20th Century Fox has announced that they will be remaking The Ten Commandments in the style of “300“! I am not sure of what to make of this. “300″ was a visually stunning — if not ultra violent — film, but I can’t imagine what they would do to the story of the Exodus from Egypt to make it work. Here is a snippet from the announcement in Variety:
For his first significant film project acquisition, Peter Chernin is taking on a project of Biblical proportions.
20th Century Fox has made a preemptive acquisition of a pitch to tell the story of Moses in “300″ style. The tale will start with his near death as an infant to his adoption into the Egyptian royal family, his defiance of the Pharoah and deliverance of the Hebrews from enslavement.
Chernin will produce with Dylan Clark, who recently moved over from Universal to become president of Chernin’s Fox-based film company.
The script will be written by Adam Cooper and Bill Collage, who make this their followup to a high-level deal they made to reinvent Herman Melville”s “Moby Dick,” with a graphic novel feel, for director Timur Bekmambetov and producer Scott Stuber at Universal. That script is in, the extensive pre-visualization work is done. It could be Bekmambetov’s next film, if “Wanted 2″ doesn’t come together first.
The Moses story will be told using the same green screen strategy as “300,” so it will feel more like that pic or “Braveheart” than “The Ten Commandments,” the 1956 Cecil B. DeMille film.
The popular mythical and magical elements inherent in the Book of Exodus will be there–including the plagues visited upon Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea–but the Cooper & Collage version will also include new elements of Moses’ life that the writers culled from Rabbinical Midrash and other historical sources.
I can just imagine it… Moses shouting out, “THIS is YAHWEH!” or perhaps “THIS is COMMANDMENT!”
There is a meme going around on Top Three Bible Films started by Matt over at Broadcast Depth (I noticed it over at Mike Kok’s blog, The Golden Rule). I figured since I am lecturing this week on Religious films in my religion and culture class, I would weigh-in with my personal favourites — although limiting it to three is tough.
1. One of my favourite films based on the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament is an oldie, but a goodie: The Green Pastures (Director: Marc Connelly and William Keighley, 1936; Buy from Amazon.ca: VHS or DVD | Buy from Amazon.com: VHS or DVD). This is a fascinating retelling of a number of stories from the Old Testament. This folksy film was innovative for its day in that black actors fill every role — from God to Moses, Noah to Pharaoh. (Fair warning that some may be uncomfortable with some of the racial stereotypes in the film; is was made in 1936 after all). Any film that includes a heavenly fish fry where “de Lawd” walks about drinking “fire-custard” and smoking 10-cent cigars and singing gospel songs is pretty cool in my books!
2. My favourite “Jesus film” is not quite as old, but is still black and white: Son of Man (Director: Gareth Davies, 1969. This film was aired on BBC as part of the Wednesday Play series in 1969. Unfortunately, it is not available for purchase (I got my copy from a friend who recorded it when it was rebroadcast on TV), although you can see some clips of it on the BFI website. The highlight of the film for me is Colin Blakely’s portrayal of a gruff and passionate Jesus — definitely not your typical blue-eyed blond Jesus of most hagiopics. The other Jesus film that comes in a close second for me is The Gospel According to St. Matthew (Il Vangelo secondo Matteo; Pier Pablo Passolini, 1964; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com).
3. Finally, for “something completely different,” my third pick is Monty Python’s Life of Brian (Terry Jones, 1979; IMDb; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). While technically not a “Jesus film” (it is about Brian, not Jesus), this affectionate parody is a classic. If we can’t laugh at ourselves, then something is wrong. Eric Idle himself is reported as saying, “If anything can survive the probe of humour it is clearly of value, and conversely all groups who claim immunity from laughter are claiming special privileges which should not be granted.” But this film is not all laughs — it actually presents aspects of the time of Jesus somewhat accurately, such as the ubiquitous messiahs and prophets during that period as well as the sheer diversity with Judaism at that time.
I could go on and on, but I will end it here. If you are interested in more films based on the Bible, check out my “The Old Testament on Film” pages.
The film follws the adventures of two lazy hunter-gatherers (Jack Black and Michael Cera) as they travel the ancient world. It appears that they not only encounter Cain and Abel, but also Adam and Eve, Abraham and Isaac, and Sodom and Gomorrah. Hmmm… I don’t think it is trying to be biblically accurate! The film is scheduled to be released 19 June 2009 according to IMDB.
