March 28th, 2014
01:22 PM ET
Does God have a prayer in Hollywood?
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
Los Angeles (CNN) – Forgive Darren Aronofsky if he’s begun to identify with the title character of his new film, “Noah.”
Like the infamous ark-maker, the 45-year-old director has weathered a Bible-sized storm – and it’s not over yet.
Aronofsky’s epic, which stars Russell Crowe and boasts a $130 million budget (with marketing costs to match), rode a swelling wave of controversy into American theaters on Friday.
Despite fierce criticism from some conservative Christians, "Noah" was the top box-office draw last weekend, raking in $44 million in the United States.
Part Middle-Earth fantasy flick, part family melodrama, the film is an ambitious leap for Aronofsky, director of the art-house hits “Black Swan” and “The Wrestler.”
Both of those films were showered with praise and awards. “Noah,” on the other hand, has sailed into a stiff headwind.
Glenn Beck and megachurch pastor Rick Warren blasted the film. The National Religious Broadcasters insisted “Noah” include a disclaimer acknowledging the filmmakers took “artistic license” with the Bible story. Several Muslim countries have banned the movie, citing Islam’s injunctions against depicting prophets.
Even Paramount, the studio releasing “Noah,” has agitated Aronofsky, testing at least five different versions of his film with focus groups.
“I can understand some of the suspicion because it’s been 50 years since an Old Testament biblical epic has come to the big screen,” Aronofsky said recently. “And in that time a lot of films have come out of Hollywood that have rubbed people the wrong way."
Box office report: 'Noah' wreaks Old Testament havoc on its competitors
2014 is supposed to be the year Tinsel Town reversed that trend and finally got religion.
A decade after “The Passion of the Christ” surprised Hollywood, rankled liberals and raked in $600 million worldwide, big studios are backing a flotilla of faith-based films.
In addition to “Noah,” there’s “Son of God” from 20th Century Fox, which came out in March and is culled from the History Channel’s megahit miniseries, "The Bible."
In April, Sony Pictures will release “Heaven is For Real,” based on the bestselling book and produced by Bishop T.D. Jakes, a Texas megachurch pastor and multimedia entrepreneur.
The movie “Exodus,” directed by Ridley Scott and starring Christian Bale as Moses, is scheduled for December. So, too, is “Mary, Mother of Christ,” which is billed as a prequel to Mel Gibson’s “Passion.”
More biblical epics may be on the horizon. Steven Spielberg is reportedly in talks to direct another movie about Moses, and Warner Brothers recently bought a script about Pontius Pilate.
The box office hasn’t seen this many faith-based films since Charlton Heston delivered the “The Ten Commandments” in Technicolor. And that’s not even counting “God is Not Dead,” the indie sleeper that took in $8.5 million last weekend.
So what’s behind Hollywood’s religious revival?
“The biggest factor is the dynamic growth of the box office in international markets,” said Paramount vice chairman Rob Moore, one of the forces behind “Noah.”
MORE ON CNN: A flood of reviews for 'Noah'
Moore pointed to the $14 million his film has made in Mexico and South Korea, two of the more than 20 countries where “Noah” will run this year.
As Hollywood’s supply of comic-book heroes seems to run dry, studios know the Good Book comes with a built-in audience of billions. The Bible’s heroes and villains are jeered and cheered on nearly every continent. Its morally complex stories are rife with blockbuster-ready special effects like locust plagues, apocalyptic floods and talking donkeys.
But the controversy over “Noah” illustrates the promise and the peril of bringing the Bible to the big screen.
Yes, there’s a ready-made audience that loves the book, but will they tolerate a script that strays from Scripture? On the other hand, will increasingly secular young Americans flock to see films that look and sound like sermons?
"The earlier emphasis of faith-based films was to sacrifice quality for the message," Jakes said in a recent interview. "But it's dangerous to divide entertainment from evangelism. You're not going to connect with the average movie-goer if you're not putting out good stuff."
But even Jakes, a longtime pastor and film producer, said it's not easy to turn a religious text into a movie.
The author of "Heaven is For Real" has been adamant that the movie mirror the bestselling book. And Jakes cautions that the film's depiction of heaven does not comport with Christian orthodoxy.
