slightly odd quotation:
    It's the end of the world and it's the second most famous ship after the Titanic... I think it's really timely because it's about environmental apocalypse which is the biggest theme, for me, right now for what's going on on this planet. So I think it's got these big, big themes that connect with us. Noah was the first environmentalist. He's a really interesting character.
    Second most famous?

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    Tuesday, March 31, 2015

    The Ark (2015)

    I must admit I'm a big fan of Darren Aronofsky's Noah from 2014. It's a huge, dark exploration of- some of the textual and philosophical issues surrounding the flood story written in bold, dramatic tones. Tony Jordan's The Ark is not those things, indeed it's a very different take on the story, but none the worse for that. Out go the volcanic landscapes of Iceland, in come the warm dry Moroccan dessert. Out goes the grunting, moody grit of Russell Crowe and in comes the quirky warmth of David Threlfall, no less determined, but very much in his own fashion. Out goes the primitive, mythical operatic style of Aronofsky's film and in it's place we find an approach that probably owes more to soap opera than anything.

    Both films have been criticised for their dialogue: Crowe et al. talk in that way which is so familiar from epic films - a sort of halfway between Yoda and Frankenstein’s monster; Threlfall and family for lacking gravitas. The truth is that we don’t know how they spoke. And whilst the importance and severity of the situation Noah foresaw is enough to make anyone strip their sentences down to the bare minimum, it’s also likely that aspects of Noah’s normal family life remained as well, like catching up with cousins at a wake.

    So Jordan’s comes into it’s own. To the cynics, of course, it’s the easiest of targets. The Bible film genre is easier than most to poke fun at, purely for it’s own existence; but somehow the story of Noah is the largest and slowest moving fish in a particularly well-crammed barrel. But if you want to use film to explore the stories of the Bible, and to think about what they might have to say about our relationship to the word today then using a modern soap-operaesque approach is as legitimate as any. INdeed the nature of myth through the ages has been taking an old story and reworking it in a way that your new audience relates to.

    Interestingly The Ark starts with a shot taken under water. In a film about a flood there’s barely a drop of the stuff on display. The Ark is surely the driest Noah film on record. Not only is it set in arid desert, but the rains don’t start until the last ten minutes and even then the time spent afloat is over before it’s really started. Even the post-flood scenes take place against a sandy, dry background, asif the Ark’s inhabitants had wanted to hang on, just in case it was going to start up again.

    So the film’s wettest scene is actually of Noah’s sons, and then the patriarch himself, enjoying a bonding moment in a local oasis. It’s an indication of the way the relationships will continue throughout the film. Noah is a friendly, loved and admired father. Even when his sons think he may have lost his mind they can’t quite entirely rule out the possibility that he might be right. Time and again they honour him for the way he has brought them up.

    Whilst the film overall relies rather more on the Bible that on the Qur'an, in one important aspect it follows the Islamic version of the story - Noah has four sons rather than the more familiar three. From the moment he appears on screen you get the same feeling you have for the fate of anyone who beams down from the Starship Enterprise wearing Any sense of foreboding that presents the viewer with is only heightened by the realisation that the fourth son, Kenan, is played by the excellent Nico Mirallegro.

    Perhaps it's just because I last saw him in his excellent performance in 2014's Common, but the moment he appeared on screen as Noah's fourth son, I got the same feeling I used to get whenever an unknown actor in a red jumper beamed down from the Starship Enterprise. Somehow someone's not going to be on board at the end of the film. Either way Mirallegro is reprising the role of a young man whose punishment seems somewhat out of proportion to his “crimes”.

    But Mirallegro’s Kenan, with the link to the land of Canaan which only becomes explicit in the final scene, is where, I suspect, Jordan’s wrestles most earnestly with his subject matter. Early in the film the distinctions are more black or white (perhaps a little too literally). One the one hand is Noah a believer in God. On the other the city dwellers who worship not, as would have been most likely, an assortment of local and/or ancestral deities but instead are pre-historic new atheists. It’s a little cringeworthy, but Kenan adopts Noah’s arguments against atheism, even at one point, parrotting his argument that "[o]nly an idiot would say there is no god because to say that you'd need to know everything, and only an idiot would think they do".

    Kenan gains far more screen time than Ham, Shem and Japheth. Just as Aronofsky used the fictional Ila to pose his questions, so Jordan employs Kenan for the same purpose. When Kenan fatally writes off the deluge as just another storm, choosing to stay with his girlfriend instead you can sense Jordan’s dilemma. If atheism is idiotic, a more traditional take on the Noah story is no less troubling. The sin which has ruined the world need only be “wanting” rather than being “content”. Kenan might be sleeping with his girlfriend and enjoying the odd puff of a pipe, but his behaviour hardly seems to merit his extinction.

    Certainly, the strain of atheism Noah and his family encounters is rather anachronistic. Its followers pour scorn on the idea of an old man in the sky with a white beard millennia before the greeks would first picture Zeus in such a fashion. They argue that they “have science” and that the "universe created itself". Surely they argue if the world is designed then "Who designed the designer?"

    Elsewhere however these kind of modern-sounding objections feel much more realistic, most notably when first Noah’s wife and then his sons respond to his plan to escape the world’s watery demise. “Won't they all eat each other?” asks Mrs Noah (played wonderfully by Joanne Whalley). “Can’t we just escape to higher ground?” suggests one of his sons.

    It’s these interactions which feel the most natural and are, for me, the the strongest part of the film, whereas the earlier scenes had felt a little too stereotypical. Noah and his godly family are white: the non-white characters are the sinners who will drown. The women either deny sex to their husbands, or are too frigid (and I would estimate that the length of time discussing sex is far greater than the time The Noahs ultimately spend afloat).

