What horrors hath Cecil B. DeMille wrought?

Nine years ago, I wrote a short article for Bible Review on Peter Brosnan, a filmmaker who, together with archaeologist John Parker, has spent the past quarter-century looking for Egyptian ruins in the sand dunes of California. Of course, they’re not looking for real Egyptian ruins; instead, they’re looking for the fake Egyptian sets and props that were built by Cecil B. DeMille for the original silent version of The Ten Commandments (1923).

So I could not help but be amused when I got a press release today for a DVD that has nothing to do with Brosnan or Parker, but has everything to do with the subject they’ve been working on:

Based on true events…
The Ultimate Evil Will Rise March 11th

TORONTO, ON — In 1923, legendary film director Cecil B. DeMille constructed a replica of ancient Egypt in the California desert for his epic movie The Ten Commandments. After filming was completed, he ordered the entire set buried. For the last 85 years, the unanswered question remains: Why? Solve the mystery of what lurks beneath the scorching wasteland when Anchor Bay Entertainment releases Sands of Oblivion on DVD March 11, 2008.

Directed by David Flores and written & produced by Kevin VanHook (Voodoo Moon, Death Row), Sands of Oblivion stars Adam Baldwin (“Chuck,” Serenity, Independence Day), Morena Baccarin(“Stargate SG-1,” Serenity), Academy Award(R) winner George Kennedy (Cool Hand Luke, the Naked Gun films) and Dan Castellaneta (“The Simpsons”) as Cecil B. DeMille. First broadcast on the SCI-FI Channel, Sands of Oblivion will be presented in a special “Director’s Cut” edition, featuring additional footage not seen in the original airing.

A modern day excavation crew lead by soon-to-be divorced archaeologist couple Jesse and Alice Carter (Baldwin and Baccarin) have uncovered the secret that DeMille tried in vain to bury: the set holds the spirit of a vengeful Egyptian god, trapped in a smuggled artifact amongst the movie props. Unleashing an ancient centuries-old horror, it will be up to Jesse and Alice, along with an Iraq War combat veteran (Victor Webster, “Charmed”) to recapture the vile fury of ages past. DreadCentral praised Sands of Oblivion with “one of the most unique story ideas for any movie the SCI-FI Channel has ever produced!”

Sounds like this film will sort of do for The Ten Commandments what Shadow of the Vampire (2000) did for Nosferatu (1922), by supposing that real-life supernatural shenanigans were taking place amidst a movie set’s simulation of the supernatural.

And hey, what’s this, Dan “Homer Simpson” Castellaneta is playing Cecil B. DeMille? Okay, now I really have to see this film.

The Ten Commandments — the interview’s up!

My interview with Cindy Bond, president and COO of Promenade Pictures and one of the producers of the animated version of The Ten Commandments, went up at CT Movies yesterday.

My editor, who interviewed her last year before the movie came out, added a couple notes in square brackets; and for space reasons, the piece as a whole skews more towards the business side of things than to the creative side of things.

However, as a Bible-movie buff, I had to ask a few more questions about the other films in Promenade’s Epic Stories of the Bible series, starting with Noah’s Ark: The New Beginning (alternate title: The Flood), and this is what she had to say:

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Is Ben Kingsley back as the Narrator, and Elliott Gould as God?

Bond: Yeah, that’s right.

Is that going to be consistent across all twelve films?

Bond: I certainly would love it to be. It depends on their availability. But I think I’ve got a real good shot, with that being the case. Sir Ben is just phenomenal to work with, he’s such a pro. He just brings so much to the process, to the movie; his voice just takes you to another place, his voice just has so much depth and he’s so profound. And Elliott, the reason we went with Elliott was because, as opposed to the stereotypical wrathful angry God that everybody wants to portray as the Old Testament God, we wanted to portray a loving God that is infinitely patient with us, but that, when we continually mess up, there are consequences when we cross boundary lines.

It does seem that would be a challenge with the Flood story, because you have a story in which God essentially sends the Flood to kill everyone on the planet.

Bond: He does, and in our movie, we did direct Elliott in a stronger way. He’s definitely more definite, he’s stronger in terms of his resolution and performance in The Flood, versus The Ten Commandments.

But you still found a way to keep an element of patience and so forth, as well.

Bond: Sure, because when you think about it, God had been watching all the corruption and sin unravelling for a very very long time, and then chose Noah and his family to redeem the world, to give us a second chance or a new beginning. So, I mean, y’know, listen, he could’ve just had everybody go down with the boat — or not had a boat, how’s that? It’s one cruise you wouldn’t want to miss. But no, I mean, listen, it’s good versus evil.

And how is it juggling that aspect of the story with the humour you’ve mentioned? The serious moral thrust of the story with the more entertainment aspect of it?

Bond: It kind of worked out in a very organic way, in that we set up the first act to establish what we call the evil city, and then Noah, we made Noah a farmer with his sons and his sons’ wives and his wife. . . . And we set it up to where we really lay the foundation for the story, clearly delineating the good versus the evil and how God speaks to Noah and lets him know he’s been chosen and he and his family will be saved, and this is the plan he has in front of him, to build this Ark. He tells him how and things like that. So it does follow along that storyline, but where we take this on another, y’know, into a commercial vein is that we then get into the second act, is when we introduce the talking animals. And these same animals, you’ll see them interspersed inside the first act, but it’s about establishing the setup for the story, and then we take it into a different direction with the talking animals, and the brothers go out and start to round up the animals, and there’s room for a lot of humour there. We have Howie Mandel, who did a great job playing one of the camels; and Miguel Ferrer plays the mayor of the city, a character by the name of Kabos, and he does a phenomenal job, Miguel Ferrer. And so Michael Keaton and he– That’s Kabos, is the one who– We actually have the Nephilim in there, the giants.