"It's a little boy's vision of heaven," he said. "It's not a theological film by a council of scholars."
Like Jakes, Mark Burnett said he sees the silver screen as an evangelistic tool.
"We believe that over the next few decades, billions of people are going to see 'Son of God'," the reality-show producer said. "This is not just some film to us."
Burnett pitched his movie hard to religious leaders before its release. Evangelical pastors like Rick Warren rented out entire theaters, and Catholic bishops endorsed the film – which hews to the New Testament telling of Jesus’ life.
The Christian push lifted “Son of God” to No. 2 on its opening weekend in February when it made more than $26 million in the United States.
Since then, sales have fallen sharply. But Burnett cautions filmmakers against bowdlerizing the Bible to succeed at the box office.
“There’s a big price to pay for departing from the sacred text,” he said.
Just ask Universal Pictures, the studio behind Martin Scorcese’s “The Last Temptation of Christ,” which sparked outrage in 1988.
Not only did Christians boycott the movie, in which Jesus fantasizes about married life, some sent death threats to studio executives.
“These stories hit really sensitive areas,” said Elijah Davidson, director of the Reel Spirituality program at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.
Noah’s tale is a prime example. Just four short Bible chapters, it’s more sketch than story: The protagonist doesn’t speak until the boat finally lands ashore.
“And yet it’s a foundational story for many Christians,” Davidson said.
For centuries, theologians have taught that God’s covenant with Noah and post-flood promise to be merciful prophesied Christ’s later arrival.
Building Noah’s arc
Aronofsky, who describes himself as culturally Jewish but not especially religious, said he respects how important the Noah story is for believers.
“We tried very hard not to contradict anything in the Bible,” the director said. “But we also wanted to bring the story alive for a 21st century audience.”
Wiry and intense, with a shaved head and a Brooklyn accent, Aronofsky looks like a man who’s just finished one fight and is girding for another.
“What’s been missing from the whole controversy is my personal passion for the film,” the director said. “I’ve been thinking about this for 30 years.”
When he was 13, Aronofsky’s middle-school class in Coney Island was asked to write about peace.
He penned a poem about Noah called “The Dove” that was recognized by the United Nations. (As a thank you for setting him on the creative path, Aronofsky gave his teacher, Ms. Fried, a bit part in “Noah.”)
Even as a child, the director said, the Noah story unsettled him.
Aronofsky didn’t see the happy tale of rainbows and doves told in children’s books. He saw the humans and animals consumed by the waters – the world drowning in the deluge outside the ark.
As he began his film career, the director grew obsessed with telling the Noah story from that perspective – and employing the power of modern special effects to portray Earth’s first apocalypse.
“It’s one of the oldest and most famous stories in the world,” Aronofsky said. “And yet it’s never been told on the big screen.”
There are good reasons for that. After all, it’s a dark story.
God, distressed at human wickedness, decides to hit the cosmic reset button. His waters wipe all life from the planet, except for the fortunate few on the ark. After the storm, Noah gets goodly drunk – perhaps the first known case of survivor’s guilt – and curses the descendants of his son Ham to slavery.
To understand Noah, and to give his character a story arc, Aronofsky and his co-writer, Ari Handel, spent 10 years poring over the Book of Genesis and the midrash – stories written by rabbis to fill out the Bible’s narratives.
They also read texts like the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Book of Jubilees and the Book of Enoch, a work ascribed to Noah’s great-grandfather. Handel, who studied neuroscience, is known as an obsessive researcher. The script’s bibliography runs five pages long, single-spaced.
“We had to figure out how Noah and his family would get through this, and what it would feel like,” Aronofsky said.
The studio also hired a Christian consultant for the film. John Snowden is a former youth pastor at Vineyard Christian Fellowship Church, where Moore, the Paramount executive, is a member.
Snowden, who was pastor to Moore's son, said the filmmakers’ questions ranged from the sublime (Why did God create human life?) to the ridiculous (Would Christians be upset if Noah wears pants?).
