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.
The original book — the first part of a trilogy known collectively as His Dark Materials — is a fantastically creative and engaging bit of fiction. It takes place in a parallel universe populated by witches and talking polar bears, a world where every human has a “daemon,” or an external, animal-shaped embodiment of the person’s soul. It also features some of the most suspenseful scenes I have ever read in a novel.
Unfortunately, the villains of the story are members of an all-powerful church known as the “Magisterium.” And the two books that follow — The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass — turn increasingly preachy as they reveal that the entire trilogy is ultimately about the death of the Judeo-Christian God, the eradication of the afterlife and the establishment of a “Republic of Heaven” that has no need of a King.
LOS ANGELES, CA — Tom Shadyac made his name as the director and producer of such lowbrow comedies as Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and The Nutty Professor. Then he took the bathroom humour in a more spiritual, if occasionally schmaltzy, direction with Liar Liar, Patch Adams and the phenomenally successful Bruce Almighty.
All of Shadyac’s previous films were rated PG-13 in the United States, but his newest film — Evan Almighty, in which God tells a man to build an ark, just like Noah — is rated a family-friendly PG. Shadyac, sitting down with several journalists on the Universal Studios backlot, is eager to let everyone know that the film is “safe.”
LOS ANGELES, CA — It has been over 20 years since a major Hollywood studio made a live-action Bible movie for the big screen. The last such movie was King David, with Richard Gere, and it was regarded by many as a disappointment — both for the revisions it made to the biblical story, and because it flopped big time at the box office.
The few Bible-related films that have come out since then have tended to be either self-financed independent movies (e.g., Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ) or low-budget art-house flicks (e.g., Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ, which was based not on the Bible, per se, but on a controversial novel).
But that will all change December 1, when New Line Cinema — the studio behind the Lord of the Rings trilogy — releases The Nativity Story, a dramatization of the events leading up to the birth of Jesus. The virgin birth, the miraculous conception of John the Baptist, the visitations of the archangel Gabriel, the shepherds, the Magi — it’s all here, more or less as it appears in the gospels of Matthew and Luke.
My initial reaction to the film version of The Da Vinci Code was almost one of relief. The film was a dud, a complete bore, and most critics, secular and otherwise, seemed to think so, too. Perhaps, I thought, this movie would bring the whole phenomenon to an untimely end.
But in the days since, I have come to think that the film, in some ways, constitutes an even worse offence against the Church than the Dan Brown novel on which it was based.