    Thankfully this seems to change once a “messenger” appears from God and instructs Noah to expand his farming-come-boat-building business (making a line drawing in the sand as if Noah was unsure what a boat looked like). It becomes a spot Noah returns to as the story progresses, the rains seem delayed and even his faith starts to waiver. The messenger however does not return until the very end of the film, and even then only to pose the question "Will Man learn his lesson?”

    Gradually, though, people start to come around. First Noah’s wife, then his sons and daughters in law. Whilst Noah’s preaching in the city appeared, initially, not to have gained any new converts to his cause, later on a handful of followers turn up. And then, at last, the animals appear, and, just as Noah’s wife had predicted, the family end up having to “make a dash for it when it starts raining."

    The animals appearance is one of the films boldest and best choices and allows the films focus to remain on the human drama at the heart of the story. It also allows it to capture a strange kind of fear as the doors to the ark close and suddenly a bunch of strangers realise they are trapped in a confined space with one another and bunch of equally frightened animals.

    If the ending is rather twee, it’s perhaps because Jordan didn’t want to include it at all. Like the writer of the book of Hebrews Jordan’s interest is more in Noah as a man of faith than the more Old Testament ideas of origins and covenant. Purportedly the first draft of the script ended with very first drop of rain. Whilst that might have felt a little under-done, it’s testimony to Jordan’s writing skills that the happy ending and the token appearance of the rainbow feels a little surplus to requirements.

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    Wednesday, January 07, 2015

    Bible Films Blog Review of 2014

    In previous years, I’ve offered a review of the year, although this has rather fallen by the wayside in recent time. However, 2014 was a bit of a stonker, so it would seem remiss not to do at least something.

    The big news was, of course, the long awaited release of a number of biblical epics, which hit not just the odd art-house cinema, or graced a local congregation with a decentish video projector, but in the local, everyday cinemas. Russell Crowe was talking about Noah in primetime TV shows. The Guardian was offering opinion pieces about Moses every time Ridley Scott coughed in a vaguely atheistic manner.

    As it turned out neither film made the, um, waves, that their respective studios had hoped for and neither director will be pleased to hear that they are more likely to win a Razzie than an Oscar come the spring.

    But before all that there was the matter of the Son of God - not so much the actual one as the cinema release of the Gospel footage from the History Channel’s 2013 series The Bible. Cutting down a TV series to a movie is a risky strategy. On the one hand the popularity of the “best of” genre might mean that he TV series might just be part of a lengthy marketing campaign – the world’s longest ever trailer if you like. But the question still remained, why would people get in their cars, drive out of town and pay through the nose to watch something they have already seen for “free”?

    As it turned out Son of God did rather well, perhaps because compelling answers were found to that question. Buying a ticket to Son of God was a statement of faith, a chance to send a message to Hollywood. Or you could buy two and bring along a friend with whom you wanted to share your faith.

    From an artistic point of view however the quality of the product was largely the same as that of the original 2013 series. Jesus was still too blond and off-puttingly good looking; the dialogue and the acting still left a great deal to be desired; and it still wasn’t really clear what Jesus was actually about other than being nice.

    One Bible film hero who eluded, with consummate ease, any charge of being overly nice, was Russell Crowe’s Noah, who shifted from grunting environmentalist to genocidal maniac over the course of Darren Aronofsky’s Noah. It’s the kind of precipice along which many edge along when they tell us how bad humans in general, and children in particular, are bad for the environment? But that’s another matter.

    Actually the scenes where Noah contemplates whether he should kill his own granddaughter were, in my opinion, rather misunderstood. Noah didn’t want to murder members of his own family, he just thought it might be what “The Creator” was calling him to do. After all it was the logical extension of what he had already done – a point that may of the faithful struggle to appreciate. It was a great performance from Crowe, but the terrain of unlikeable anti-hero seemed to leave the film, rather than just its antihero rather unloved. It was a shame. Aronofsky’s bizarre epic was drenched in biblical and other religious references, many of which weren’t even half as odd as the original text.

    December is often a busy time of year for those of us interested in Bible films and 2014 would prove no exception. In the cinema Ridley Scott's Exodus: Gods and Kings (my review ) received a fairly lukewarm welcome in many western countries and was banned in several countries in North Africa and the Middle East. In the current climate it's hard to know which is more damaging, western indifference or Egyptian anger.

    In the west the film's biggest talking point was the supposed white washing, casting Joel Edgerton and Christian Bale as an Egyptian and someone who manages to pass as an Egyptian for forty years. I must admit I can see both sides of the argument. On the one hand Christian art has always portrayed the faith's heroes in its own image as a way of relating to them. At the same time, as my comments above about Son of God suggest I also like to see more realistic casting.

    One film that did embrace a more ethnically accurate Jesus was The Gospel of John the latest output from the Lumo Project (an offshoot of Big Book Media). The series, which is available on Netflix, narrates John's Gospel over dramatized reconstructed video footage. Jesus is played by Selva Rasalingam who is half Tamil. If his face is familiar it’s because he has been playing Jesus in various Lumo/Big Book projects over the last few years, including the music video for Deliriou5?'s "History Maker" and the BBC’s The Story of Jesus (2011). Also part of those projects, as well as 2012’s David Suchet: In the Footsteps of St Paul, is director David Batty.

    The Lumo Project will eventually cover all four gospels in the same style, and Netflix features narration in both the King James and the New International versions of the Bible. As a medium it’s very similar to the Genesis Project’s Gospel of Luke (1979) which starred Brian Deacon and was recut as Jesus (1979), certainly it’s quite different in feel from other the two Visual Bible word for word projects Matthew (1994) and Gospel of John (2003).

