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 Golden Compass not so magnetic after all

goldencompass-lyraBefore it came out in theatres December 7, I used to tell people that I hoped the film version of The Golden Compass would be great — and I hoped it would flop.

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.

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Interview: Tom Shadyac (Evan Almighty, 2007)

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.”

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Nativity Story producers, writer look beyond the Christian “niche”

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.

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Much ado about movie ratings / Ratings now flag religious and political agendas

Facing the Giants, a low-budget movie about a high-school football team, was recently rated PG for parental guidance in the U.S. The film’s Christian producers and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), which hands out movie ratings south of the border, agree the film should be rated PG. But they don’t agree on why the film was rated PG — thus launching one of the latest and silliest skirmishes in the culture wars.

Kris Fuhr, vice-president of marketing for Provident Films, told one reporter she had expected the film to be rated PG because the story dealt with mature subject matter, such as infertility. But when she asked the MPAA why the film got that rating in the end, the person she spoke to reportedly referred to the film’s evangelistic content.

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Review: The Da Vinci Code (dir. Ron Howard, 2006)

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.

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