On Hollywood Finding the Bible Again

It always makes me laugh how mainstream media interviews take so long, but end up actually using so little of what has been said. I remember once doing an hour long on camera interview with ABC GMA and then having only about eight seconds of me end up in the finished piece. So many nerves and mental gymnastics spent for so little.

I did an email interview for The Christian Science Monitor earlier this week about the new trend of Biblical movies coming through the Hollywood studios. The finished piece is here.

Here’s the quote they used from me:

The biggest factor driving the new interest in Biblical movies is the “overall loss of storytelling craft that is afflicting our culture and particularly Hollywood,” says Barbara Nicolosi Harrington, executive director of the Galileo Studio at Azusa Pacific University and writer of the original screenplay for the projected 2014 Lionsgate film, “Mary, Mother of Christ.”

“Hollywood is more and more unable to create original stories,” she says. The industry is reaching for Biblical stories because they have name recognition, high stakes, a built-in “fan base, ” and an epic quality that seems ideal for today’s CGI technology, she notes.

Obviously, I had a lot more to say about the subject. So, for posterity’s sake, here’s the rest of the interview.

Q: What factors lie behind this latest interest in spirituality for mass media?

BN: The biggest factor driving the new interest in Biblical movies is the overall loss of storytelling craft that is afflicting our culture and particularly Hollywood. For economic and cultural reasons, Hollywood is more and more unable to create original stories. Hence, the industry is reaching for Biblical stories because they have name recognition, high stakes, a built-in “fan base, ” and an epic quality that seems ideal for today’s CGI technology.

Q: Will spiritual issues be treated with respect or is this just Hollywood trying to cash in on yet another trend?

This trend is completely driven by financial motives and has nothing to do with the entertainment industry experiencing some kind of spiritual renewal. For the most part, the folks making most of these movies have no fidelity or connection to Biblical truth and so chances are, Hollywood’s version of the Bible will lack any of the depth and meaning that Christians are going to want to find there. A great example is the Noah movie starring Russell Crowe. It would be anathema for a studio team to make a movie in which God allows a flood to destroy the world because of idolatry and sexual perversity, as the Bible indicates. That there is such a thing as sexual perversity is not a message over which the cultural Left that greenlights studio projects in Hollywood wants anyone to brood. So, in Aronofsky’s telling, God destroys the world because of humanity’s offenses against – wait for it – environmentalism. It’s completely absurd and really laughable from a Christian standpoint. Really Hollywood secularists making the Bible in their own image.

Having said all that, if they can preserve some of the basic stuff of the Biblical stories and not completely subvert their meaning, it will certainly be better for the world than the stuff of yet another formulaic comic book movie.

Q: Are faith and mass entertainment mutually exclusive?

Perhaps. I didn’t used to think so, but, after seventeen years in the business, it seems to me that the nuances inherent in an effective Christian parable are probably impossible in the current studio system.

Q: Are attitudes about faith genuinely changing in our culture? What did this new wave tell us about today’s culture? Why does this matter? Why should we care?

Modernity seems to be nothing so much as a cynicism factory, and the entertainment and art worlds have sadly been at the forefront of magnifying the reasons for cynicism. There is an urgent prophetic role for stories in the world and good stories are an essential element to the healthy life of a society. People should go to the movies and come out strengthened some how to carry their burdens. Instead, movies today too often add to the dragging down effect of modernity on our people. The movies and television we watch always seems to be adding to the notion that there is no fundamental nobility in the human spirit, that virtue is laughable and that heroism is an illusion.

It matters because when the storytellers have no hope, no one has any hope. We need to pray for a new Renaissance in the arts and culture. We Christians need to pry ourselves out of the security – and sadly, banality – of our own sub-culture and direct our cultural efforts to those outside our community who desperately need a note of hope. Jesus called us to be leaven in the world. That means that Christians aren’t supposed to just be out there in the culture. It means we are supposed to be important in the culture.

. . . . . . . . ..

The part I didn’t get asked about, but so wish I would have been is why “The Bible” cable mini-series did so well, even though it was so badly written and conceived. Please someone, ask me that.

  • Sharon Reiser

    Why did “The Bible” cable mini-series do so well, even though it was so badly written and conceived?
    (I’m not the someone you had in mind, am I?)

    • Dale

      The question is interesting, though. I didn’t see it, and wondered if the popularity was due to the lack of competition in that subject matter, or because churches (particularly the evangelical ones) organized an audience in advance, or because the series was good.

      If Barbara would like to share her opinion with us, that would be wonderful. On the other hand, she might be saving it for an article or interview, which is totally understandable.

  • http://rosarynovice.stblogs.com/ Augustine

    Why did “The Bible” cable mini-series do so well, even though it was so badly written and conceived?

    Another question is if you think that current the studio system is restricted to America or if in Europe or in other countries it would be possible to make quality productions on faith.

    Surely, RAI produces a lot of Catholic movies, some are OK, but most leave to be desired artistically. Then there’s the Korean and Chinese cinemas which do seem to include if not their respective faiths, their myths with a heavy dose of morals in many of their productions, often with good artistic value.

    Thanks.

    PS: I don’t have TV (that’s so 20th century!), so I missed “The Bible” craze, but I intend to check it out when it’s available for free (I’m so cheap!) in Amazon Prime (that’s so 21st century!)

  • PeonyMoss

    Why did “The Bible” cable mini-series do so well, even though it was so badly written and conceived? Ninja angels in Sodom, what?

  • Clare Krishan

    re: humanity’s offenses against environmentalism… a generous reading could allow for both/and, no? Pope Benedict and Bl. John Paul used the less loaded word “ecology” to encompass PC distortions to sexual ethics, perhaps worth noting when time comes to review the movie upon release?
    http://www.marriageuniqueforareason.org/tag/human-ecology/

  • dougpruner

    I’m a teacher and a one of Jehovah’s Christian Witnesses, and on both counts I tell my students. ‘Don’t get your religion or history from the movies.’
    John Huston is not God. :-)

  • Regina_Caledonia

    “Why did “The Bible” cable mini-series do so well, even though it was so badly written and conceived?”
    Because people are starving for God’s message, and when you are starving even gruel tastes like a feast.

  • Mark S. (not for Shea)

    “…it seems to me that the nuances inherent in an effective Christian parable are probably impossible in the current studio system.”
    You think that is true only of the movies or of TV as well?


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