    Given that John’s Gospel only received the word for word treatment 11 years ago, it’s surprising that the filmmakers have chosen to start with John, particularly as John’s wordy gospel is perhaps the one least suited to such a treatment. Personally I wished they’d opted for the only gospel not, yet, to have been filmed this way, Mark. But that will later this year if the IMDb is to be believed. Hopefully it will get a UK Netflix release as well. Incidentally 2015 will also see Rasalingam star as James in a Jesus-cameo film Clavius

    The appearance of The Gospel of John on Netflix seems to reflect a broader trend of niche faith-based films being broadcast away from traditional channels. Another such production in 2014 was The Red Tent, an adaptation of Anita Diamant’s historicalish novel of the same name. Diamant’s novel took the stories from around Genesis around Leah and Jacob’s daughter Dinah and re-imagines Shechem as her lover rather than her rapist. Young’s mini-series, which aired on the Lifetime network early in December, cast Rebecca Ferguson, star of 2013’s excellent The White Queen’s, and also features Minnie Driver, Debra Winger, Morena Baccarin and Hiam Abbass in prominent roles. Peter Chattaway has a great interview about the series with the director Roger Young.

    The other TV film worth a mention was the BBC animated short film On Angel Wings, which aired in the UK on Christmas Eve. It starred an old man recalling the visit of the Angels on the first Christmas night to the group of shepherds he worked for and how one angel secretly flew him to the stable so he got to meet the baby Jesus. Readers may recall my enjoyment of the Fourth King a fictional tale about the magi. On Angel Wings would make a good companion piece dealing as it does with Jesus' other Christmas visitors.

    Then there were several smaller films which brought the more poetic parts of the Bible to the screen. The Song re-imagined the life of King Solomon as an amorous country singer, with nods to both Song of Songs/Solomon and Ecclesiastes. Meanwhile Amos Gitai directed one of the short films in the anthology film Words with Gods. Gitai already has two fine Bible films under his wings, [Esther (1996) and Golem: l'esprit de l'exil (1992)] and here he took the on the work of his namesake, the prophet Amos.

    Perhaps the most significant of the films dealing with the more poetic parts of the Bible was Andrey Zvyagintsev's Leviathan. As with The Song it took the form of a modern story, this time the story revolves around a man fighting corruption in the coastal town where he lives, but there is also a healthy dose of the Book of Job. It's also likely to be the most successful of those films with a substantial link to the Bible, having been Russia's entry for the foreign language Oscar it's now one of the final nominations and has already won the Golden Globe in the same category.*

    Documentary-wise it was a fairly light year, though it's more than possible I missed something. David Suchet did feature in In the Footsteps of St. Peter, the follow up to his 2013 In the Footsteps of St Paul .

    However, there were a couple of new books about Bible Films that are worth a mention. David Shepherd's "The Bible on Silent Film" looks to be an excellent guide to an under-discussed period in the genre's development. I couldn't afford the hardback or a Kindle editions so I've only read excerpts but the bits I've read are full of fascinating detail and insight. Technically the hard back was released right at the end of 2013, but seeing as the paper back will be released in March this year, we can split the difference. I'm looking forward to getting a copy.

    Another book to touch upon the sub-genre is Graham Holderness' "Re-Writing Jesus: Christ in 20th-Century Fiction and Film" which touched on Last Temptation of Christ, The Passion of the Christ and The DaVinci Code, as well as various books about the life of Jesus. There were also various books released related to the films mentioned above including a picture book for the team behind Son of God.

    And lastly there was a conference. Not so much about a Jesus Films as a very close relation. "Jesus and Brian: or What Have the Pythons Ever Done for us?" ran for three days in June in Kings College, London and featured an impressive team of speakers, including John Cleese and Terry Jones, and even gained some national press coverage. Sadly neither time, nor money, nor health, permitted me to be there, but Mark Goodacre made it, blogged about it and did rather rub salt in the wounds of those of us who would have loved to be there but weren't. I mean, he got to meet John Cleese.

    Anyway 2015 promises a great deal. There are various films due for release about which Peter Chattaway is doing some great blogging. He also posts numerous things on the Bible Films Facebook page, for which I'm incredibly grateful. There's also a few books to look out for, including David Shepherd's follow up volume "The Silents of Jesus" and there might even be a book with a couple of chapters by myself to report on in next year's review of the year.

    *There were some subsequent edits here, made after the Oscar nominations

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    Thursday, January 04, 2018

    Bible Films Blog Review of 2017

    Occasionally at the end of one year or the start of the next I like to do a little review of the previous year. Some years it happens, some years it doesn't. If nothing else though, this year I feel a little more on top of things so given that it's been a reasonably interesting year I thought I would revive the tradition.

    Perhaps the most significant thing this year was the release of Sony's The Star. Living in a small town in the UK, it's a reasonable measure of the significance/size of a film if it plays at my local cinema and as with Ben-Hur last year, The Star did. It was also the first animated Bible film to do so since 2000's The Miracle Maker. My review is here.

    Far less widely released was the similarly themed, but more thoughtful and serious, Chasing the Star, (my review) which had a limited release in a select part of the US before a planned early release on DVD. As things worked out it was released only a few weeks before one of its stars, Rance Howard, died.

    There were a number of other cinema releases as well that were of interest to readers of this blog, even if not quite matching my typical definition of a Bible film. Technically Le fils de Joseph - which told a modern day story but with heavy biblical imagery - debuted last year, but it's main cinema run was this year. Darren Aronofsky, director 2014's Noah, ploughed a similar furrow with mother! It gained a far wider release and became one of the year's most talked about films as critics tended to either love it or hate it. Audiences stayed away more than was expected. Lastly, Martin Scorsese's Silence is definitely not a Bible film, even though it's sure to rank on many most spiritual film lists for years to come.

    Releases to DVD/Bluray/downloads and streaming have become so complicated now that I'm not going to go into them all, just to pick out the two most significant of the year. Firstly, Day of Triumph (1954) is one of those films that has been on my radar for years - one of the first times I imported a film from the US around the turn of the millennium - and it was finally released for home viewing again this year. There are plans to remaster it, but no news on that yet.

