It is not uncommon for TV shows made in one country to get theatrical releases in another; think of how some of Ingmar Bergman’s films, such as Scenes from a Marriage (1973) and its sequel Saraband (2003), were produced for Swedish television and released in American theatres, or of how Steven Spielberg’s classic TV-movie Duel (1971) got a theatrical release in Europe.
And it is not uncommon for popular TV shows to have big-screen follow-ups, from the Star Trek and X-Files movies to High School Musical 3 (2008).
But when was the last time a North American TV show got repackaged for North American theatres? Outside of festival screenings and similar one-shot presentations, when was the last time a studio asked people who had already seen a show on TV to pay for the privilege of seeing it all over again on the big screen?
The first examples that come to mind — Moses the Lawgiver (1974) and Battlestar Galactica (1978) — date to the 1970s, before the rise of home video. And that makes a certain kind of sense: Back then, if you missed a show on TV, you had to wait for a re-run or for some other official studio release to see it again. But the introduction of the VCR, followed by the DVD player and TiVo etc., changed all that.
And that’s what makes the upcoming release of Son of God, the big-screen version of The Bible, so interesting. The mini-series was a huge hit on TV, and a huge hit on DVD and Blu-Ray. Audiences have already seen quite a bit of this series. But in February 2014, a re-edited version of the Jesus-themed episodes from this mini-series will be released to theatres across the continent, for all to see at their local multiplex.
Will it find an audience? Will fans of the show come to the theatre, curious to see what new scenes the film might have? Or will people stay home, content with their DVD and Blu-Ray copies of The Bible — the same way people who already owned the straight-to-video version of Left Behind (2000) didn’t bother going to see the film when it was released to theatres the year after it came out on VHS and DVD?
Time will tell. In the meantime, the promotional campaign for Son of God has already begun. Here is the trailer that went online today (and note how, towards the end, it includes a few brief shots from the Old Testament sections of The Bible):
And here is a one-minute message from producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey that was posted to YouTube last month: