Iranian biblical films — from Jesus to Joseph


Two days ago, I linked to an article at Breitbart.com on Jesus, the Spirit of God, an Iranian production that just might be the first film to tell the story of Jesus from the Muslim point of view. Curiously, that article seems to be gone now, though you can still read the 196 comments that were posted in response to the article.

But never mind; in addition to the sections I quoted here two days ago, Variety now has its own story on the film. Some excerpts:

LONDON — Fresh from tackling World War II and the Holocaust in local blockbuster “Zero Degree Turn,” (Variety, June 6, 2007), Iran’s state broadcaster IRIB (Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting) is turning to religion as the subject of a pair of big budget skeins.

First up is the $5 million “Jesus, Spirit of God,” helmed by Nader Talebzadeh, which recounts the life of Jesus Christ through Muslim eyes.

Muslims believe that Jesus was a prophet and the spirit of God, as the pic’s title states, although not the son of God as stated in Christian theocracy.

Brief aside: “Theocracy“? Not “theology“? Considering the article is about Iran, that may be a Freudian slip of sorts. Anyhoo:

IRIB’s production and sales arm Cima Media Intl. (CMI) is handling the project, which will be released as both a 100-minute feature and a 20-episode TV skein to be aired later this year.

The abridged theatrical version of the project bowed in Tehran cinemas last year, where it garnered a moderate reception from Iranian auds more used to commercial laffers, romances and war pics.

Talebzadeh even hand-delivered a copy of the film to Mel Gibson’s mansion in Malibu last year. The Iranian was met by the security guards who promised to deliver the film to “The Passion of the Christ” helmer although Talebzadeh never heard back from Gibson.

“It is important to show our history before the Islamic revolution,” said CMI managing director Mohammed Reza Abbasian. “These episodes of religious history and Iranian history are very popular with Iranian audiences. We want to show the opinions of Islam toward the prophet. This story came from the Koran without any changes. You could call it Jesus through Islam’s lens.”

Talebzadeh’s film is a faithful adaptation of the life of Jesus — who is depicted with flowing blond hair and fair skin — familiar to Western auds with one notable exception. Where films such as “The Passion” went to great lengths to re-create the crucifixion of Jesus, Talebzadeh’s film sees Jesus saved from the cross by God and taken straight to heaven.

The article then concludes with this interesting revelation:

CMI execs have even bigger plans for their follow-up skein, a $20 million version of the life of Joseph and his multi-colored coat, helmed by Farajollah Salahshoor, that is set to be one of Iran’s biggest-budget productions ever.

The costly skein could be described as a passion project for its producers, as they will have little chance to ever recoup their money back from foreign sales.

“We have tried to sell it to Arab TV stations, but they say that they cannot show the face of the prophets, and, at the same time, it’s not good for European TV,” said Abbasian. “The Iranian government is spending its money on the project, but it wasn’t supposed to cost this much.

“When you start a project you say it will cost $2 million, but we wanted to film this on 35mm not video so it’s become more expensive. We can’t stop the project now. We have to spend more money so we can save the money we already spent. Next time, though, we will film with HD or Digi-Beta.”

It’s interesting that these presumably Shi’ite filmmakers would be tackling the story of Joseph next — and having trouble selling their film to presumably Sunni TV stations that say they cannot show the faces of the prophets — since another movie inspired by the story of Joseph was produced in Egypt over a dozen years ago and became very controversial, even though it changed all the names and was directed by a non-Muslim. It was called The Emigrant, and I wrote about it here — in a blog post about the controversy over another non-Muslim’s efforts to make a movie about Jesus in his native Egypt. (I wonder what ever became of that project?)

Another significant milestone for my twins.


Last Monday, while their mother and newborn baby brother were resting in the hospital, I took the twins (and my sister) to catch a matinee screening of The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything. It was the first time I had taken the twins to see a movie; the wife and I had dragged them along to a couple of “movies for mommies” type events when they were only five or six months old, but that was for their parents’ benefit, not for theirs.

In one sense, we caught the movie at the perfect time: almost no one goes to the movies on Monday afternoons, so in case the twins began screaming or fussing or something, there were only a couple other families there for me to worry about. (As it is, the kids behaved just fine.) But in another sense, this wasn’t the perfect time: the kids usually nap in the early afternoon, and while Thomas was kept awake by the movie and the snacks, Elizabeth actually fell asleep on her auntie’s lap about ten minutes before the movie was over. (Don’t worry, I didn’t take the picture above until the credits were rolling and the other families were already on their way out.)

Ah well. I very much enjoyed letting my children take turns sitting on my knee while watching a big-screen movie, and I eagerly look forward to the day when they will have enough of a vocabulary so that we can talk about the movies we have seen together. In the meantime, I got a kick out of the way Elizabeth jerked her head to the left, right, left, right a couple times — presumably to see where the stereo sound was coming from — and I wonder when my next opportunity to do something like this will come along.

Oh, and what did I think of the movie itself? I can’t sum it up any better than my e-pal Denes House, who critiqued the movie for its “zanelessness”. I think there may have been more life and zest and humour in the ‘Rock Lobster’ parody that played over the closing credits than there was in the rest of the movie. And the fact that the VeggieTales creators deviated from their usual pattern didn’t help; the movie is more of a generic story than a genre parody. But it had its moments. The psycho cheese curls were especially cute.

“Under construction” isn’t just a metaphor.


“Under construction.” That’s what it says at the bottom of the newly launched official website for Star Trek XI. But it’s not just a reference to the website itself. It is also reportedly the tagline for the teaser that will play in theatres starting tomorrow — a teaser which, to judge from the photo released by Moviefone today, really will depict the construction of the U.S.S. Enterprise itself.

Keep in mind that the Enterprise predates the era depicted in the original Star Trek series (1966-1969), and it even predates the time that Kirk, Spock and the others spent in Starfleet Academy. According to the animated series (1973-1974) and the Star Trek canon in general, the ship was built and launched in 2245 under the command of Captain Robert April, and Kirk did not become its captain until 2264. It was eventually destroyed during the events of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984) in 2285.

We know that the new movie will acknowledge at least one of the ship’s captains pre-Kirk, because Bruce Greenwood has signed on to play Christopher Pike. So if the film depicts both the construction of the ship and the early days of Kirk’s captaincy, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the filmmakers are ignoring established Trek continuity. But it remains to be seen how, exactly, the image above will be incorporated into the film itself — assuming it was not created simply for the teaser. Flashback? More time-hopping? I guess we’ll find out in eleven months.

The Iranian Jesus movie and the end times


Breitbart.com posted an article over the weekend about an Iranian Muslim life-of-Jesus movie — and it sounds like this may be one of the two films I wrote about here over a year ago. Jesus, the Spirit of God is directed by Nader Talebzadeh, whose name also appears on the website for The Messiah — and while Talebzadeh says he made the film to emphasize the “common ground” between Christians and Muslims, he also goes on to say that his film shows how Christians got the story “wrong”:

A director who shares the ideas of Iran’s hardline president has produced what he says is the first film giving an Islamic view of Jesus Christ, in a bid to show the “common ground” between Muslims and Christians.

Nader Talebzadeh sees his movie, “Jesus, the Spirit of God,” as an Islamic answer to Western productions like Mel Gibson’s 2004 blockbuster “The Passion of the Christ,” which he praised as admirable but quite simply “wrong”.

“Gibson’s film is a very good film. I mean that it is a well-crafted movie but the story is wrong — it was not like that,” he said, referring to two key differences: Islam sees Jesus as a prophet, not the son of God, and does not believe he was crucified. . . .

Even in Iran, “Jesus, The Spirit of God” had a low-key reception, playing to moderate audiences in five Tehran cinemas during the holy month of Ramadan, in October.

The film, funded by state broadcasting, faded off the billboards but is far from dead, about to be recycled in a major 20 episode spin-off to be broadcast over state-run national television this year. . . .

The director is also keen to emphasise the links between Jesus and one of the most important figures in Shiite Islam, the Imam Mahdi, said to have disappeared 12 centuries ago but whose “return” to earth has been a key tenet of the Ahmadinejad presidency. . . .

