National Geographic unveils the cast for Killing Jesus

killingjesusThe National Geographic Channel’s adaptation of Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Jesus is now filming in Morocco, and thanks to The Hollywood Reporter, we now know who many of the actors are — and they’re an eclectic bunch, to be sure.

In keeping with other recent efforts to depict Jesus as something other than a blonde-haired, blue-eyed European, the part of Jesus will be played by Haaz Sleiman, an actor born in Lebanon who is perhaps best-known for playing a Syrian immigrant in Tom McCarthy’s The Visitor.

Herod the Great, on the other hand, will be played by Kelsey Grammer, who doesn’t seem like a particularly Middle Eastern kind of guy to me. (The fact that he’s best known for his comedic roles on Frasier and The Simpsons doesn’t help!)

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Creation, evolution, the Fall and more in a new Noah clip

Six weeks after Noah came out in theatres, the filmmakers have released another clip — and it’s one of the best sequences in the entire film. The Creation sequence begins with a single shot that captures billions of years of evolution, from the Big Bang to the mammals that existed just before humanity came along, and it goes on to show the Fall, Cain killing Abel, and the violence that has continued throughout human history right up to the present day. You can watch the video — and read a few thoughts I have about the significance of this clip — below the jump.

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How do we define “wickedness” in biblical films?

If there was one theme linking the trailer and the TV spot for Noah that came out two days ago, it was “wickedness”.

Previous ads showed Methuselah telling Noah that mankind has earned the wrath of God because mankind has “corrupted this world and filled it with violence” — but yesterday’s ads pushed the language in an even more explicitly biblical direction.

The title card that opens the new trailer states: “At a time when wickedness was great in the world… so too was the response.” And the narrator in the new TV spot declares that the film takes place at a time when “wickedness ruled the hearts of men”.

This echoes the beginning of the biblical Noah story, which states: “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.”

But what exactly did that wickedness consist of?

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Bible movie of the week: The Bible: In the Beginning… (1966)

The title speaks of beginnings, but the film itself marked the end of an era. The post-war Bible-movie craze — which began with Samson and Delilah (1949) and arguably peaked with Ben-Hur (1959) and its record 11 Academy Awards — petered out over the next several years, and The Bible: In the Beginning… (1966) was pretty much the last major Bible film to be produced by a Hollywood studio for the next couple of decades.

The problem was not that the film was a flop, per se, but that it cost so much to make. Reliable box-office figures are harder to find, the further back you go in time, but according to Wikipedia, at least, The Bible was the top-grossing film of 1966, with a domestic gross of $34 million. Then again, roughly half of that money would have stayed with the theatres, and the film is said to have cost as much as $18 million — and that probably doesn’t count the cost of prints and advertising. So whether the film made its money back would seem to depend on how well it performed overseas.

In any case, I recently revisited this film and noticed a few things that I thought were worth noting here. (See also my recent post on Abraham and the Three Visitors, which discusses one scene from this film that I don’t get into here.)

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Cyrus the Great — a Persian king ready for his close-up?

Last week, the LA Weekly posted an item about the Cyrus Cylinder, an ancient Persian artifact that is currently touring American museums.

The blog post notes that the Cylinder is widely regarded as the first known declaration of human rights, and it goes on to suggest that Americans of Iranian descent will be “eager for the opportunity to remember and embrace a noble part of their identity that’s not yet been desecrated by Hollywood (we’re looking at you, 300)”.

This got me thinking: how often has Cyrus been depicted in film? (300 took place about 50 years after his death, during the reign of Xerxes.) To what extent has his role in history — as one of the more enlightened conquerors of ancient times — been recognized on the big screen, or on the small screen for that matter?

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The Bible: third episode, first impressions

Three down, two to go! Here are my first impressions of the third episode of The Bible, which ended the Old Testament section of the mini-series and began the New Testament section.

Continuity between Bible stories, redux. For all my grumbling about the series to date, there is one thing about it that I have always appreciated, and that is the way it links the various Bible stories, whether by having characters in one story recall what their ancestors did in another, or by having the angels appear in multiple stories wearing the exact same clothes, etc. And the first half of this episode is seriously impressive on that level.

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