I have been getting behind in my coverage of Bible films. I have watched quite a few recently, but just haven’t found the time to blog about them. Such is life.
There are a number of intriguing Bible films that have just been released or are coming out in the next little while — unfortunately, in most cases no Canadian release dates have been set, so I am not sure when I will have a chance to actually view them.
In the “just released” category falls Michael O. Sajbel’s One Night With the King (2006; IMDb; Official website). This movie about the biblical Esther has opened to favourable (not amazing) reviews. Make sure to check out the thorough review by Matt Page over at Bible Films Blog, as well as his scene analysis. While no Canadian release date has yet been set, it will be released on DVD on 23 January 2007. You can pre-order it from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com.
Sticking to the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, I should note the DVD release of the made-for-TV film The Ten Commandments (Robert Dornhelm; 2006; IMDb; Official website). This two-part film was released in April 2006 on ABC to less than spectacular results (see this review). The movie is OK. I was glad to see that it departed from previous films covering the same topic by including a bunch of stuff after the Hebrews cross the red/reed sea — and it even finds space for Aaron as Moses’ sidekick! If I have time I will post a more thorough review in the future. It is available for purchase from Amazon.ca and Amazon.com.
On the New Testament side of things (you know, that other testament, the small one ), there are two noteworthy films being released this fall.
I am thoroughly intrigued by The Color of the Cross (Jean-Claude La Marre; 2006; IMDb; Official website), which is being released in the United States today. This film is the first historical Jesus film to cast a black actor to play Jesus — which has provided some free publicity for the film (see the Associated Press report). I personally think it will be refreshing considering how many blond, blue-eyed Saviours have been filmed. There is an article on the film in the Chicago Tribune that is worthy of a read and includes interviews with the director as well as Canadian biblical studies scholar Adele Reinhartz (HT Mark Goodacre).
Finally, the birth of Jesus will be the subject of the film The Nativity Story (Catherine Hardwicke; 2006; IMDb; Official website), which is slated for a December 1st release. Matt Page has a convenient summary page for this film here.
For a complete listing of films based on the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible see my Old Testament on Film pages. An excellent place to visit for news and reviews of Bible films is Matt Page’s Bible Films Blog.
In my web waderings, I came across a film called The Real Old Testament produced and directed by Curtis and Paul Hannum. From the trailer available on the website, this film looks like a somewhat/very irreverant (so be warned) — yet funny — retelling of select stories from the book of Genesis in a way that reminds me of the sitcom The Office (it is based on the style of MTV’s “Real World” series, which I haven’t seen). It was only shown at a few film festivals, has no rating from what I can tell, but has an IMDb entry. Cool.
Paramount Home Video is releasing a special 50th anniversary collection that includes both of Cecil B. DeMille‘s films about Moses and the exodus from Egypt (Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com). The main attraction is a new transfer of the 1956 classic biblical epic, The Ten Commandments. This special release also includes, for the first time on DVD, DeMille’s 1923 black and white film The Ten Commandments. The special edition will be released on 21 March 2006.
This special release of the classic biblical epic includes a bunch of extras, including a six-part, 37-minute “making of” documentary, hand-tinted footage of the Exodus and Parting of the Red Sea Sequence from the 1923 version, and commentary by Katherine Orrison, author of Written in Stone: Making Cecil B. DeMille’s Epic, The Ten Commandments (Vestal Press, 1999; Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com) on both the 1956 and 1923 versions.
All in all this looks like a great edition. For a detailed review of the release, check out DVD Times here.
I recently bought on eBay a DVD with a silent film from the early 1900s about Saul and David. The amateur DVD is entitled, “Early Religious Films” and besides the film on Saul and David, it includes two other early Jesus films. Matt Page over at Bible Film Blog purchased the same DVD and has blogged on the two Jesus films here and here, and the Saul and David film here. As Matt noted in his blog entries, identifying these films is a bit challenging. The distributor who made the DVD from old reels doesn’t have any further information on the films included. In particular, a major problem with the Saul and David film is trying to determine whether or not it is one film or two. Matt thinks what is on the DVD is actually two films, a film called “David and Saul” and another film called “The Death of Saul.” Matt’s summary of this film is excellent and I encourage you to read it. I thought I would offer my own slightly different take on this early film about Saul and David.