The bulk of “Jesus, the Spirit of God”, which won an award at the 2007 Religion Today Film Festival in Italy, faithfully follows the traditional tale of Jesus as recounted in the New Testament Gospels, a narrative reproduced in the Koran and accepted by Muslims.

But in Talebzadeh’s movie, God saves Jesus, depicted as a fair-complexioned man with long hair and a beard, from crucifixion and takes him straight to heaven.

“It is frankly said in the Koran that the person who was crucified was not Jesus” but Judas, one of the 12 Apostles and the one the Bible holds betrayed Jesus to the Romans, he said. In his film, it is Judas who is crucified. . . .

Shiite Muslims, the majority in Iran, believe Jesus will accompany the Imam Mahdi when he reappears in a future apocalypse to save the world.

And Talebzadeh said the TV version of his film will further explore the links between Jesus and the Mahdi — whose return Ahmadinejad has said his government, which came to power in 2005, is working to hasten.

Shiites believe the Mahdi’s reappearance will usher in a new era of peace and harmony.

“We Muslims pray for the ‘Return’ (of Imam Mahdi) and Jesus is part of the return and the end of time,” Talebzadeh said.

“Should we, as artists, stand idle until that time? Don’t we have to make an effort?”

These last paragraphs get me wondering: Does Muslim pop culture have the equivalent of Thief in the Night, The Omega Code, Left Behind and other Christian end-times movies?

(Hat tip to Anthony Sacramone at First Things.)

What’s the light source? Why bring the torch?

I know, I know, it’s silly to nitpick an Indiana Jones movie for realism. But even so, I get the feeling that past caves and temples and dungeons and whatnot have been a little … darker.

Canadian box-office comparison 2008

See introductory post here.

These are the Canadian and North American box-office totals for films that played in 2008, as of their last appearance in the Canadian top ten. Click on the years for 2005, 2006 and 2007.

Since Canada has about 9.7% of the combined Canadian-American population, red indicates the films that made over 10.7% of their money in Canada, orange the films that attracted about the same proportion of Canadians as Americans, and green the ones that made less than 8.7% of their money north of the border.

Jan 6 | 13 | 20 | 27 | Feb 3 | 10 | 17 | 24 | Mar 2 | 9 | 16 | 23 | 30 | Apr 6 | 13 | 20 | 27 | May 4 | 11 | 18 | 25 | Jun 1 | 8 | 15 | 22 | 29 | Jul 6 | 13 | 20 | 27 | Aug 3 | 10 | 17 | 24 | 31 | Sep 7 | 14 | 21 | 28 | Oct 5 | 12 | 19 | 26 | Nov 2 | 9 | 16 | 23 | 30 | Dec 7 | 14 | 21 | 28