    Secondly, came the release of Straub and Huillet's adaptation of Schoenberg's Moses und Aron (1973). At the time I heard of this I was under the impression it had never been released for home viewing, but it turns out there was a limited release a few years ago that I missed. With second hand copies of that currently going for over £200, it's good to see it get a re-release, particularly as two of Straub and Huillet's other films are included in the package. I wrote a few bits in preparation for this release last year, and I plan to write two or three more pieces on it this year, covering the opera itself, the film itself and perhaps a review of the set as a whole.

    I tend to be less interested in Bible documentaries though I make a point of seeing them if they crop up on terrestrial. I only managed to catch the PBS/Channel 5 documentary Last Days of Jesus this year. It lent rather too heavily on Simcha Jacobovici for my tastes. Next year might prove interesting in this respect as Helen Bond has edited a book about TV documentaries called "The Bible on Television", lined up for publication later this month.

    Lastly, books. The main news here was the publication of "Noah as Anithero: Darren Aronofsky's Cinematic Deluge", edited by Rhonda Burnette-Bletsch (who edited the book in which I had two chapters two years ago) and‎ Jon Morgan. It's the latest in a string of offerings from Routledge and included essays from Robert K Johnston, David Shepherd, Richard Walsh and David Tollerton. Many of the same authors will also feature in two more volumes being published this year, a similar volume on Exodus Gods and Kings edited by David Tollerton and "The T&T Clark Companion to the Bible and Film" which will feature another chapter from me.

    Two other books - a little more tangential to the core of what I cover here did catch my eye. S. Brent Plate edited the four volume "Film and Religion" as part of Routledge's "Critical Concepts in Media and Cultural Studies" series. Not dissimilarly, Wendy I. Zierler's "Movies and Midrash: Popular Film and Jewish Religious Conversation" looked at films such as Magnolia and Memento from a Jewish perspective.

    In terms of this blog I have covered a few mini-topics through out the year. The main one was a more thorough look at Nativity films (largely out of season). But I also wrote a few pieces on the epic genre, the Resurrection on Film, A.D. The Bible Continues, Daniel films and Moses und Aron. I also staked out my intentions regarding what I'm going to be covering moving forward, which is hopefully going to lead to finishing the first draft of a book this year. Well it's a New Year's Resolution, at least...


    Friday, October 30, 2009

    Rising India to Fund Noah's Ark

    There are so many films about Noah rumoured to be on the way that news about any one of them sends me scurrying thorugh my previous posts on Noah films to try and work out which is the one that is being discusses. Anyway, the latest ark story to emerge on the pages of Variety concerns the Bob Funk / Unified pictures film Noah's Ark. The story simply says that US based company Rising India will be funding it to the tune of $40 million. Whether this is on top of or instead of previous financiers remains to be seen. In the current financial climate though it's encouraging to see companies still financing these movies as I suspect that many of the films I have previously mentioned as being in production will never get made as a result of it.

    Here's the latest list anyway:
  • Not the End of the World - Illuminated Films
  • Unnamed Noah Film - Darren Aronofsky
  • Sold Out! - Uri Paster
  • Aardvark Art's Ark - Warner Bros. / Casey Affleck (above)
  • The Flood - Promenade Pictures' sequel to The Ten Commandments (2007)
  • Rock the Boat - French animation (Gaumont)
  • Noah's Ark - Unified Pictures / Bob Funk
  • El Arca - Patagonik (Argentina)
  • The Missing Lynx - Kandor Graphics
  • Thanks to Peter Chattway for the latest addition.

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    Sunday, February 11, 2024

    Which Bible Films Celebrate a Significant Anniversary in 2024?

    This should really have been a start of the year post, but I'm thinking about possible screenings I could introduce or films reaching significant milestones this year that might be good to write about / talk about at festivals / discuss on podcasts etc. so I thought it would be good to create a (non-exhaustive) list of the main ones.

    100 years (1924) 

    Die Sklavenkönigin (The Moon of Israel, Michael Curtiz)
    Quo Vadis? (Gabriellino D'Annunzio & Georg Jacoby)

    75 years (1949)

    Samson and Delilah (Cecil B. DeMille)

    70 years (1954)

    Day of Triumph (John T. Coyle & Irving Pichel)
    Demetrius and the Gladiators (Delmer Daves)
    The Silver Chalice (Victor Saville)

    60 years (1964)

    Il vangelo secondo Matteo (The Gospel According to Matthew, Pier Paolo Pasolini)
    Saul e David (Marcello Baldi)

    50 years (1974)

    Moses the Lawgiver (Gianfranco De Bosio)
    The Story of Jacob and Joseph (Michael Cacoyannis)

    40 years (1984)

    Samson and Delilah (Lee Philips)
    Second Time Lucky (Michael Anderson)

    35 years (1989)

    Jésus de Montréal (Denys Arcand)
    Visons of Ecstasy (Nigel Wingrove)

    30 years (1994)

    Al-mohager (The Emigrant, Youssef Chahine)
    Genesis: Creation and Flood (Ermanno Olmi)
    Jacob (Peter Hall)

    25 years (1999)

    La Genèse (Genesis, Cheick Oumar Sissoko)
    (Roger Young)
    Mary, Mother of Jesus (Kevin Connor)
    Noah's Ark (John Irvin)

    20 years (2004)

    The Passion of the Christ (Mel Gibson)
    Shanti Sandesham (P Chandrasekhar Reddy)
    Judas (Charles Robert Carner)

    10 years (2014)
    Exodus: Gods and Kings (Ridley Scott)
    Noah (Daren Aronofsky) 
    The Red Tent (Roger Young) 
    Son of God (Christopher Spencer)
    The Savior (Robert Savo)

    I guess there are three that really stand out for me at least. Firstly, the 60th anniversary of Pasolini's Il Vangelo secondo Matteo (The Gospel According to Matthew, 1964). It's a film that has interested me for a long time and one I've written about both here and in print many times, particularly last year when I contributed a (extra-long) chapter on it for Ken Morefield's book "Film as an Expression of Spirituality: The Arts and Faith Top 100 Films".

