Bible movie of the week: Slaves of Babylon (1953)

By now you may have figured out that I’m using the “Bible Movie of the Week” series as an excuse, or opportunity, to focus on some of the more obscure films out there, rather than the blockbusters that everyone knows and loves (most of which I have already written about at some length anyway). And so today I come to Slaves of Babylon (1953), a sort of adaptation of the Book of Daniel that I had barely even heard about until very recently.

In fact, I only bothered to go looking for this film a few weeks ago, after I had written a post about the Persian King Cyrus, who is celebrated in the Old Testament (Isaiah even calls him “the Lord’s Messiah”) for letting the Jews return to Jerusalem following their exile in Babylon. Cyrus might not be the most prominent of biblical figures, but he did play a significant role within the history of the Jewish people, and it seems a shame that there haven’t been more than a couple of films about him.

Slaves of Babylon is one of those films. While it dramatizes some of the better-known stories from the Book of Daniel, it also revolves around a mostly made-up story in which Cyrus becomes king of Persia with help from one of Daniel’s followers. I say “mostly made-up” because it seems the film’s depiction of Cyrus’s early life is derived in part from a legend passed down to us by the Greek historian Herodotus. So basically, Slaves of Babylon represents a pop-cultural attempt to bridge religious and secular history — and those are the kinds of films I find particularly interesting, whatever their aesthetic merits may or may not be. (Another example would be the 1985 mini-series A.D.: Anno Domini, which alternated between the Book of Acts and the lives of the Caesars, with a bit of Josephus thrown in for good measure.)

[Read more...]

Jay Robinson: from Caligula to Watergate and outer space

Via Fred Clark, I learn that character actor Jay Robinson died a couple weeks ago. Robinson made his big-screen debut as the insane emperor Caligula in The Robe (1953) and its sequel Demetrius and the Gladiators (1954), but his career was sidelined by a stint in prison for drug possession, until he started getting bit parts and guest roles on TV shows like the original Star Trek (where he played an alien named Petri) and Planet of the Apes (the TV series, not the movies). He also popped up in Woody Allen’s Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask (1972) in the sequence where we see what goes on inside a man’s head as a man has sex; while Burt Reynolds and Tony Randall tell the rest of the man’s body what to do, Jay Robinson shows up as a priest who tries to sabotage the proceedings.

[Read more...]

Darren Aronofsky on the “fantastical creatures” in Noah

The dinosaurs of Jurassic Park may have been the first photorealistic computer-generated animals to grace the big screen, but in the 20 years since then, filmmakers have used computers to simulate more familiar lifeforms — sometimes for safety reasons, sometimes because it gives the filmmakers more control over the animals’ actions, and sometimes because it’s just more cost-effective. See, for example, the horses that were crushed underfoot during one of the big battles in The Lord of the Rings, or the tiger and other animals that shared a lifeboat with a human shipwreck survivor in Life of Pi.

And it’s not just animals. Just last night I was watching the iTunes commentary for Star Trek into Darkness, and one of the special-effects guys mentions quite casually that “literally fifty percent” of the aliens who worship the Enterprise at the end of that film’s opening sequence were actors in make-up, and the rest were created in a computer. And this, despite the fact that there are only a few dozen characters onscreen and they are relatively close to the camera; we’re not talking about one of those epic cast-of-thousands shots like the ones Peter Jackson popularized.

So it should come as no surprise that movies based on the story of Noah’s Ark have been turning to computers to create their little zoos, too.

[Read more...]

Bible movie of the week: Sins of Jezebel (1953)

On at least two occasions this year, I have grumbled about the relative lack of movies about the prophet Elijah.

He’s a very important figure in the Bible: not only is he one of two Old Testament figures who went straight to heaven without dying (the other is Noah’s great-grandfather Enoch), he is also one of only two Old Testament figures who appear with Jesus at the Transfiguration (the other is Moses). The Old Testament prophet Malachi predicted that Elijah would return before the great day of judgment, and Christians believe this prophecy was fulfilled by John the Baptist, while Jews set a cup of wine aside at the Passover table in anticipation of Elijah’s return.

But has Elijah received the same sort of cinematic attention as Moses and Jesus? Have there been any epic blockbusters about his confrontations with the prophets of Baal and their royal patrons, King Ahab and Queen Jezebel? Alas, no.

But that’s not to say there haven’t been any films about Elijah. There are, in fact, a variety of short films and other shows that have covered these subjects, and yesterday I finally got around to watching the one feature-length film version of his story that was produced during the 1950s, when the Bible-movie genre was at its peak.
[Read more...]

Two months later… a few more thoughts on Star Trek into Darkness

It was two months ago today that Star Trek into Darkness opened to the general public in Australia and other countries overseas, and this past weekend marked the first time that the film slipped out of the weekly top ten at the North American box office. So now seems like as good a time as any to link to a few Star Trek-themed things that weren’t online yet when I last wrote about the film.

[Read more...]

Ethnic criminals and colour-blind casting

Warning: This post will reveal one of the key spoilers in Star Trek into Darkness. It’s not that big a spoiler, especially if you’ve been paying any attention to the buzz around that film for the past two years, but, if by any chance you have been avoiding the spoilers around that film, you may want to avoid this post, too.

Two films in theatres right now feature significant characters who happen to be (1) villainous, or at the very least somewhat shady, and (2) members of an ethnic group that has sometimes been subject to stereotyping. In both films, the characters in question are played by members of an entirely different ethnic group — and this has puzzled some observers, who have asked if the films could have found a more creative but authentic way to navigate the issues raised by their source material.

[Read more...]


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X