“I gave them a sort-of manifesto of Christian theology,” said Snowden, 38, who now lives in Nepal. “The most important part of the story is why God created humanity, which is basically to reflect God’s glory. Those are the kind of conversations we would have.”
Script or Scripture?
Several evangelical leaders have posted positive reviews of the film, and, with the help of a Christian marketing firm hired by Paramount, are spreading the word that nothing in "Noah" belies the Bible.
But others aren’t so sure.
On March 16, megachurch pastor Rick Warren tweeted this message to his 1.3 million Twitter followers:
For the record, Aronofsky said he’s made the “least biblical biblical film ever made.” That is, don’t expect the camel-and-sandals settings of last century’s Bible movies.
“We wanted to smash those expectations, Aronofsky said. “We are reinventing the biblical epic for the 21st century.”
Count conservative broadcaster Glenn Beck among the unimpressed.
Before he even saw the movie, Beck, who is Mormon, called “Noah” a “slap in the face” to religious people.
“It’s dangerous disinformation,” he told his 10 million radio listeners.
After Paramount screened “Noah” for Beck last weekend, he acknowledged that blasting the film sight unseen was “kind of a dirtball” move.
Then he blasted the movie again, calling it a “$100 million disaster.”
Beck’s biggest problem with “Noah” was Noah himself, whom Mormons believe is the angel Gabriel in human form.
“I always thought of Noah as more of a nice, gentle guy, prophet of God,” Beck said, “and not the raving lunatic Paramount found in the Bible.”
MORE ON CNN: Is 'Noah' film sacred enough?
Jerry Johnson, president of the National Religious Broadcasters, said he has the same problem with Aronofsky’s depiction of Noah.
The Bible calls Noah a “righteous man,” Johnson said. In the movie, his character is much more complex.
Noah begins the film as a rugged environmentalist who teaches his family to respect the Creator and all of creation. As he becomes increasingly zealous, Noah seems bent on destroying life rather than saving it.
“I understand that the writers want to create tension and resolve it, but they push it to a spot where if you haven’t read Genesis, you wouldn’t know whether Noah is really a man of faith or not.”
Moore, the Paramount executive, said focus groups had similar questions: How much of the film is from the Bible and how much was invented by Aronofsky?
At Johnson’s urging, Paramount agreed to include a disclaimer before the opening credits and in marketing materials stating that the film is “inspired” by the Bible and true to its values but takes certain liberties with the story. (The language mirrors Dreamworks' disclaimer for “The Prince of Egypt,” which was based on the Book of Exodus.)
“People needed to know upfront that this is not a literal re-telling of Scripture,” Moore said. “It helped set their expectations for a movie about a guy who goes on an intense journey. This is probably not the Noah they remember from Sunday school.”
Aronofsky and Handel insist, however, that their film never directly contradicts Genesis, and even takes pains to remain faithful to it. The ark, for example, is built to the Bible’s specifications, down to the last cubit.
Ultimately, though, the director has little patience with literalists on either side of the believer-atheist divide.
It's ungenerous to insist, as some Christians do, that there is only one way to interpret Genesis, according to Aronofsky. But it's also pointless to argue, as some atheists have, that no ark could possibly hold all the animals.
The story of the flood has lasted for millennia not because it’s "right" – or wrong – but because it’s deep and alive and unsettling, the director said.
The artist's job, like Noah's, is to make sure those kinds of stories survive – to prepare us for the next storm.
About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.
Reblogged this on Hope's Reason.
The Bible doesn't write much about Noah. The Bible has a lot of fodder for film. It can be taken literally or fictionally. Don't understand all the fuss. It's only a movie and it looks like a damn good one.
"Religious Broadcasters insisted “Noah” include a disclaimer acknowledging the filmmakers took “artistic license” with the Bible story"
That would be like requiring a disclaimer for the movie Thor.
Thor was the son of a god.
Hercules was the son of a god.
why is the "zombie Jew" taken so differently? Bizarre.
I find Christianity to sit on an immoral and contradictory foundation.
God is supposed to be loving, but if His love is not accepted you go to hell. Some Christians say God judges you and sends you to hell, other Christians say you chose to go to hell by chooses to spurn God's love.
