Bible epics are back on the silver screen

BIBLE EPICS are back, and coming soon to a theatre near you.

The genre – which was very popular in the silent era and then, again, during the post-war boom of the 1950s and early 1960s – never went away entirely. Low-budget films like The Last Temptation of Christ and The Passion of the Christ have offered radically different, even opposite, interpretations of the life and death of Jesus. And there has been a steady stream of Bible films on television going back to at least the 1970s.

But when Paramount Pictures releases Noah – starring Russell Crowe and rumoured to have cost over $125 million – in March, it will mark the first time that a big-budget live-action Bible epic has been made for the big screen since Richard Gere starred in King David back in 1985. (The Prince of Egypt, released in 1998, was also a major Hollywood production, but it was an animated film, and so arguably doesn’t quite belong in the same category.)

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Scripture on the silver screen / New productions bring Bible-based stories to life

You often hear that the Bible is the best-selling book of all time. It turns out that movies and TV shows based on the Bible can set records in their own mediums, too.

The most recent example is The Bible, an ambitious mini-series produced by reality-TV mogul Mark Burnett (Survivor, The Apprentice) and his wife Roma Downey, former star of Touched by an Angel.

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The Bible / What works and what doesn’t in the ambitious mini-series

It’s common these days for each new episode of a TV series to begin with a montage that sums up all the relevant plot points from previous episodes. So it was only natural that, when the History Channel aired its five-part mini-series The Bible over the month of March, all but one of the episodes began with narrator Keith David intoning, in his deep baritone voice, “Previously, on The Bible…”

All of the show’s strengths and weaknesses are captured in that one phrase. Produced by Mark Burnett (a TV mogul best known for unscripted “reality” shows like Survivor and The Apprentice) and his wife Roma Downey (who once starred in Touched by an Angel), the mini-series rushes through the whole Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, in ten hours — though it’s more like seven, once you bracket off the commercial breaks — and it zips through the stories so quickly that you barely notice when they are compressed even further in those opening sequences. But the mini-series also makes a point of emphasizing the continuity between Bible stories in a way that is quite rare among Bible films, and in a way that sometimes allows individual stories to shed light profitably on others.

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Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (dir. Peter Jackson, 2012)

Ever since Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of the Lord of the Rings trilogy made nearly three billion dollars worldwide — and earned seventeen Oscars between the three films, to boot — it has been a given that someone, somewhere would make a prequel based on the book that introduced the world to Hobbits in the first place.

But there were certain obvious questions hanging over the inevitable follow-up.

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Kevin Miller questions the existence of hell in Hellbound?

Kevin Miller is no stranger to controversy. The Abbotsford-based writer, who has worked on a number of documentaries (as well as an independent feature or two), butted heads with atheists and evolutionary scientists four years ago as one of the cowriters of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, a locally produced film starring Ben Stein that advocated a form of creationism known as “intelligent design”.

Expelled was celebrated by many figures on the right, but some of Miller’s subsequent films have fallen on very different points of the political and religious spectrums. With God on Our Side, for example, tackled Christian Zionism, and now Miller’s directorial debut, Hellbound? — which opens locally on Friday (October 12) — questions whether or not belief in hell is really all that necessary, even for Christians.

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Review: The Last Exorcism (dir. Daniel Stamm, 2010)

THE BEST movies about demonic possession have always tried to ground themselves in a certain kind of realism. The Exorcist cast real-life doctors and priests as fictitious doctors and priests, while The Exorcism of Emily Rose was loosely inspired by a real-life court case.

So it was probably inevitable that someone would make a movie like The Last Exorcism, using the same pseudo-documentary techniques that have made films like Cloverfield, Paranormal Activity and The Blair Witch Project so down-to-earth despite their otherworldly premises.

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