Passchendaele — CDN $4,040,000 — N.AM $4,040,000 — 100%
Cruising Bar 2 — CDN $1,560,000 — N.AM $1,560,000 — 100%
Dans une galaxie près de chez vous 2 — CDN $902,450 — N.AM $902,450 — 100%
Babine — CDN $689,698 — N.AM $689,698 — 100%
The American Trap — CDN $261,295 — N.AM $261,295 — 100%
Singh is Kinng — CDN $223,801 — N.AM $223,801 — 100%
Sarkar Raj — CDN $65,970 — N.AM $65,970 — 100%
Run Fat Boy Run — CDN $1,170,000 — N.AM $5,447,000 — 21.5%
Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay — CDN $7,220,000 — N.AM $36,955,000 — 19.5%
The Golden Compass — CDN $9,730,000 — N.AM $65,521,000 — 14.9%
Blindness — CDN $278,272 — N.AM $2,002,000 — 13.9%
Death Race — CDN $4,430,000 — N.AM $33,193,000 — 13.3%
Never Back Down — CDN $2,810,000 — N.AM $21,249,499 — 13.2%
Body of Lies — CDN $5,010,000 — N.AM $38,272,000 — 13.1%
Quantum of Solace — CDN $20,940,000 — N.AM $161,200,412 — 13.0%
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 — CDN $4,970,000 — N.AM $38,257,000 — 13.0%
Mamma Mia! — CDN $17,950,000 — N.AM $139,318,000 — 12.9%
Zack and Miri Make a Porno — CDN $3,770,000 — N.AM $29,256,029 — 12.9%
Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist — CDN $3,800,000 — N.AM $29,522,000 — 12.9%
The Other Boleyn Girl — CDN $2,710,000 — N.AM $22,515,000 — 12.0%
Bangkok Dangerous — CDN $1,490,000 — N.AM $12,531,000 — 11.9%
Be Kind Rewind — CDN $471,946 — N.AM $4,050,655 — 11.7%
P.S. I Love You — CDN $5,880,000 — N.AM $50,461,000 — 11.7%
The Love Guru — CDN $3,410,000 — N.AM $29,331,000 — 11.6%
My Best Friend’s Girl — CDN $2,050,000 — N.AM $17,628,000 — 11.6%
Changeling — CDN $3,870,000 — N.AM $33,849,632 — 11.4%
Burn after Reading — CDN $6,230,000 — N.AM $55,177,399 — 11.3%
Rambo — CDN $4,550,000 — N.AM $40,110,000 — 11.3%
Religulous — CDN $758,856 — N.AM $6,732,631 — 11.3%
21 — CDN $8,990,000 — N.AM $80,418,000 — 11.2%
Journey to the Center of the Earth — CDN $9,650,000 — N.AM $88,110,000 — 11.0%
Step Up 2: The Streets — CDN $5,810,000 — N.AM $53,004,000 — 11.0%
Semi-Pro — CDN $3,240,000 — N.AM $29,766,552 — 10.9%
Sex Drive — CDN $392,668 — N.AM $3,607,164 — 10.9%

Sex and the City — CDN $15,450,000 — N.AM $144,864,000 — 10.7%
Tropic Thunder — CDN $11,420,000 — N.AM $106,805,722 — 10.7%
Step Brothers — CDN $9,600,000 — N.AM $90,888,000 — 10.6%
88 Minutes — CDN $1,630,000 — N.AM $15,424,000 — 10.6%
Ghost Town — CDN $980,717 — N.AM $9,239,000 — 10.6%
27 Dresses — CDN $7,660,000 — N.AM $73,108,983 — 10.5%
The House Bunny — CDN $4,760,000 — N.AM $45,587,131 — 10.4%
The Forbidden Kingdom — CDN $5,210,000 — N.AM $50,368,985 — 10.3%
10,000 B.C. — CDN $9,220,000 — N.AM $89,323,000 — 10.3%
The Bank Job — CDN $2,740,000 — N.AM $26,732,000 — 10.2%
Pineapple Express — CDN $8,290,000 — N.AM $84,013,748 — 9.9%
Smart People — CDN $673,485 — N.AM $6,818,000 — 9.9%
Superhero Movie — CDN $2,090,000 — N.AM $21,202,000 — 9.9%
Definitely, Maybe — CDN $2,590,000 — N.AM $26,519,000 — 9.8%
Juno — CDN $13,420,000 — N.AM $137,969,000 — 9.7%
High School Musical 3: Senior Year — CDN $8,460,000 — N.AM $86,864,082 — 9.7%
What Happens in Vegas — CDN $7,350,000 — N.AM $75,755,145 — 9.7%
Forgetting Sarah Marshall — CDN $5,880,000 — N.AM $60,471,000 — 9.7%
Made of Honor — CDN $4,330,000 — N.AM $44,660,000 — 9.7%
Eagle Eye — CDN $9,470,000 — N.AM $98,813,000 — 9.6%
The Dark Knight — CDN $49,770,000 — N.AM $524,465,000 — 9.5%
Role Models — CDN $6,010,000 — N.AM $64,133,465 — 9.4%
Max Payne — CDN $3,350,000 — N.AM $35,550,000 — 9.4%
Punisher: War Zone — CDN $376,131 — N.AM $4,000,000 — 9.4%
Deception — CDN $206,776 — N.AM $2,225,000 — 9.3%
No Country for Old Men — CDN $6,480,000 — N.AM $69,570,000 — 9.3%
Atonement — CDN $3,520,000 — N.AM $37,908,000 — 9.3%
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street — CDN $4,110,000 — N.AM $44,053,400 — 9.3%
Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa — CDN $15,810,000 — N.AM $172,392,069 — 9.2%
Twilight — CDN $15,380,000 — N.AM $167,325,198 — 9.2%
Untraceable — CDN $2,240,000 — N.AM $24,320,956 — 9.2%
The Women — CDN $2,220,000 — N.AM $24,079,000 — 9.2%
Righteous Kill — CDN $3,140,000 — N.AM $34,805,000 — 9.0%
The Ruins — CDN $1,210,000 — N.AM $13,413,000 — 9.0%
The X-Files: I Want to Believe — CDN $1,510,000 — N.AM $17,060,000 — 8.9%
Street Kings — CDN $1,750,000 — N.AM $19,879,000 — 8.8%
Jumper — CDN $6,400,000 — N.AM $72,537,000 — 8.8%
Wanted — CDN $11,250,000 — N.AM $128,616,000 — 8.7%
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor — CDN $8,180,000 — N.AM $93,812,000 — 8.7%
Hellboy II: The Golden Army — CDN $6,210,000 — N.AM $71,273,000 — 8.7%