Take case 1 first, God sends you to hell. In this case, God levies an infinite penalty for the transgression, the penalty is disproportionate to the transgression. That is immoral.
In case 2, the choice is offered under duress. The infinite penalty is undue influence and coercive. In our legal system that would invalidate the contract. There isn't true free choice, it is coercion. Offering a choice under duress is immoral.
So either way, the Christian system of accept God's love or go to hell is immoral, and is contradictory to a loving God.
Christians also differ on who goes to hell. Some say everyone that doesn't accept God, even if you were never exposed to Christianity, others are more liberal. Obviously, none of them know, the exact criteria is not in the NT, just cryptic references that can be (and have been) interpreted in many ways. This uncertainty and loose definition are immoral.
Virtually all the close to 7 billion people alive today will have died in the next century. 5 billion go to hell by many Christians belief. That sounds pretty immoral.
I wouldn't treat my worst enemy the way the god of the bible says he will treat his "children".
I know. It hard to understand how good people can ignore the immoral nature of the God character in the bibles. This God character is a classic wolf in sheep's clothing. I suppose it made more sense 2 thousand years ago, but by today's standards of justice and morality, the bible is barbaric.
"For we must learn to interpret the word in the light of the Spirit. And we must learn to anchor the spirit in the Word. For how can two walk together except they be agreed?
All mankind will ultimately go back through the passage way at the east of the garden of Eden where the fiery sword and the cherubim are. If we seek the Lord now and are baptized in fire, we become single eyed and our body is set on a
path that leads to transfiguration and our body becomes full of light. On the other hand, those that dawdle and remain two eyed will continue on their merry way until the end of this age is rolled up like a scroll. Then, the procrastinators will be forced to take the only passage out which is through the fire. What is for us the baptism of fire, becomes a "hell fire" for them as they are suddenly forced to face their own carnality. For if we seek the Lord now, the refining process is a
more gradual one and when it is completed, we will welcome rather than dread the end of this age. But, in any case, the objective of the process is to free man from his carnality, not to destroy him. For it is the carnality that is to be burned up root and branch."
MAT 3:10 And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. 11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:
Spoken like a good cultist.
KOOL-AID!!!! Get your KOOL-AID!!! Heeyah!!!
It's a stupid liberal new ager version of Noah, the moron who made the movie didn't have faith in the evidence, or was so foolish and lazy that he didn't bother studying carefully to find out what it was.
"faith in the evidence" ???
That sounds like a contradiction in terms to me. One has faith or one has evidence.
Oh and by the way, what evidence?
The Noah's Ark story may be one of the oldest works of science fiction.
"A decade after “The Passion of the Christ” surprised Hollywood, rankled liberals and raked in $600 million worldwide, big studios are backing a flotilla of faith-based films."
Actually I don't remember "The Passion of the Christ" rankling liberals. What I remember is conservatives saying it would. It was conservatives who set up "The Passion of the Christ" and Fahrenheit 911 as somehow being a contest between conservatives and liberals for whatever reason. While it's true there are probably more agnostics and atheists who are Democrats, it's because Democrats tend to be accepting of all people regardless of religious belief. Still, there are more Democrats who profess some religious belief than not.
I never heard one liberal kvetch about PoTC. I heard plenty of conservatives bellyache, though. Especially because they used an actress to portray the Devil.
I suspect that is the author of this article trying to stir up trouble; as is religion isn't divisive enough, throw in some politics.
I interpreted this unsubstantiated observation by Mr. Burke as being intended to mean that secularists were somehow irritated that a biblical movie could still make money.
From my recollection, the people who were the most offended by "The Passion of the Christ" were Jewish. They are not usually big Mel Gibson fans anyway.
Aw, Mel had only complimentary things to say about the Jewish people...lol...
Liberal Christians, as well as Jews, were indeed quite rankled by "The Passion of the Christ"
See here http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2004/apr/08/god-in-the-hands-of-angry-sinners/
and here http://www.christiancentury.org/article/2004-03/problem-passion
and here http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2004/03/01/040301crci_cinema
and here http://www.csmonitor.com/2004/0202/p09s02-cogn.html
Not by this liberal. I just ignored it.
