Evangelicals and their (Bad) Movies

Russell Crowe as Noah.

I had thought we were past this. Honestly. Movies that are blatantly written and produced for evangelical audiences suck. Think Left Behind or Fireproof or The Christmas Candle.

Mainstream movies that are successfully marketed to evangelicals also tend to suck. Think Evan Almighty. The Passion of the Christ is an obvious exception, and it unfortunately convinced Hollywood marketers that evangelicals can make a movie a blockbuster. But, in general, evangelicals cannot make a movie a hit.

Now it’s happening again.

On the one hand, we’ve got Son of God, a new movie from Mark Burnet and Roma Downey. I’m guessing it’s going to suck. Nevertheless, pastors like Rick Warren are doing what they can to ensure its success:

Christian leaders, including megachurch pastor Rick Warren, plan to rent every screen in numerous multiplex theaters across 10 cities for the premiere of Mark Burnett and Roma Downey’s upcoming Jesus film, “Son of God,” on Feb. 27.

The unusual move reflects the confidence Christian leaders have in Burnett and Downey’s work in the wake of “The Bible,” a hit miniseries on the History channel…

Many religious leaders are citing the movie as a natural opportunity to evangelize. Warren may have a vested interest in the film, since he wrote a curriculum tied to the movie and published by LifeWay Christian Resources.

When you’ve got to rent theaters for your movie, it’s never a good sign.

Meanwhile, another studio is attempting to woo evangelicals with Darren Aronofsky’s Noah. But evangelicals aren’t having any of it. Aronofsky’s Noah is too dark, too conflicted, and, after the arc lands, too drunk. Against the director’s wishes, Paramount has been showing various versions of the film to audiences of evangelicals, and it hasn’t been going well:

In some cases, Moore says, “people had recollections of the story that weren’t actually correct.” For example, there was Noah’s ability to open and close the door to the ark. “People said the door to the ark is supposed to be so big that no man can close it. Well no, that’s not actually what it says. What it says is that God ultimately shut the door of the ark when the flood comes, so it wasn’t Noah shutting the door on the rest of humanity — it was God making a decision.”

And then there’s the scene — which actually is in the Bible — in which Noah, back on land after the flood, gets drunk by himself in a cave. “But most people do not remember or were never taught the fact that after Noah’s off the ark, there is a moment in the story where he is drunk,” says Moore.

Did you catch that? A story that generations of Christians (and Mormons) used to enslave and subjugate Blacks has been totally forgotten by evangelicals (and surely by all Christians). What the Bible actually says is fascinating, and I look forward to seeing how Aronofsky hews to the text, and how he embellishes it. I might see it several times, especially if it’s good.

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  • Larry Barber

    Why should the movies be any better than the music?

    • mhelbert

      Good point. I was a part of that whole CCM thing for a time. Pretty poor.

  • IntegralShaman

    I just can’t wait for the part where he drops the door to the Ark, raises his sword, and says “On my command, unleash hell!”

    • No, no, no. The exact biblical phrasing is, “Release the Kracken!”

  • S’funny: The same folks who pooh-pooh the lack of historical accuracy in Braveheart or The Patriot or We Were Soldiers or other history-based movies not starring Mel Gibson, lose their tiny minds every time a director dares to deviate from what they think is in the bible. Because evangelism.

    I remember freaking out a roomful of students by pointing out Noah didn’t build a boat; he built a box. An ark is a box. Not everything in the bible is as we imagine it.

  • I’ll have to buy Noah and put it next to that Atlas Shrugged, Part 1 DVD, which I’ll purchase just as soon as I get a Round Tuit.

    At least nobody is going to be hounding me to see Noah, the way it sounds.

  • This movie will make it harder to use this story as a flannelgraph mythic hero narrative that teaches the easy Sunday School lessons of “Do whatever that voice in your head tells you” and “God kills people who are bad.” Noah makes for a shitty hero archetype. Imagine if Lord of the Rings ended with Aragorn getting caught having an affair with an intern. Being true to the Noah text makes it harder for us to use the narrative for our own mythic purposes.

    • Ric Shewell

      I guess that we’ll just have to teach that everyone stands in need of God’s grace. Boring….

      • “Today, boys and girls, we’re going to learn about NOAH. Noah was kind of a DUMBASS, but who do we know that loves dumbasses?… GOD, that’s right, Billy!… Are you a dumbass, Billy? …Yes you are!…”

  • Ric Shewell

    As long as Russell Crowe doesn’t sing, I’m cool with it.