According to my research, in the early 1900s there were four films made that focused particularly on the reign of Saul, the first king of Israel, and his stormy relationship with David. My primary sources for this information are:
As I piece the various lists together, there are four early films on Saul and David. In chronological order they are:
Saul and David. This early American film was directed by J. Stuart Blackton with the scenario written by Madison C. Peters. Produced and distributed by Vitagraph in 1909. [Noted in Campbell and Pitts, 3; Solomon, 5, 166; IMDb]
The challenge with identifying the film on the DVD is that, based on the intertitles, it appears to be two films spliced together. The first three intertitles include the title “David and Saul” in small print at the top of the frame; then there is a full-frame intertitle introducing “The Death of Saul” while the rest of the intertitles in film have “The Death of Saul” in small print at the top. In addition, while there is remarkable consistency between the two sections in regards to costuming and it appears Louis Ravet plays Saul in both parts, the actor playing Saul’s son Jonathan is different between the two sections.
Matt Page identifies the first part with the 1911/12 film “David and Saul” and the second part with the 1912/13 film “The Death of Saul.” This identification is more than likely correct, since both films are by the same studio. From the discussion in Abel (which is based on the version of the film in the Library of Congress archives), however, it is clear that the “Death of Saul” on the DVD does not include its original beginning. Perhaps that is why excerpts from “Saul and David” were included at the beginning.
What should be clear from this discussion is that figuring out the early history of Bible related films is challenging to say the least!
The origin of the film aside, the version that I have consists of two main sections, Saul and David and the Death of Saul. Here is my breakdown and discussion of the two parts (my divisions are based primarily on the intertitles):
David and Saul
This part of the film may be divided into three sections based on the intertitles. It’s camera work is pretty basic, consisting of almost exclusively of stationary longshots.
David, conqueror of the Philistines, asks Saul to Keep his Promise [to give his daughter Michal in marriage]
This section is based on 1Sam 18:27 and has David returning from battle, being greeted by a portly Jonathan, and being given Michal in marriage by Saul.
Jealous of David’s Popularity, Anger Invades Saul’s Heart.
This section consists of five scenes. The first has Saul in his palace looking out at the crowds who are evidently praising David’s military prowess (inspired by 1Sam 18:7). The second scene, based on 1Samuel 19 (cf. 19:1, 17), shows a confrontation between Saul and a group consisting of Michal, Jonathan, and some others. Saul is evidently asking for the whereabouts of David, but he leaves none the smarter. The third scene shows a dejected looking David and his motley crew of followers at the cave of Adullam (1Sam 22:1-2). Note that Matt Page identifies this scene as “David feigns madness whilst in hiding” based on 1 Sam 21:10-15. The problem with this identification is that the setting is does not appear to be Achish and David doesn’t look too insane (at least he’s not scratching marks on gates or drooling). The fourth scene is very roughly based on 1Sam 22:6-18. It has Saul going to the sanctuary at Nob and confronting Ahimelech the priest about David’s whereabouts (I say only roughly, since in the biblical account the priests are brought to Saul). Ahimelech refuses and is then killed by a nasty looking Doeg the Edomite. The fifth and final scene of this section has Saul and his guard leaving in search of David.
Fatigued, Saul Seeks Repose in the Cave where David was Hidden.
This third and final section appears to be cut off prematurely. It is made up of two brief scenes based on 1Sam 24:1-3 (not 1 Sam 23:24-28 as Matt Page suggests). The first has Saul and his guard coming to a cave in the wilderness of En-gedi and Saul going into the cave to relieve himself (for more on the euphemisms used in this passage see my post here). The second scene shows David and his followers within the cave hiding themselves from the approaching Saul.
The Death of Saul
The second part of the film is, as Matt noted, of a higher quality and shows more innovation in camera work. It includes a pan shot as well as some ambitious outside action shots. It consists of seven parts of various lengths.
Saul Decides that the Priests and Other Inhabitants of the City shall be Slain.