"rankled liberals" – Then no offense but you missing the word "christian" after liberals in the article. Though I agree "liberal christians" do exist, the context of "liberal" is usually used in contrast to "conservative" – both are used primarily as political descriptions and so I would not have assume "christian" in the statement until you clarified.
Nothing fails like prayer
Not so...placebos work just as well.
God created the universe in 6 days including the evil humans god now wants to destroy, but go needs noah to build an arc to save the animals. Yeah, right.
Whats behind it? Fear mongering. We have seen one of the worst weather years in recorded history and the fear mongering religious leaders have been using it to scare the living daylights out of their followers.
Good question with 'what is behind the religious revival'. With more and more people going Agnostic or openly Atheist, you would not think that these brainwashing films (yes, that is what they actually are in the real world) would be so popular
From the article:
"As Hollywood’s supply of comic-book heroes seems to run dry, studios know the Good Book comes with a built-in audience of billions. The Bible’s heroes and villains are jeered and cheered on nearly every continent. Its morally complex stories are rife with blockbuster-ready special effects like locust plagues, apocalyptic floods and talking donkeys."
$$$ are the reason. Plus there's been active campaigning by Evangelicals to have studios make more religiously-themed movies. They point out that the American demographic is still largely religious.
We'll see what makes more money. Movies about the bible or The Hobbit: There and Back Again or Avengers 3.
Perhaps the rise in atheism and agnosticism allows filmmakers to address these stories without fear of religious reprisal if they are not done to the standards of every church.
Better this than stupid, pointless terrorist movies and horror movies and gangster movies.
I dunno, The Godfather and The Godfather II were pretty good.
The terrorist is unseen in this movie. He is the one that makes it rain and watches all of the children drown.
Humans getting dumber and dumber. Weak-minded, brainwashed, ignorant, irrational, guillible religious nutcases continue to ruin the world.
Haha. It feels like you were kicking the floor while saying that.
"It's ungenerous to insist, as some Christians do, that there is only one way to interpret Genesis, according to Aronofsky. But it's also ridiculous to argue, as some atheists have, that no ark could possibly hold all the animals."
Why is it so ridiculous to insist that an ark with very specific dimensions (450' long) could not possibly hold all the animals, plus food for more than a year (from the 17th day of the second month to the 27th day of the second month of the following year)?
How much hay do you need for two of every ruminants for a year? How many extra animals to you need to bring to slaughter to keep your breeding pairs of wild carnivores alive?
The whole thing is absurd.
Not to mention methane exposure n the lower decks and moving all of the manure out of one tiny window daily.
After all, everybody poops.
Not to mention the explosion in evolution that would have had to occur....oops forgot...the fundamentalists think evolution is a just a theory. Bit of a conundrum there.
I think that South Park's biblical work is excellent. Hollywood should produce more of that.
how ironic that Glenn Beck, a Mormon, who believes a completely twisted and corrupted form of the bible, should be incensed at a movie that deviates from the word of the bible.
Yes, Glenn Beck, the most authorative voice on interpreting the bible.
And the fact that Mormonism was made up by a shyster. Kind of like Scientology
What I want to know is whether this movie will explain where all the water to make the flood will come from and then go to afterwards.
Robert, please do the math.
The Babble's value for PI will prevent him from correctly doing the math.
Nope. Not enough water to flood the earth like that. Plus when the water comes out, gravity will pull water back into the ground.
I think Robert was being sarcastic ... ?
Have you not seen Robert's other comments?
oh my! Robert can't be THAT delusional can he?
Same place all Babble stories came from – into thin air – some desert dweller's imagination.
The USGS estimates *all* the water on earth to be 1,386,000,000 cubic kilometers which includes the water in the aquifers.
The diameter of the earth is 12,742 km.
Mount Everest is 8.848 km. (Let's call it 9km)
As a first order of approximation lets compare the volume of two spheres with diameters of 12,742 and 12,742+18
v = 4/3 pi r^3
We get a difference of 4,597,068,189 cubic km.
This 3.3 times as much water as exists on earth. It's not hidden in the boiling magma of the core.