    Then there's the 75 year mark for Cecil B. DeMille's Samson and Delilah (1949) a film which really kick-started the 1950s revival of classical era historical movies in general and of biblical films in particular.

    The other is the 20 year anniversary of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ (2004). The milestone is much smaller, but the film still looms relatively large in the collective mind and has been quite significant in its impact it's had on what has come to be called "faith-based" films. The experience of that film being released was formative for me -- I learnt so much from the debates and the scholarship that surrounded the movie.

    Anyway, if you're a cinema/church planning on screening any of these films; a festival organiser wanting someone to discuss them; an editor looking for an article on them; or a podcaster who'd like a knowledgeable guest to chat about them, then it would be great to hear from you.

    Lastly, there are obviously a bunch of films I've missed off (some due to debatable dates, but are there any major ones I've not included?). 

    Sunday, December 08, 2019

    Greatest Heroes of the Bible: The Story of Noah

    In terms of biblical chronology, this is the earliest story, and whilst the series wasn't broadcast in biblical order - the episode covering the Tower of Babel didn't air for another six months, for example - the first part of it did screen on the series' first day (Campbell and Pitts). The episode is presented as a single/joint episode in the complete box set that was released on DVD a couple of years ago.

    The programme starts with a five minute creation sequence, very much in the mould of Huson's The Bible (1966) but with only a fraction of the budget. Then we are introduced to the main story, with a a certain amount of invented subplot to flesh things out a little. Here it takes what would is looking like the standard plot line for the series. God's "hero" is part of a tiny band of the faithful who take on a larger majority who are indifferent, if not openly hostile, to God. When conflict arises God intervenes in dramatic fashion. I've still got a way to work through the series but most of the episodes I have already reviewed follow this pattern. Slavery is a common motif - almost the defining sin of those who oppose God. As usual the invented parts of the plot are spruced up with biblical language even if it is found in completely the wrong context. "You shall surely die" Noah is warned at one point by the city's Karmir (with echoes of Airplane).

    Here Noah is specifically marked out as a proto-John the Baptist - he even describes himself as a voice crying in the wilderness. Noah is played by Lew Ayres, whose career almost spanned back to the silent era, though he is best known for his role for 1930's All Quiet on the Western Front and for being Dr. Kildare in nine movies filmed in the early 1940s. Ayres, a conscientious objector in WWII cuts a far more sympathetic figure than Russell Crowe in Aronofsky's recent Noah (2014). That said, there is one scene from Aronfsky's film that is very similar to one here, where the people of the local settlement, spurred on by their charismatic if self-obsessed patriarch, attack the ark just moments before the rains come.

    Special effects are somewhat mixed. A now familiar drawn-on bolt of lightning accounts for the city's high priest. Likewise God's voice comes from a billowing cloud. Aside from that the use of (presumably) a miniature ark combined well with footage that shows a torrent rushing through trees, and people slipping off rocks into the water. The effects are rather undermined by other shots and sequencing, however. Noah and his family emerge from the ark into the bone-dry, arid deserts of (presumably) Southern California, looking as if it hasn't seen rain for months, rather than having been under water until recently.

    Ayres does a pretty good job in the lead role, even if he is given some rather pungent dialogue at times. The acting of those who oppose him is pretty hammy, but again, that's emerging as a standard feature of the series as a whole.

    Campbell, Richard H. and Pitts, Michael R., (1981) The Bible on Film: A Checklist, 1897-1980, Metuchen, N.J., & London: The Scarecrow Press.

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    Monday, June 21, 2021

    Cover Art For My Book

    As I mentioned back in January, I have a book due out next year - "100 Bible Films" which I'll be mentioning more of as the publication date draws in. For now, though, I'm delighted to share with you the cover art.

    The book is part of the BFI's "Screen Guides" series so much of the look is determined by that, but I recently got hold of a hard copy of Barry Keith Grant's "100 Science Fiction Films" and it made me very excited it's so beautifully designed. The book is roughly 20cm sq. and has lots of nice pictures in as well as the discussion about each film. I'm pleased with the use of Aronofsky's Noah (20140, it's both one of th emore thoughtful Bile films in recent years and one of those I've enjoyed the most.

    Anyway, apologies there's not been much content from me recently but I'm working on the finishing touches. Normal service will resume shortly...


    Friday, January 17, 2020

    Good Omens (2019)
    Episode 1:In the Beginning

    There's a surprising amount of biblically themed television on at the moment. Before Christmas Netflix released the one off First Temptation of Christ and they followed it up on New Year's Day with their modern-day series Messiah. The end of 2019 also saw the crowd funded app-release of The Chosen (read more at FilmChat) and now, just two weeks into 2020 and the BBC has broadcast the first episode of Good Omens a quaint comedy drama about the anti-Christ.

    It's usually clear how seriously the BBC is taking a production by the quality of the cast. Here Good Omens stars Neil Tennant and Michael Sheen suggesting this is a fairly high priority in their New Year's schedule. Tennant and Sheen play Crowley and Aziraphale (ever destined to be called "the other one" in our house) an angel and a demon who have been watching the fate of humanity since the Garden of Eden.

    The first episode starts with an introductory monologue delivered very much in the style of the original The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, only it soon emerges the narrator (Frances McDormand, more acting nous) is actually God. Then we're transported to the Garden of Eden, a small green enclave set in the wilderness (see here) where a snake emerges to tempt Eve, who passes the apple to Adam and moments later the two are stepping out into the wilderness.

