The Ascension of Christ in film: literalism, symbolism, etc.

Today is the Feast of the Ascension, when Christians remember how Jesus was taken up into heaven 40 days after his Resurrection. It’s one of the stranger bits in the Gospels — both difficult to understand, given our modern cosmology, and difficult to pull off visually — and most of what we know about it actually comes from the Book of Acts. So it’s not too surprising that most films about Jesus have tended to skip this episode.

Nevertheless, a few films have depicted the Ascension, often by mixing it with elements from other stories in the gospels, and even those that don’t depict it have often made a point of ending on a note that suggests Jesus has transcended this life in some way that parallels the Ascension. Here are a few examples.

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Quick updates on A.D. and The Dovekeepers

Son of God producers Roma Downey and Mark Burnett gave lots of interviews in the days leading up to that film’s theatrical release, and in a few of those interviews, they dropped a few hints about their follow-up projects A.D. and The Dovekeepers, both of which will also take place in first-century Palestine. Here’s a quick summary of what they’ve said.

First, in chronological terms, A.D. will start at the crucifixion of Jesus and cover the next 40 years of Jewish and Christian history, until the destruction of the Temple in AD 70, while The Dovekeepers will start with the destruction of the Temple and continue through to the Roman siege of Masada, which ended in AD 73. It’s not clear whether the two shows will air in chronological order — they’re being produced for different networks — but those are the historical periods they will cover.

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Darwin Shaw on playing St Peter (and a Lego Bond villain)

The apostle Peter is not the first biblical character that Darwin Shaw has played in his decade or so as an actor. You can see him briefly as Adam, in a new prologue to the Campus Crusade film Jesus (1979) that was shot a few years ago, and you can also see him as the “Semitic Jesus” in Gospel of Thomas (2009), an interactive adaptation of the Gnostic text that allows you to toggle between different actors. (Another actor plays the “Western Jesus”.)

But Peter is easily the biggest role of this sort that Shaw has tackled so far. He appears in all five of the New Testament-themed episodes in last year’s mini-series The Bible, and he will appear again this week in Son of God, the big-screen movie that consists mostly of footage from that mini-series but also includes a few new scenes.

I spoke to Shaw — whose credits also include Casino Royale (2006), Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010), John Carter (2012) and a deleted scene from Prometheus (2012) — by phone last week while he was in Los Angeles to promote Son of God.

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Bible movie of the week: The Big Fisherman (1959)

Four years ago, I wrote a blog post on The Big Fisherman (1959), one of the more obscure Bible movies ever released by a major Hollywood studio.

As far as I know, the film, which was originally distributed by Walt Disney’s Buena Vista division, has never been officially released to home video, at least not in North America. But I had read a bit about it in books on the history of Jesus movies — the title refers to the apostle Peter — and I was intrigued by the information I found at the Internet Movie Database.

For one thing, the film is based on a novel by Lloyd C. Douglas, who also wrote The Robe, which 20th Century Fox turned into a much more famous film in 1953. For another, it seemed that this film might rely on the secular account of Herod Antipas and John the Baptist given to us by Josephus, which no other film I could think of had ever done.

And what did the apostle Peter have to do with any of this? I had no idea, but I was curious to find out.

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Quick updates on Peter Gabriel and the Bible sequel

A bit more information has trickled in regarding two items that I blogged in the last few days.

First, The Hollywood Reporter has clarified that Peter Gabriel’s contribution to the anthology film Words with Gods will consist mainly of music for the animated interstitials that play between the short films, and not of music for the short films themselves. Gabriel will also contribute a new song to close the film and give it “a final message,” according to producer Lucas Akoskin.

Second, and more extensively, The Hollywood Reporter has also got a few new quotes from The Bible producer Mark Burnett that hint at the direction the recently-announced sequel to that mini-series will take.

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The Bible sequel gets the green light — but what is it about?

Deadline reports that Mark Burnett and Roma Downey formally announced today that the sequel to The Bible will be a mini-series with the working title A.D.: Beyond the Bible. And instead of telling more stories from across the entire Bible, it sounds like the new series will focus exclusively on the period covered by the Book of Acts, with a heavy helping of secular history courtesy of historians like Josephus.

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