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull — CDN $26,910,000 — N.AM $310,487,614 — 8.7%
College Road Trip — CDN $2,780,000 — N.AM $32,005,000 — 8.7%
The Spiderwick Chronicles — CDN $5,360,000 — N.AM $61,721,000 — 8.7%
Fool’s Gold — CDN $5,120,000 — N.AM $59,073,000 — 8.7%
The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep — CDN $2,680,000 — N.AM $30,893,000 — 8.7%
Get Smart — CDN $10,740,000 — N.AM $124,214,000 — 8.6%
You Don’t Mess with the Zohan — CDN $7,210,000 — N.AM $84,055,000 — 8.6%
Babylon A.D. — CDN $1,500,000 — N.AM $17,378,536 — 8.6%
Doomsday — CDN $767,978 — N.AM $8,907,000 — 8.6%
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian — CDN $11,570,000 — N.AM $135,467,000 — 8.5%
The Bucket List — CDN $6,890,000 — N.AM $81,085,000 — 8.5%
Vantage Point — CDN $5,490,000 — N.AM $65,300,000 — 8.4%
Iron Man — CDN $25,280,000 — N.AM $304,788,000 — 8.3%
Cloverfield — CDN $6,330,000 — N.AM $76,040,905 — 8.3%
Star Wars: The Clone Wars — CDN $2,470,000 — N.AM $29,608,000 — 8.3%
Transporter 3 — CDN $2,440,000 — N.AM $29,377,088 — 8.3%
Quarantine — CDN $2,020,000 — N.AM $24,471,512 — 8.3%
Hancock — CDN $18,000,000 — N.AM $221,726,791 — 8.1%
Australia — CDN $3,350,000 — N.AM $41,796,525 — 8.0%
Stop-Loss — CDN $658,769 — N.AM $8,213,000 — 8.0%
Charlie Wilson’s War — CDN $4,760,000 — N.AM $59,353,790 — 8.0%
I Am Legend — CDN $19,510,000 — N.AM $247,447,000 — 7.9%
The Haunting of Molly Hartley — CDN $808,221 — N.AM $10,235,000 — 7.9%
Kung Fu Panda — CDN $16,130,000 — N.AM $206,506,000 — 7.8%
Nights in Rodanthe — CDN $2,510,000 — N.AM $32,297,101 — 7.8%
Drillbit Taylor — CDN $1,600,000 — N.AM $20,487,226 — 7.8%
Meet the Spartans — CDN $2,640,000 — N.AM $33,950,850 — 7.8%
Saw V — CDN $4,240,000 — N.AM $55,403,000 — 7.7%
Shutter — CDN $1,460,000 — N.AM $18,998,604 — 7.7%
Igor — CDN $1,110,000 — N.AM $14,339,000 — 7.7%
Pride and Glory — CDN $488,370 — N.AM $6,325,000 — 7.7%
WALL·E — CDN $16,040,000 — N.AM $210,206,582 — 7.6%
Nim’s Island — CDN $3,310,000 — N.AM $44,257,000 — 7.5%
The Happening — CDN $4,360,000 — N.AM $59,063,000 — 7.4%
Yes Man — CDN $3,690,000 — N.AM $49,798,560 — 7.4%
Lakeview Terrace — CDN $2,690,000 — N.AM $36,201,729 — 7.4%
Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who! — CDN $10,710,000 — N.AM $147,883,000 — 7.2%
