Ethnic diversity, or the lack thereof, in the new Bible movies

One of the issues that some people have had with Darren Aronofsky’s Noah — it was never a big-enough deal to become a full-fledged controversy, per se — concerns the ethnicity of the actors.

The film depicts the annihilation of the entire human race, except for one family that will go on to produce the entire human race as we know it today — so it seems a little odd to some people that pretty much every character we see in this film fits into a single ethnic category, i.e. Caucasian.

It seems even more odd when one considers that the human race was entirely dark-skinned at first, and that lighter skin was a later genetic mutation that emerged as certain population groups moved “into areas of low UV radiation”. The film flips this around by positing that the entire human race was light-skinned at first, or at least right after the Flood, and thus darker skin must have evolved later.

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The silence, justice, mercy and love of God in Noah

Questions of personal taste aside, most of the problems that people have had with Darren Aronofsky’s Noah don’t stand up to all that much scrutiny. Does the film reflect a Gnostic theology? Not at all. Is the snakeskin worn by Adam and his descendants necessarily evil in the Jewish tradition? Not at all. Were the righteous people who lived before the Flood vegetarian? Actually, yes. And so on, and so on.

The one complaint that arguably does have some merit is the one that says God does not speak in this film. God talks a lot in the biblical version of this story, but in the film he is silent, communicating through visions and signs that are open to more than one interpretation, and leaving some pretty crucial decisions to Noah himself.

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First impressions: Noah (dir. Darren Aronofsky, 2014)

It’s tempting to say that Darren Aronofsky’s Noah has brought back the Bible epic. It’s certainly the first major live-action Bible movie to be produced by a Hollywood studio in decades. But the fascinating thing about this film is how utterly different it is from the Bible movies that came before it. Aronofsky has not revived the genre so much as he has utterly transformed it.

Unlike most Bible films, which take place within decidedly historical contexts, Noah is based on the earliest, most “mythic” chapters of Genesis, as well as some of the Jewish legends that have grown up around those chapters. Building on the ancient otherworldliness of these stories, Aronofsky has created a grounded yet somewhat fantastical environment that is, at times, strikingly reminiscent of the Lord of the Rings movies.

But the core biblical themes — of temptation, wickedness and punishment — are still there, and Aronofsky infuses the genre with his own personal style, not least in his use of haunting dream sequences and in his focus on a morally ambiguous protagonist.

Put it all together and you’ve got something quite unique.

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Son of God news round-up: a box-office update, thoughts on Peter Bart’s “open letter” to Mark Burnett, and more

The makers of Son of God promoted the film quite heavily during the run-up to its release two weeks ago, and they kept at it during the film’s first week in theatres — but the publicity machine has slowed down considerably since then, and now, in its third weekend, Son of God is estimated to have grossed about $5.4 million, which puts it in 7th place for the week.

That figure is down 48% from last weekend, which, percentage-wise, is the second-largest drop in this week’s top ten (the biggest is the 57.6% by which 300: Rise of an Empire fell from its opening last week). With a weekend take of $1,806 per screen, Son of God also had the second-lowest per-screen average in the top ten, ahead of only the $1,444 per screen taken in by Frozen, the Oscar-winning Disney cartoon that has been playing in theatres for almost four months now.

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The Noah marketing campaign adds a disclaimer

Two years ago, when Paramount Pictures first announced that it was producing Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, the studio said the film would be “a close adaptation of the Biblical story”. Now, after a couple weeks of sometimes baffling controversy, the studio is taking a different tack, announcing yesterday that it will add a disclaimer to many of the upcoming ads and trailers for the film to clarify that it is an “imaginative” adaptation of the story and not a “literal” one.

The Wrap, for its part, reports that the disclaimer has been added to the film as well, though neither of the trade papers linked above support that claim.

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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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