Making Superman, Jesus and other iconic figures “relatable”

It’s something of a cliché for religion-minded pop-culture writers to talk about the parallels between Superman and Jesus, especially when there’s a new Superman movie in the works, but Zack Snyder, director of the upcoming Superman reboot Man of Steel, said something in one of the film’s newer promotional featurettes that got me thinking about the parallel from a slightly different angle than usual.

Specifically, Snyder described how the approach taken by producer Chris Nolan and screenwriter David S. Goyer would make Superman relevant to a 21st-century audience: “What Chris and David did was, ‘Let’s let the audience participate in the experience of being Superman, without breaking the things that make him Superman.’ They were able to sort of make him relatable, ground him and make him feel real.”

Two things came to mind on hearing this statement.

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History and tradition in movie depictions of the Cross.

Western Easter came and went last week, but the Eastern churches are currently only half-way through the Lenten season, so yesterday was, for us, the Sunday of the Veneration of the Precious Cross.

Thinking about this, I inevitably started thinking about Jesus movies, and I began to think about the fact that the recent mini-series The Bible has joined Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ in taking a step back from recent “historically accurate” depictions of the Crucifixion towards a more traditional sort of iconography.

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Top Ten Jesus Movies

They’ve been making films about the Son of God for over a century. Here’s one man’s list of those that ascend to the top of the cinematic pack.

Of the making of movies about Jesus, there is no end. In the first three months of this year alone: Son of Man, which casts a black man as Christ and sets his life in modern South Africa, got positive reviews at Sundance; the makers of Color of the Cross, which also casts a black man as Christ, established a website with trailers for their work-in-progress; and New Line Cinema announced that Oscar nominees Keisha Castle-Hughes (Whale Rider) and Shohreh Aghdashloo (House of Sand and Fog) will star as the Virgin Mary and her cousin Elizabeth in a new movie about the Nativity, to be released in time for Christmas.

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Come and See: How Movies Encourage Us to Look at (and with) Jesus

In orthodox Christian belief, Jesus is both God and man, fully divine and fully human. And it is because God has revealed himself in the form of a particular person who lived in a particular time and a particular place that Christians down through the ages have generally felt free to portray Jesus in icons, passion plays, and other forms of religious art. But except for the most basic and theologically essential points, such works of art generally pass over the particularities of Jesus’s life. His humanity, expressed in the mere fact that he can be depicted at all, is often balanced with his divinity by a degree of artistic abstraction: Whether depicting Christ in static paintings or following the stations of the cross according to a set pattern, artists have tended to downplay realistic or naturalistic details to focus on the more eternal truths.

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Review: The Apocalypse (dir. Raffaele Mertes, 2002)

There have been many films about the end times, but few have had all that much to do with the actual Book of Revelation. Most apocalyptic movies have been more interested in giving the ancient prophecies a modern spin than in bringing the Scriptures themselves to life — and they have usually accomplished this by spinning a web of hokey political conspiracies and horror-movie shock effects out of thin air. Thus, these films have tended to reflect the social and cultural preoccupations of their makers much more than anything particularly biblical.

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The Passion sets records, wins converts

CONFOUNDING the expectations of its foes and even some of its fans, Mel Gibson’s self-financed movie about the death of Jesus has become one of the biggest box-office hits of all time.

The Passion of the Christ, released across North America on February 25, has earned $317 million in its first five weeks and has already set records for top-grossing R-rated film, independent film and foreign-language film (beating The Matrix Reloaded, My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, respectively).

And while there is no word yet on whether any sequels, spin-offs or remakes are in the works, several studios have cashed in on the film’s success by dusting off older Jesus films that were lying in their vaults.

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