But...but..but...God can do anything! He can make enough water to kill all the men, women, children, infants, fetuses and animals on earth and then make it disappear again if he wants to! And it's all good! Because he's god!
But God is a just God...
But He loves you. He loves you, and He needs money! He always needs money! – GC
Is mocking hateful?
Not as hateful as drowning every living thing on earth because you designed them wrong.
The basic premise of most religions that "God" is all-knowing and all-powerful eliminates the need for rationality or logic. They can just say that "God" created the water and then made it disappear.
They could, but usually they don't. They don't even think about it.
The volume of water required to cover the entire world up to 15 cubits above the highest mountains (which is an odd piece of specificity) is staggering. They don't even think about needing a Godly miracle to make it go away. It simply receded (like all floods, even though all *normal* floods cover an infinitesimal part of the total surface of the world).
learning is fun!
Very interesting article – thank you. It makes sense that the subduction zone 'conveyors' would bring water with them. It also makes sense that there is an outlet, otherwise the system is out of balance and would explode. The article does not discuss that.
"It translates into a very, very large mass of water, approaching the sort of mass of water that's present in all the world's ocean,"
In any case 1 < 3.3.
You still need a lot more water to make the lteral Noah myth plausible and given the pressures involved if all that water were expelled to the surface in a period of 40 days, the crust would collapse into the void left behind.
From a related article:
"Water in the mantle isn't in pools or lakes, but rather tiny droplets caught in microscopic spaces between the mantle's crystals . Earlier studies have hinted that huge amounts of water may be stored in the mantle, but the total amount is fiercely debated.
This ocean is estimated to have at least the same volume as the Arctic Ocean which has a volume of 19 million cubic km. A drop in the bucket compared to the number calculated above.
jesus christ wasn't born, he was written.
Except that virtually nobody disputes the fact that he was a real person that walked the earth.
I'd like to see a citation on that one.
Actually it would be more accurate to state that nobody disputes the fact that there was probably a person upon whom Jesus was based. Most likely one of the many popular teachers of the day. Nothing, except the bible, supports the supposition that Jesus existed as stated by the bible. In other words, no external sources corroborate this mythical beings existence.
When it comes to Bible movies, nothing will ever beat "Left Behind II – Tribulation Force".
How did Kirk "Crocoduck" Cameron ever get passed over for an Oscar?
don't diss the crocoduck! It proves evolution is false!
Just like how bananas are proof of intelligent design, right?
I would like to thank Gwen Stefani for teaching us all to spell bananas.
I wish that I could thank Gwen for a lot more than that ...
Maybe we should double check and ask the monkeys if they use the "intelligently designed" handle?
Why doesn't a pineapple come with a handle?
In the beginning there was Darwin.
Then came the fish.
Dinosaurs and brontosaurs followed
Starting an evolution.
That embedded video link is non-functional.
I thought Constantine was a good Biblical, well atleast Catholic, movie.
The "Left Behind" series is pure jingoistic trash.
The Last Temptation of Christ was very good. David Bowie's Pontius Pilate was quite stunning. Of course, it's hard to know what in the Gospels is actual history in the life & death of Jesus. I'm doubtful that Jesus and Pilate ever met at all or that there was a "trial" but if there was, Bowie's scene is how I now how I often imagine it.
As far as God having a prayer in Hollywood, I rather suspect She prefers Sundance. In any case, so many of the stories as told in the Bible are not credible, and some so obviously myth entirely, that many good and intelligent movies based on it are bound to offend some Christians. I can't imagine a Bible movie that didn't offend a lot of Christians to be worth seeing.
Roma Downey's is easy to scratch. Mel Gibson's Passion SHOULD have offended a lot of Christians but for reasons they'd not fathom. The anti-Jewish polemic and propaganda of the Gospels was great theater back then but now... not so much. Better to explore within it the roots of the centuries of murderous Christian antisemitism that enabled the Holocaust.
If Christians don't want to be offended by thoughtful and genuine movie-making rooted in the Bible they should stay in Sunday School. 24/7.
I thought Bowie was great in Zoolander.
Bowie is just plain great.