    • Yeah, Les Miserable made me cry, not when Fontine died, but when Javert sang. So sad…

  • toddh

    Yup, looking forward to Noah. Taking the high schoolers. Movies for evangelicals are crap, and I wouldn’t even put The Passion in that category. Especially b/c of Gibson’s bizarre version of Catholicism. I think he had himself in mind when he made it, not evangelicals.

    Bible stories are too limited to make movies about them without some embellishments. They just don’t give enough details – and that’s one of the fun things about them. Filling in the blanks should be celebrated – not feared. Thousands of years of midrash proves this, and Kierkegaard’s versions of the Abraham and Issac story at the beginning of Fear and Trembling are another good example.

    • Pasolini’s “Gospel according to St. Matthew” showed that you could make an outstanding biblical movie even hewing close to the literal. It’s the only example I know of, though, and it was most probably helped by the fact that Pasolini had absolutely no commitment to its religious message or historical truth.

  • Marietta Domokos

    What blows me away is that some of the world’s greatest classical art and music was inspired by faith….Look at Michael Angelo’s Sistine Chapel, Handel’s “Messiah” or any of the other remarkable masterpieces inspired by religion….. So what happened exactly?

    • I think what happened is that the Church has retreated from the conversations the world is having, preferring instead to re-hash the best thinking of previous centuries. As a result, most of the best thinkers have to leave the Church behind if they want to continue thinking.

  • Steve Miller

    Perhaps Rick Warren’s idea of success and yours are not the same? I doubt his goals in buying out entire showings so anyone can come see Son of God for free lines up with the traditional worldly motivation of making a profit. Maybe Evangelicals deem the message of a movie to be of higher importance than the base entertainment value? I would tend to think they are taking advantage of the situation to share the Gospel, not as a shrewd marketing ploy. I too would like to see better Christian movies, but I know the path there is not to be unkindly critical of where the industry is currently.

    • Andrew Dowling

      “I doubt his goals in buying out entire showings so anyone can come see
      Son of God for free lines up with the traditional worldly motivation of
      making a profit.”

      Such a coincidence they intertwine! Must be the hand of God!

  • Nathan Myers

    Yes, Tony, the two examples of people’s inaccuracies with the story of Noah mean it has been “totally forgotten by evangelicals.”

    Reading your blog here almost convinces me…almost…that you have an axe to grind with the evangelical community. I get the sense you would have greater glee over the “Son of God” movie flopping than a blind man seeing.

  • Chris

    Liberals will love it. Noah and crew are environmentalists and all the bad conserv…errr, people that are raping the earth are wiped out. A libs fantasy come true. I’ll be interested to see how so few people with no factories or carbon emissions can plunder the earth so thoroughly.

  • Son of God will suck. Black (Obama) Satan, White Jesus (hear me, Everlast?). http://lat.ms/1e8c3yY But I am an Aronofsky fan-boy. His treatment of religion is always fascinating. See what he does with the Hasidim in Pi or with the Spanish Catholics and the odd zen dude in The Fountain. He has a very dark view of religion and humanity. I cringed at the thought of this and then I saw who was doing it and who was in it. I am totally juiced to see it.

  • S_i_m_o_n

    Fireproof may have had forced dialog at times and was noticeably lacking in the acting department but it certainly did achieve it’s purpose and managed to reach a fairly wide audience, especially for an independent film. I dare say you would love to have your upcoming book be as successful as Fireproof.

  • Laura Giles

    The book is always better than the movie.

  • Alan Christensen

    As long as Russell Crowe doesn’t sing, I’m OK with it.

  • Honey Badger

    Have you seen either movie yet? I’m not sure how you can have an opinion yet.

  • I think I read that this movie is based on the Book of Enoch — is that correct?

    And concerning the monetarily sly Rick Warren. I just heard he put out a book with capitalizes on the low-gluten, low carb movement. He sprinkles in spirituality to create another best seller. I laughed and cried at the same time.

  • I’ll be in line. I have no more qualms about seeing it than I did seeing Clash of the Titans. I expect the same from both. Over hyped, excessive use of CGI, adaption of a mythological epic with a 21st Century moral slapped on. Let Christians moan, I’m sure Ill enjoy it enough for all of us.

  • Charles Cosimano

    If they wanted to make it fun they could have the ark torpedoed by a submarine from Atlantis.

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