"What If" Question of the Day…

As tired as I am of the Brokeback Mountain and Chronicles of Narnia debates, and as uninterested as I am in the Munich debate, I find myself almost nostalgic for The Passion of the Christ. So my question for the day is this…

If someone were to pick up where Mel Gibson left off and direct the next ambitious New Testament film… who should direct it?

Mel Gibson looks like he’s going to be busy for a while, what with Apocalypto on the way, and a project about the holocaust.

Seems that the much-rumored sequel to The Passion of the Christ won’t be hitting screens any time real soon… if it happens at all. But it seems almost inevitable.

So I’m wondering… who has the integrity, the vision, and the strength to venture into those turbulent cultural waters and deliver something lasting and significant? Whose background could withstand the harsh, penetrating gaze of the mainstream media, who will go so far as to attempt to perform character assassinations on the filmmaker’s family members?

And what character should be central?

 

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About Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet is the author of a “memoir of dangerous moviegoing” called Through a Screen Darkly, and a four-volume series of fantasy novels called The Auralia Thread, which includes Auralia’s Colors, Cyndere’s Midnight, Raven’s Ladder, and The Ale Boy’s Feast. Jeffrey is a contributing editor for Seattle Pacific University’s Response magazine, and he writes about art, faith, and culture for Image, Filmwell, and his own website, LookingCloser.org. His work has also appeared in Paste, Relevant, Books and Culture, and Christianity Today (where he was a film columnist and critic for almost a decade). He lives in Shoreline, Washington. Visit him on Facebook at facebook.com/jeffreyoverstreethq.

  • Jenny

    What a pleasant surprise!

  • Tim Frankovich

    I would love to see the life of David done justice. Of course, it’s too long for one movie, which opens up that current favorite Hollywood term: franchise!

    The first movie could open with him as shepherd and end with him finally becoming king.

    Done right, the life of David is epic material. As for a director, unfortunately I can’t really think of one that could handle it properly. After all, none of them have gotten King Arthur right yet, and the parallels between Arthur and David are monumental.

  • J. Caution

    How about David Lynch or Guy Maddin for the Book of Revelation?

  • Peter T Chattaway

    FWIW, there were two Nativity-themed TV-movies in the late ’70s — The Nativity in 1978 and Mary and Joseph: A Story of Faith in 1979 — and as I recall, neither one was all that good. The latter one, though, did some interesting things by tying the story of Mary and Joseph to the story of Judas the Galilean and his rebellion against the Romans, which Gamaliel refers to as taking place during the census in Acts 5:37. (Interestingly, this film was also directed by Eric Till, who more recently directed movies about Dietrich Bonnhoeffer and Martin Luther.)

    Of course, how a film depicts the Nativity will inevitably get the filmmakers tangled up in questions like whether or not the “brothers” of Jesus were Joseph’s offspring from a previous marriage (the traditional Orthodox view); or more distant relatives, like cousins (the traditional Catholic view); or the offspring of Joseph and Mary (the dominant Protestant view). I wonder also how many films, apart from Zeffirelli’s, have preserved the common Christian tradition that Mary’s parents were named Joachim and Anna (although, technically, I don’t believe Zeffirelli ever mentions Joachim). And then there are all sorts of other legends and traditions to deal with, relating to those characters…

    And FWIW, I am not convinced that a Bible movie needs to be “devotional”.

  • Matt Page

    Someone already has…
    http://uk.imdb.com/title/tt0048517/

    Nice find on The Nativity BTW. Thats one Jesus film I haven’t seen.

    Matt

  • Nick

    Speaking of the Nativity, last month at a video store closing, I was able to purchase “The Nativity”– a long out of print made-for-tv VHS starring a young Madeline Stowe as Mary, with supporting turns from Leo McKern, Jane Wyatt, and a pre-Raiders John Rhies-Davies!! (Couldn’t watch it this year… gonna try it next year).

    As for movies, whoever does take the helm over the next religious movie ought to have worked as an assistant or a grip for “Passion.” That film raised the bar in devotional filmmaking.

    And considering all the flak that the Passion had for not having proper context of Christ’s teachings, then they should have a film of Christ’s teachings. “The Gospel of John” attempted to do this, but it came out talky and stale. It might be good to incorporate the artistry of Renaissance painters as they tried to recapture the power of these parables, and bring them out. Perhaps one could do a movie of “The Prodigal Son”, for example (can one make it full-length)?

  • Matt Page

    Danny said:
    “If Norman Jewison directed it in the same flavor as he did Moonstruck it could be hilarious.”

    Yeah, but what if he directed it with the same flavour as Jesus Christ Superstar?

  • Matt Page

    Hmmm, blogged this discussion on my new Bible Films Blog.

    I wasn’t sure what my answer was going to be at first, but it turns out that aside from another telling of the Jesus story, or of Paul, what I’d most like to see is the story of Peter done by Martin Scorsese.(full post)

  • Peter T Chattaway

    FWIW, the slaughter of the innocents is featured fairly prominently in Franco Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth (1977), which devotes at least an hour of its six-hour-plus running time to the Nativity.