Four Christmases — CDN $7,180,000 — N.AM $100,110,827 — 7.2%
Seven Pounds — CDN $2,810,000 — N.AM $38,762,647 — 7.2%
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button — CDN $2,780,000 — N.AM $38,725,647 — 7.2%
The Day the Earth Stood Still — CDN $4,490,000 — N.AM $63,480,184 — 7.1%
City of Ember — CDN $222,193 — N.AM $3,129,473 — 7.1%
The Incredible Hulk — CDN $8,080,000 — N.AM $115,508,000 — 7.0%
Mirrors — CDN $1,400,000 — N.AM $20,075,000 — 7.0%
Bolt — CDN $6,450,000 — N.AM $94,900,059 — 6.8%
There Will Be Blood — CDN $2,100,000 — N.AM $31,000,000 — 6.8%
Prom Night — CDN $2,570,000 — N.AM $38,115,000 — 6.7%
The Tale of Despereaux — CDN $1,840,000 — N.AM $27,448,085 — 6.7%
National Treasure: Book of Secrets — CDN $13,840,000 — N.AM $205,421,000 — 6.7%
Milk — CDN $491,881 — N.AM $7,590,976 — 6.5%
W. — CDN $1,220,000 — N.AM $18,749,000 — 6.5%
One Missed Call — CDN $1,340,000 — N.AM $20,493,337 — 6.5%
The Strangers — CDN $2,880,000 — N.AM $45,287,220 — 6.4%
Valkyrie — CDN $1,850,000 — N.AM $29,520,979 — 6.3%
Mad Money — CDN $477,385 — N.AM $7,600,000 — 6.3%
The Eye — CDN $1,330,000 — N.AM $21,418,982 — 6.2%
Disaster Movie — CDN $659,630 — N.AM $10,602,140 — 6.2%
The Spirit — CDN $637,413 — N.AM $10,305,501 — 6.2%
Bedtime Stories — CDN $2,260,000 — N.AM $38,029,113 — 5.9%
Beverly Hills Chihuahua — CDN $4,880,000 — N.AM $84,061,000 — 5.8%
Fly Me to the Moon — CDN $563,916 — N.AM $9,854,000 — 5.7%
Appaloosa — CDN $312,277 — N.AM $5,570,000 — 5.6%
Leatherheads — CDN $1,500,000 — N.AM $26,578,000 — 5.6%
Alvin and the Chipmunks — CDN $11,340,000 — N.AM $204,159,000 — 5.6%
Baby Mama — CDN $2,810,000 — N.AM $52,131,000 — 5.4%
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas — CDN $136,614 — N.AM $2,628,053 — 5.2%
Marley & Me — CDN $2,540,000 — N.AM $50,738,566 — 5.0%
Speed Racer — CDN $2,040,000 — N.AM $40,558,000 — 5.0%
Meet Dave — CDN $252,412 — N.AM $5,251,918 — 4.8%
Traitor — CDN $801,427 — N.AM $17,265,872 — 4.6%
Space Chimps — CDN $322,876 — N.AM $7,350,000 — 4.4%
Swing Vote — CDN $232,071 — N.AM $6,300,000 — 3.7%
Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour — CDN $1,900,000 — N.AM $64,156,981 — 3.0%
The Secret Life of Bees — CDN $245,598 — N.AM $10,527,799 — 2.3%


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