    Adam and Eve scenes are hardly novel (see my list) but this brief segment is interesting for three reasons. Firstly, because Adam and Eve are both played by actors with African heritage, which will please all those who favour a relatively close alliance between Genesis and current scientific theory, (particularly the theory that Mitochondrial Eve was from Africa). Secondly, because the serpent here is very reminiscent of that in Darren Aronofsky's Noah (2014), particularly because of the way the camera is more concerned with the snake than either of the humans. And then lastly because Eve and Adam leave Eden with the flaming sword. Wait a minute, what?

    The shot cuts to a now-flaming swordless Aziraphale (Sheen) standing on top of the walls of Eden. As he scans the horizon, he's joined by the snake who quickly transforms into the almost human form of Crowley (Tennant). The two get to chatting and it gradually turns out that they are both somewhat ambivalent about their commander's orders and concerned they might have already messed up their special roles. And it's this humanising of the supernatural beings which is the heart of the series. Sheen admits he gave away the flaming sword out of concern for Adam and Eve's welfare. Tennant that banishing them from the Garden was "a bit of an overreaction". "I can't see what's so bad about knowing the difference between good and evil anyway". Sheen worries he did the wrong thing, to which Tennant shares his own concern that he may have done the wrong thing.

    [Ep.1 Spoilers] The two strike up an unlikely friendship, such that when the show fast forwards to just before the present day, they are still friends. The Anti-Christ is about to be born to the wife of a privileged White-House chief of staff. There's a mix-up at the hospital and the baby somehow goes home with the wrong couple. Meanwhile Crowley suggests to Aziraphale that Armageddon is good for neither of them and the two hatch a plan to work together incognito. Crowley's bad influence will be counteracted by Aziraphale's good influence - both will be able to claim they are acting in their employers best interests. Crowley by doing his job, Aziraphale by making the anti-Christ less evil.[End Spoilers] By the end of the episode we are up to the present day, though the period details are deliberately mixed up, presumably to give things a more universal flavour (time-wise at least, the series is stereotypically British)

    It's an interesting premise, with more than a few nods to Peter Cooke and Dudley Moore's Bedazzled (1967). There is some great writing made all the better by Tennant and Sheen's delivery. Part 2 of the six part series goes out next Wednesday at 9pm.

    Edit: I should also point out that this series first aired on Amazon Prime in Spring 2019, but as I don't subscribe to that service it had passed me by. The finer details of its release also passed-by a group of Christian campaigners called Return to Order who got 20,000 signatures on a petition to Netflix to cancel to show only to discover when Netflix duly obliged that it was only available on Amazon Prime...

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    Saturday, December 16, 2023

    30 Million Hours Watching The Chosen

    Netflix just released its annual viewing statistics for the first time. This is naturally very interesting for stats geeks like me, and naturally it wasn't long until I started seeing the figures for various biblical productions.

    Most strikingly, 2023 saw 30.9 million hours spent watching The Chosen on Netflix, 27.6 million in English, with a further 3 million hours spent viewing the series in Spanish. It's perhaps not surprising that Dallas Jenkins' crowdfunded series, which has been running since 2019, was the highest placed biblical show on the list. 

    The English and Spanish versions are counted separately meaning that the The Chosen's 27.6 million hours viewed puts it in Netflix's 728th position for 2023, but given there are 18,215 productions in the dataset, this is a good performance. Darren Aronofsky's Noah (2014) did slightly better, coming in 653rd based on 29.5 million hours – fewer than The Chosen's overall total but higher than the English language version alone.

    Other Bible movies and shows fared less well. Perhaps the biggest surprise was the lowly 1,800,000 hours spent watching Monty Python's Life of Brian (6259th). I'm not sure whether this shows that the film is far less popular overseas than it is in the UK, or that fewer of its traditional fan-base are watching it than before due to it playing the trans character for laughs, or perhaps both. Paul the Apostle of Christ (2018) had 200,000 hours, leaving it at 12,061st place and Davis's Mary Magdalene came in 16,337th and Youssef Chahine's The Emigrant came in at 17,457th despite both gaining 100,000 hours viewed. 

    If Netflix repeat this exercise it'll be interesting to see how The Chosen performs next year, given its fourth series is being released on February 1st. I'm not sure if it will appear on the platform from that date, or whether it will take a little longer.

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    Sunday, October 02, 2016

    Joshua Films Redux

    Back in 2009 I wrote a post on films about Joshua but I was a little short on ideas. Since then, however, I've become aware of several more, and indeed thought of several I should have included in the first place, so I thought it was about time I revisited the subject.

    Filmmakers have approached the character of Joshua and the book that bears his name in three main ways: metaphorically, as a minor character in films about Moses and as the "hero" in adaptations of the Book of Joshua.

    The earliest film to evoke Joshua was the silent film The Walls of Jericho (dir. Lloyd B. Carleton, 1914) but this was a modern day drama that used a story from the book of Joshua as a metaphorical reference point. A more famous example of this approach occurs in It Happened One Night (dir. Frank Capra, 1934) where Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert are forced to share a room together. To preserve propriety Gable hangs a blanket between their beds, but when the blanket comes down in the morning it's clear that Colbert's defences have too. She is now in love with him.

    A more popular approach has been to include Joshua as a minor character in the story of Moses, as
    Joshua also appears fleetingly in the Pentateuch. The two most famous filmic appearances of Joshua are John Derek's portrayal of him in DeMille's 1956 version of The Ten Commandments and Aaron Paul's in Exodus: Gods and Kings (dir. Ridley Scott, 2014). In both films Joshua is portrayed as a upright, likeable and loyal assistant to Moses. In many ways however Joshua functions as a semi-fictional character - neither film features Pentateuchal episodes and he acts more as a stand-in for the audience. This is particularly true of Paul who poses the kinds of questions that the audience might also be asking.

