HBO’s ‘The Leftovers’ may doom new remake of ‘Left Behind’

The new Left Behind movie, starring Nicolas Cage as Rayford Steele, is scheduled for release on October 3.

It’s not a good sign that the film’s producers have only recently produced actual posters promoting the release, or that five months out they still haven’t cut an actual trailer.

What they’re offering as a “trailer” is, instead, what appears to be a low-budget segment of some Entertainment Tonight knock-off, featuring unrevealing interviews with members of the cast and crew:

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That doesn’t look like the trailer for a major film that will be ready for theaters in five months. It looks more like the Kickstarter video for a project that’s struggling to meet it’s fundraising target.

Judging by that trailer, it seems this movie may faithfully adhere to the mantra of Left Behind typist Jerry Jenkins: Tell, don’t show.

The one promising thing about this new film (apart from Nic freakin’ Cage) is that the full cast list doesn’t include anyone in the role of Nicolae Carpathia.

On the one hand, this is disappointing — the Antichrist is the most interesting character in the book, and in the original movie adaptation Gordon Currie was the only member of the cast (or audience) who seemed to be having any fun. Currie made the only choice available to him for the role, camping it up. (Gordon Currie was fun. Tim Curry would have been amazing — “Oh, come on Buck, admit it, you liked it didn’t you?”)

On the other hand, while the initial unnerving excitement of the Rapture is inherently dramatic, the rest of Left Behind — the rest of the entire series, really — has no idea where to go after that or what to do with itself. The plot bogs down almost as soon as Rayford’s plane touches down.

The new movie seems more narrowly focused on the event of the Rapture itself and its immediate aftermath. That means its likely to deviate from the book at exactly the point where the book deviates from any hope of realistically portraying that event or its aftermath. It’s unlikely this new film will show us Nic Cage and Chad Michael Murray briskly walking past the flaming wreck of multiple plane crashes, ignoring the cries of the injured, so that they can quickly make their way back to the suburbs or to a working telephone (respectively).

Nic Cage may be a very strange actor, but he’s played heroes before and he’s been in movies with plane crashes before, and there’s no way he’d play this scene allowing Rayford to be the oblivious, solipsistic narcissist the book presents.

The biggest problem facing the new Left Behind movie, though, may be that three months before it hits theaters, the first season of The Leftovers debuts on HBO. That’s based on Tom Perrotta’s novel of that name, summarized here by NPR’s Fresh Air:

What if the rapture did actually occur? That’s the premise of Tom Perrotta’s latest novel, The Leftovers, which examines the aftermath of an unexplained rapturelike event in which millions of people around the globe inexplicably disappear into thin air.

Perrotta’s novel takes place after the rapture, in a small New Jersey suburb, where families are trying to get on with their lives. The Garvey family, for instance, didn’t lose any family members in the rapture but has fallen apart in the aftermath. The father, Kevin, watches as his teenagers change and his wife, Laurie, leaves his house to join a cult called “The Guilty Remnant,” whose members dress all in white and take a vow of silence.

The following trailer — an actual trailer — is Not Safe For Work (language, nudity, sexual situations and violence … it’s an HBO show), but all you need to see, really, is the first 30 seconds:

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There it is. There’s everything that’s missing in the entire Left Behind series: Sudden bewildering chaos and a mother screaming in agony over the loss of her child.

Left Behind does not include any such mother, any such agony, chaos, bewilderment or loss.

Here’s a shorter, SFW teaser-trailer for the series, outlining The Leftovers’ premise of a world grappling with the instantaneous, unexplainable “departure” of 2 percent of the world’s population:

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The Leftovers looks interesting. Whether or not it turns out to be any good, it’s an HBO show, so it’s going to generate some buzz. People will be talking about it — and talking about the questions it raises — all through July, August and September. What would that be like? What would you do? How would you react? What would happen to …?

Those questions are going to be kicked around in all kinds of settings right up until the Oct. 3 release date of the new Left Behind movie. So the audience for that movie — even the insular, culturally isolated core of its pre-existing fans — is going to enter the theater having given some thought to those questions. That audience will enter the theater having given more thought to those questions than Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins ever did.

That mother’s voice from The Leftovers – her scream of “Sam!” — will set the bar for audiences’ expectation of what Left Behind shows as the aftermath and response to its Rapture. If the new movie is anything at all like the book it’s based on, those audiences are bound to be angrily disappointed.


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