Oh really?

Bond: Yes we do. Yeah, we went really in there. Yeah, it’s going to be pretty exciting. The kids are going to love it, and the parents are going to love it too. . . .

You got my attention with the Nephilim, for sure.

Bond: We handled it very carefully. Let’s put it this way. the way our movies are structured is for– Again, we’re doing this in an entertaining way, but we try to stay as biblically accurate as is possible. Obviously, we take creative license because we’re doing a movie, but what we like to do is be the partner to a youth pastor or a children’s minister so that he can say, “Okay, here’s who these giants are and how they came about.” We can’t get into all the little details because that would just put the movie out for hours and hours and defeat the purpose, so we just basically take the high points of the story and let the details fall in– to build sermons upon, so that sermons can be built as a bridge between the movies and the ministries.

A number of other Noah’s Ark cartoons are in the works right now. There was an Argentinian film recently called El Arca, and Unified Pictures has a CGI cartoon called Noah’s Ark in development right now, and there’s a French studio called Gaumont making Rock the Boat.

Bond: Yeah, but they’re all after us. We’re before them. Our movie is at least two thirds of the way completed — our movie will actually be done this August — so we’re way out in front of them. And also, it’s an English language film, and a couple of those were foreign language.

Yeah, though who knows, they could be redubbed and issued over here.

Bond: They can, but still, the style is foreign. Because I was in Cannes and I saw some of them, and it’s very different animation than what we’re doing. Ours is CGI, their style is very different from ours, the running times were different, very different types of stories. We’re actally very unique with the concept that we’ve put together, with our talking animals, and it’s definitely fresh, and with all the characters we’ve created, of all these different animals that are a little cartoony — and that’s another thing, all the characters are a little more cartoon looking. We decided to go that route, as well. Not as realistic looking as Ten Commandments, which we just felt– Again, we’re doing Epic Stories of the Bible, twelve pictures, birthing this whole series which is multifaceted. . . . So it’s to be commercial and have these kids watch movies like this, and let’s lay the real foundation in their lives, rather than a foundation of Spider-Man and Batman and Superman being all they know.

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During the interview, Bond also mentioned that the producers of this series had settled on the topics for all twelve films — and after the interview was over, she e-mailed me the list. They are:

  1. The Ten Commandments — October 19, 2007
  2. The Flood — Easter 2009
  3. David and Goliath — Fall 2009
  4. Daniel and the Lion’s Den — Easter 2010
  5. The Story of Esther — Easter 2011
  6. Creation — Easter 2012
  7. Jonah and the Whale — Easter 2013
  8. Samson and Delilah — Easter 2014
  9. Joshua and the Battle of Jericho — Easter 2015
  10. The Story of Peter — Easter 2016
  11. The Story of Paul — Easter 2017
  12. Bethlehem – birth of Christ — Easter 2018

Looks like a pretty standard list of favorite children’s Bible stories, and, as always, there is room to quibble over what got put in and what got left out. I might have argued for the inclusion of Elijah and/or Elisha, for example. And while it is striking to see no films devoted to Jesus beyond his birth, the ministry and death and resurrection of Christ will, of course, have to lurk somewhere in the background of the movies about Peter and Paul, both of whom tend to be under-represented in films. So that’s not such a bad trade. It would be especially cool — and rare — if the movie about Peter were to span both the Gospels and the Book of Acts.

Yet another image of the “crystal skull” …

I’ve been too busy to blog today, but for those who are interested, a third glimpse of the titular artifact from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull surfaced today. I have appended it to my earlier blog post, which featured the first two glimpses.

Interview: Cindy Bond (The Ten Commandments, 2007)

As chief operating officer of Promenade Pictures, Cindy Bond had high hopes for The Ten Commandments, the first in a projected 12-part series of computer-animated ‘Epic Stories of the Bible,’ when it opened in theatres last October. But the film failed to make much of a splash, opening well out of the Top 20 and grossing less than a million dollars — on a project that cost $11.6 million to make.

The movie came out on DVD last week, and Bond spoke to CT Movies about what went wrong — and how things might be different with their next film, a comedy about Noah’s Ark due sometime around Easter 2009.

[Read more...]

Will Apatow’s Year One be “biblical” after all…?

Year One, the upcoming comedy produced by Judd Apatow and directed by Harold Ramis, has been referred to as a “biblical comedy” in various reports, but there has been some debate over how accurate that label really is — especially since none of the characters mentioned to date have had any direct biblical parallels. For a while, it was seeming like the film’s theme and setting might be more “ancient” than anything else.

But now … the Hollywood Reporter says Hank Azaria has signed on to play a character named Abraham. Hmmm.

And it was already revealed last month that one of the other characters would be named Princess Inanna, which happens to be the name of a Sumerian fertility goddess. Hmmm.

And it just so happens that the biblical Abraham lived, if not in Sumer itself, then very close to Sumer. Double hmmm.

Dear Lord, don’t let my children be philistines.

What, oh what, did I ever do to deserve a child who rushes to turn off the DVD player while the end credits are still rolling?

I first noticed this problem a few days ago. My eldest son used to hop with joy when the VeggieTales video came to its end and some techno-mix thingy began playing over the closing credits. But a few days ago, when the end credits began, my boy didn’t have time to start his usual hopping, because his sister zipped right over to the PlayStation and turned the machine off.

And then, today, she did it again, when the first episode on one of our Mister Rogers discs came to an end and the credits began to roll. This time, however, my daughter immediately regretted what she had done, because she had wanted to watch the second episode on that disc, too. So I cued it up for her.

I sometimes wonder if I’m being a bad parent just because I let the kids watch TV at all. But episodes like these make me think I’m failing to bring these children up properly in other ways.