    That mini-series was co-written by Anthony Burgess, who went on to co-write the Acts-based mini-series A.D. Anno Domini (1985), and I seem to recall him saying at the time that, when he read Acts in the original Greek, he was struck by the humour in it, so he tried to keep that element in his teleplay.

    And just for the record, I can’t imagine devoting an entire third of any film about Paul to a period in his life for which we have very little information. And if The Passion of the Christ is to be our example, I think it would be especially dull to just trot out a typical chronological biopic. Flashbacks must be used!

    (FWIW, my favorite Paul is Anthony Hopkins’ interpretation in the 1981 mini-series Peter and Paul — though my favorite interpretation of the earlier chapters in Acts is in A.D. Anno Domini. There are some beautiful moments, there.)

    Danny, I love your idea.

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    Clay,

    Yes, it will take a special director, AND a special writer!

  • Eriol

    Terry Gillam should direct the story of the guy who fell out of the window, while Paul was preaching. But it would have to be a long fall.

    I also like Danny’s idea, because Acts is a comedy. The director should include the before mentioned scene, and the scene when Paul starts a riot in the Sanhedrin.

  • Clay

    Jeffrey: For about the last month, we’ve been discussing what an incredible film the entire birth narrative would make. But it’s much more than just the “Christmas” story; it is an epic story filled with love, hatred, death, drama, craziness, intrigue, angels, the birth of God, Magi traveling the desert, and on and on. It’s a story just waiting for someone with an epic vision to bring it to the screen with dramatic intensity, character development, historical detail, miraculous effects, and the full visual treatment it deserves but has never received (always seems to be a footnote). Walden Media should produce it, but it would need a special director (not Gibson, not Adamson, not Spielberg). Someone needs to do it, and do it right.

  • Ed from Ohio

    I think Elijah’s story’s the way to go. I recommend Eli Roth—no wait, I don’t actually have a solid opinion on who would direct a good Elijah movie.

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    Danny, that is a fantastic premise.

    You should write it, before someone else does.

  • Danny

    I think a story following a young man who is sent by Paul to deliver and read his letter to the Corinthians would make a great comedy. If Norman Jewison directed it in the same flavor as he did Moonstruck it could be hilarious. Getting to see all the petty squabbles of the early christians would reflect so well the church of today. Robert Benton would be good with this story too.

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    Gibson has thrown open the door to telling Bible stories on the big screen with all of the darkness that gets edited out of Sunday school versions… from flannel graph to the pulpit. Where is the film version of the Christmas story that includes Herod’s malevolence? Where is the version of Paul, as you said, that reminds us of who it was that God loved enough to reprimand and shape into one of his champions?

    And when… WHEN… is someone going to realize the dramatic potential of the story of Joseph? (And no, I don’t accept the made-for-tv movie as the best we can do.)

  • Silus Grok

    A third vote for Paul… especially if we started _way_ before his conversion story. I think a third of the film setting him up as the torturer of Christians would make a wonderfully complex movie.

    Director?

    Ang Lee would be nice… Spielberg would be an interesting choice as well.

  • Michael Rew

    I have no suggestions for who could direct a character film from Acts. Focusing on Paul would seem the obvious choice, but perhaps it would be better if the movie focused on the day of Pentecost up until the time Cornelius and the other Gentiles were accepted into the Church. The reason why “The Passion of the Christ” was such a smash hit is because the Stations of the Cross and other elements of the Catholic understanding of His passion have so much backstory to them, and interactive dialogue is not so much needed to fill out the story. I do not think the same is true about the book of Acts.

    As for a director, to have a movie on par with “The Passion,” there needs to be a director who has the missionary zeal and vision, not just the talent, to do such a story. Would most directors have a sense that God intended them to make the sequel of “The Passion”?

  • John Herreid

    In my opinion, one of the best filmmakers out there who is able to take the viewer to another time and place effectively is Ang Lee. Despite all of the brouhaha over Brokeback Mountain, I think he could do an excellent job if he were given a good script. One of my favorite movies of the last ten years is Ride with the Devil, Lee’s somewhat underappreciated Civil War drama. Given a great script, I think he’d be able to work wonders with a Biblical story.

    I think most other directors would either try to make the early Christians into idealized versions of a sensitive modern man, or just go the 1950′s route of turning out a bland, inoffensive sentimentalized version.

    Other directors who might be able to pull it off: John Malkovich (I thought his Dancer Upstairs was a great film about moral struggle) or if it was to take a more dreamlike approach, the Polish brothers. I liked Northfork quite a bit, especially as a meditation on death and the afterlife.

  • wngl

    It’s obvious: tell Paul’s story. Imagine the Road to Damascus as recreated by Wexa.
    Director: Haneke


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