Have you heard of The Bible?
Spoiler Alert: The Book is better
“ Hey, have you heard of the Bible?”: a rather eye-raising question to pose at a Christian university. A puzzled look and hesitant, “Um ya,” and the conversation dies. However, since the History Channel’s record breaking premiere of the The Bible this month, the conversation takes on a whole new meaning.
Since we began putting our imagination on film, we have attempted to re-imagine biblical stories as they may have been—often falling hopelessly short. Sometimes the story is faithful to the Sunday School story (Charleton Heston’s Moses or Passion of the Christ). Or more often than not, fresh stories draw strong biblical allusions. Everywhere from the familiar Chronicles of Narnia to the obscure Breaking the Waves. Hollywood seems to have an obsession with the Good Book--or at least making money off rich Christians.
The Bible is a welcome adaption for a couple reasons, not the least of which is the fact that we are finally seeing some decent dramatic storytelling from the History Channel (looking at you Pawn Stars). With a few exceptions the technical prowess of the series is impressive, resorting to CG only when lighting a bush on fire or building an ark 300 cubits long isn’t the most practical choice.
As someone who grew up watching and immersing myself in the biblical stories through flannel graph and church library VHS tapes, I have developed a certain image storyboard of each book of the Bible. When you mention the feeding of the five thousand I have a very distinct yet not particularly traceable image in my mind of how it looked. For this reason it was a little shocking to see Abraham with a beard shorter than 2 inches. I managed to get over it, and maintain my foundation of faith though, don’t worry.
Beyond the suddenly ninja angels, the most interesting element of this series has nothing to do with the actual content within any of the 10 parts. Its viewership and popularity is bound to lead to more Hollywood cash cows meandering out of the fields of concept and imagination and into the cushy theatres of the Cineplex.
Spiderman in 2002 led to a constant parade of tightly spandexed actors strutting through explosions and falling buildings to bring home the dollar$. With 13.1 million viewers to Part 1, and maintaining the number one viewership position in its second week, imitators are certain to follow.
Even as you read this, boundary pushing director Darron Aranofsky is in the middle of his rendition of the Noah story with Russel Crowe taking the lead. While it is sure to capture all the gritty details of Noah’s ‘tent escapades,’ don’t count on it to be shown at your local church.
What does this mean for the biblical cinema genre and the greater Christian community as a whole? Does having more fast-paced and colourful adaptations of timeless biblical stories help bring the Gospel to today’s world? Or is it simply going to become the same old mix of cringe-worthy ‘Caucasian-and-chiseled-chin’ Jesus films contrasting with the outlandish, sacrilegious Jesus Christ Superstar knockoffs?
Regardless of what we get bombarded with in the coming years and how many times the pastors of North America team up to endorse the latest attempt at biblical truth in the cinema, one thing remains: it won’t fully satisfy us. Regardless how realistic the tunics or awe-inspiring the pillars of fire, we won’t be able to adequately recreate the life-changing revelation revealed in every page of the Book we all look to daily.
However, rather than treating anything religious that moves on the screen with drenching skepticism, I would encourage you to look for religion and spiritual revelation in everything that moves on the screen. God has ingrained in us an insatiable hunger for Him. Sometimes we satisfy it in the turn of pages, the appreciation of falling leaves on an autumn day— and yes sometimes the flicker of film.