    The more extensive adaptations of Moses have featured incidents such as the victory over the Amalekites or his spying mission into Canaan. Moses the Lawgiver (dir. Gianfranco de Bosio, 1975) includes both of these incidents although the former is curiously unlike the biblical account. Instead of a battle led by Joshua whilst Aaron and Hur hold Moses' arms aloft, a fictional character comes up with a plan, which is then executed in the middle of the night Joshua's role is minimised. He is shown as one of the twelve spies however, and the closing scenes feature a montage of his victories over the Canaanites.

    Also notable are Moses (dir.Roger Young, 1996) which includes ends with Joshua being commissioned, making his speech from the start of the Book of Joshua and then flashes forward to Joshua's final speech; and The Ten Commandments (dir. Robert Dornhelm, 2006) which includes the defeat of the Amalekites.

    Given the controversy surrounding the Israelite's conquest in Canaan it's perhaps not surprising that filmmakers have tended to avoid portraying either Joshua the man, or any of the episodes from the book that bears his name. The only episode from the Book of Joshua to have been adapted – with the exception of The Living Bible's Joshua - The Conqueror (dir. Edward Dew, 1958) - is the fall of Jericho. Portrayals of this incident have handled the question of divinely authorised violence in very different ways.

    Dew's unvarnished film offers little interpretation aside from choosing not to show any of the inhabitants of Jericho other than Rahab's family, denying their voice and their humanity. The effect of not doing so becomes apparent moments later when Achan is stoned for theft. Giving him a voice makes the sentence seem unfair, a voice those from Jericho were denied.

    Nine years later Joshua appeared again in the US TV series The Time Tunnel where each week two scientists materialised in a different historical period. The only story from the Bible to be covered by the series is The Walls of Jericho (1967), but crucially here the scientists are transported to their next adventure before the walls of the city come tumbling down.

    A different appraoch is that of Joshua at Jericho (dir. James L. Conway, 1978) from the Greatest Heroes of the Bible series which significantly distorts the biblical text to make the divinely sanctioned violence less unpalatable. Jericho is "controlled by ruthless Hittites" who commit human sacrifices; various ethically dubious acts occur inside the city; Jericho's pudgy king is childish, whining and irritating, whilst the head of his army is proud, stubborn and arrogant. There's even a scene where the Hittites steal the Israelites' children in order to sacrifice them to their gods. In essence, the film does everything it possibly can to demonise the residents of Jericho and paint them in a negative light, such that it's almost impossible to feel sympathy for them.

    In contrast the episode Homeland (dir. Tony Mitchell, 2013) from the History Channel's dramatised series The Bible does not seem to find the idea of divine violence particularly troubling. Indeed, many other episodes in the series enhance existing violent elements in the various stories, or invent them where none is to be found in the text. Such invention is minimised in this episode however, normalising the actions of Joshua and his soldiers. It also emphasises God's role in the city's destruction, not only sending an angel to inform Joshua of his mission, but also heavily use of special effects as Jericho's walls come tumbling down. Joshua himself is portrayed as an affable, calm and approachable general.

    Surprisingly given the subject matter there are also several animated versions of the story including those from The Greatest Heroes and Legends in the Bible series narrated by Charlton Heston's voice, Hannah-Barbera's Greatest Adventure Stories of the Bible, the Beginners Bible, an entry from the "Bible Stories for Children" series called Joshua and the Promised Land and Veggie Tales' version Josh and the Big Wall! (1997).

    There is a potential fourth approach which has not yet been tried, namely making a subversive version adaptation of this story, in a similar vein to Aronofsky's Noah, which portrays Joshua as a villain overseeing a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the indigenous Canaanites. However, it would likely alienate a lot of the key target audience and given the furore around Noah and the fact that Joshua's story is less well known such an adaptation seems unlikely at the moment. Furthermore the most recent adaptation from The Bible series suggests that, far from finding Joshua's campaign in Canaan troubling, the likely target audience for a further adaptation of this story might find the violence more palatable than previous generations, rather than less.

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    Monday, September 15, 2008

    Noah Films Still Flooding In

    Peter Chattaway links to the Jerusalem Post's article about Israeli director Uri Paster (King of Beggars). In it they discuss his move to Hollywood and his first project Sold Out! - a contemporary musical on the story of Noah:
    Noah is presented as history's first stage director, and he puts the animals through auditions before they are assigned places on the ark, or rejected.

    The cast of characters gives new meaning to the word multiethnic, reflecting the roles of Noah's three sons - Shem, Ham and Japheth - as the forefathers of all mankind. And mankind, in this case, includes an Algerian musician, a Reform rabbi, a black rapper, a hassidic tenor, a Hungarian stripper, a Chinese opera singer, a French pop vocalist, Jewish kids and, for good measure, a bisexual producer. Everyone, though, speaks English. The ark itself becomes the setting for a Broadway show, with Noah's wife as the producer.
    By my count this is the eighth film about Noah to go into production in recent years (not counting last year's Evan Almighty which has already been released). Back at the end of July FilmChat also carried the story that Warner Bros. were working on an animated film about Noah's Ark along with Casey Affleck (pictured above in Vanity Fair's re-shot still from Hitchcock's Lifeboat. According to The Hollywood Reporter, that film, Aardvark Art, is about "a group of animals who are stranded when they are not chosen to go on Noah's Ark".

    Here's the complete list of all eight:
  • Unnamed Noah Film - Darren Aronofsky
  • Sold Out! - Uri Paster (above)
  • Aardvark Art - Warner Bros. / Casey Affleck (above)
  • The Flood - Promenade Pictures' sequel to The Ten Commandments (2007)
  • Rock the Boat - French animation (Gaumont)
  • Noah's Ark - Unified Pictures / Bob Funk
  • El Arca - Patagonik (Argentina)
  • The Missing Lynx - Kandor Graphics
  • As well as omitting Evan Almighty, I've also excluded the somewhat tangential Polish film Ark which played in Vancouver amongst other places at the end of last year.

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    Saturday, January 17, 2015

    2015's Coming Attractions

    This post has been edited more than once to add in extra films omitted in error when it was originally published.
    Having reviewed 2014's Bible film offerings I thought it would be a good idea to preview some of the films that will be appearing on both the big and small screen across the course of the next 12 months. In contrast to last year - where it was the films based on the Hebrew Bible which were in the majority, this year it's almost entirely New Testament films. So in no particular order here's what's coming up in 2015.

    Last Days in the Desert
    Arguably the most interesting sounding of this year's offerings is Last Days in the Desert which premieré's at the Sundance film festival in a few days time. It's had a good deal of press coverage, not least in the UK, due mainly to the presence of Ewan MacGregor as both Jesus and Satan. The film will deal with Jesus' 40 days in the desert and also stars The Nativity Story's Ciarán Hinds. The official website is still a bit sparse, but Christianity Today has a lengthy interview with both MacGregor and director Rodrigo Garcia.

    A.D. (NBC)
    If the premise of Last Days sounds like it might be sailing a little close to the wind for some, one production that will be playing it considerably safer will be NBC's 12-hour New Testament series A.D.. To some it's a sequel to 2013's The Bible; to others a remake of the 1985 series of the same name, though that film was also often referred to as Anno Domini. NBC have done away with all that, ensuring that the series will be impossible to search for, if a little easier to tweet about. The trailer for the film was released a few days ago and features Peter and Jesus fairly prominently, but not a great deal of Saul/Paul. There's a little more on NBC's official site as well as a companion site featuring a glut of resources for churches and character profiles. The series premieré is on Easter Sunday (5th April 2015).

    Another film certain to feature legions of Roman armies is Clavius starring the other, other, other child star of the Harry Potter series, Tom Felton. Felton will play alongside Joseph Fiennes in the story about "an agnostic Roman legionnaire" who is "thrust into the trial and crucifixion of Jesus Christ". Details are still emerging, not least whether it is Felton or Fiennes who will play the titular character, and when, in relation to the death of Jesus, will the story start and end. It's also unclear just how much of a cameo Jesus will play in this film. Fiennes' brother, of course, played the part of Jesus in The Miracle Maker.

    National Geographic’s Killing Jesus
    or, "It's a Jesus film, only this time...it's franchised". National Geographic have had a good degree of success with Killing Lincoln and Killing Kennedy, both based on Bill O'Reilly's and Martin Dugard's books of the same name, so you can see why they were tempted to jump back to the first century to film Killing Jesus as well. It's a little unclear when this is going to air, but it too may be an interesting project, not least because it features a Muslim playing the role of Jesus (Haaz Sleiman). It'll also feature Kelsey Grammer as Herod, as well as Stephen Moyer and Bible Films veteran John Rhys-Davies.

    Finding Jesus: Faith Fact Forgery (CNN)
    Finding Jesus is a six part documentary from CNN examining some of the historical artifacts surrounding the historical Jesus. In contrast to many of the exaggerated claims made for some of these artifacts, the documentary will take a more rational approach, carefully examining the evidence. The six sessions will cover, The Turin Shorud, John the Baptist (including the John the Baptist's finger relic), Judas (including the Gospel of Judas), the secret brother of Jesus (with the James Ossuary), the true cross (fragments of the cross relics) and Mary Magdalene (covering all that Da Vinci Code malarkey). Mark Goodacre is the series' lead consultant and you can find out more on the programme's official website.

    Another Bible films veteran, Ben Kingsley, will also play the role of Herod in Mary, a film with a long, and some would say troubled, past from the pen of Barbara Nicolosi. Nicolosi has been involved since at least 2008, and then the talk was of that being a fifth draft of the script. Since then big names have come and gone (Al Pacino), the title has become more Aramaic sounding and then shortened back to just Mary, but there's still no sign of a website and the release date of April 2015 on the IMDb is looking a little unlikely. Perhaps given the Easter competition, the producers are thinking that the run up to Christmas might be a better time to release the film. Or perhaps this story is going to keep running for a good while yet.

    Lumo Project (Big Book Media)
    Last year, the Lumo Project released its version of The Gospel of John. According to Lumo's official website the other three are underway, and, according to the IMDb, at least two of those will be released this year (though it says Matthew was released in 2014, so it's perhaps not to reliable on this point). Quite when, where and how many of these projects will be released this year is anyone's guess.

    David and Goliath
    Having spent a good deal of time in 2014 writing on films about David, I was certainly interested to hear that another was due to be released in 2015. Sadly, and despite the filmmaker's claims of spending a, um, gigantic, $50 million on the project, any sense of anticipation has pretty much trailed away upon seeing this promo. The idea behind this trailer is to try and lever out some much needed funds for promotion. All I'm going to say is that they're going to need to find some people with rather less wisdom than the offspring of this film's eponymous hero.

    The Ark (BBC)
    Lastly, and not put off by a major film released with similar subject matter being released last year is The Ark from the BBC. It might be promising, actually. A far more accessible and middle of the road portrait than Aronofsky's Noah last yuear, I would imagine, but not necessarily the worse for that. David Threlfall takes the lead role (having played alongside Russell Crowe in Crowe's other big boat thriller Master and Commander) ably supported by Joanne Whalley and Nico Mirallegro. There's a few glimpses of footage on this BBC general preview. Tony Jordan, who wrote 2010's The Nativity for the BBC, has written this one as well, so expect a humanised and sympathetic telling should this ever make it.


    Doubtless there are others I have missed and there are a number of other films gaining publicity at the moment that aren't even due to arrive until 2016, including the adaptation of Anne Rice's Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, another version of Ben Hur and Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth based on Reza Aslan's controversial book.

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