This scene somewhat accurately represents the story in 1Sam 22:11-19 where Saul (in his palace) decides to kill Ahimelech and put the entire city to the sword. Interestingly, Abel, in his discussion of the film, mistakenly identifies the besieged city as Keilah (1Samuel 23). This is quite unlikely, especially considering Saul gave up his expedition against Keilah once he heard that David had fled the city.
Saul Seeks the Witch of Endor.
This section consists of two scenes based on 1Sam 28:3-8. The first has Saul encamped at Gilboa in fear of the Philistines who are assembled against Israel at Shunem. While the second has Saul leaving camp with two men to inquire of the medium at Endor since the Lord did not answer him. This second scene includes a primitive pan shot as the three men are walking towards Endor.
The Witch Evokes the Spirit of Samuel. This section, taken from 1Sam 28:8-25, begins with a scene with Saul and the two men coming to the cave where the witch lives and then there is an interesting close-up bridge shot of Saul going down the narrow tunnel to the cave entrance alone. The scene where the disguised Saul asks the witch to consult Samuel has some interesting camera shots. Samuel appears on the cave wall with a flaming special effect and fade in shot and then later disappears with a straight cut. Samuel’s message to Saul, paraphrased from 1Sam 28:18-19, is included on an intertitle. Interestingly, the next three sections of the film are introduced by intertitles including excerpts of this message.
Thy Armies Shall be Delivered unto the Hands of the Philistines.
This section starts with Saul returning to the Israelite encampment, cuts to an amazing scene of the Philistine army rushing the Israelites, and ends with Saul and his army rushing out to meet them.
Thy Sons shall Perish. This brief scene includes a son of Saul coming back from battle and dying in Saul’s arms (if this is Jonathan, then it is a different actor from the first film as noted above), Saul lamenting and then falling on his sword.
They Sword shall Avenge the God of Israel. This final scene shows Saul dying — with, of course, the sword handle appropriately protruding from his belly!
There are a number of noteworthy things about this early film. First, as perhaps is clear from the various departures from the biblical storyline, that even in the early days of cinema films were interpretations of the biblical story. The scenario writer and director crafted their story with liberty to modify the biblical version as they thought appropriate. Second, what the film chose to focus on is interesting. The attention given to the massacre of the city of Nob and the visit with the witch of Endor likely stem from a number of things, including the simple desire to show off some of the special effects. Finally, I have to concur with Matt Page when he notes, “the most successful biblical films have been those that use less familiar material to challenge our pre-conceptions, or are at least more concerned with trying to explore their protagonist’s motives.” In this regard, I found this film to be quite intriguing.
Tonight The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will put on their yearly spectacle called the Oscars. I may watch the 78th Annual Academy Awards tonight, though I find the actual award ceremony to be way too long and way too boring — and I just can’t stand all of the glitz and glamour that surrounds the telecast. I really don’t care what so-and-so wears on the red carpet or what expensive gifts the already grossly over-paid and self-important celebrities received for the hard work of reading a prompter when presenting an award!
That being said, I like films and I consider myself an armchair movie buff. So I am interested in who the winners are; if only to see how misguided the Academy is! At any rate, if you are interested, a list of the nominees is available here. The only films that I hope win an award include A History of Violence (2005; IMDb) and Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005; IMDb); otherwise I don’t have any strong opinions.
More significantly, the 26th Annual Golden Raspberry (Razzie) Awards were just announced. Legendary actors such as Rob Schneider, Jenny McCarthy, Hayden Christensen, and Paris Hilton all won well-deserved awards. The worst picture award (as well as three ohers) went to Dirty Love (2005; IMDb), which I didn’t manage to watch this last year — actually I hadn’t even heard of the film! (Don’t worry if you didn’t see it either; from the reviews it received it appears to have been very pathetic!). Perhaps the best category was the “Most Tiresome Tabloid Targets” in which Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes, Oprah Winfrey’s Couch, The Eiffel Tower, and “Tom’s Baby” were all honoured.
In regards to my Essential Films for Theologians list, there were a number of other films highlighted in the comments that are definitely worthy of viewing. Most of them I had considered including on my list, while others I had not even heard of before and are now on my “films to view” list. Perhaps the only film which I feel I should have included for sentimental reasons is The Princess Bride (1987; IMDb).
Here are some other movies worth watching that were mentioned in the comments (in alphabetic order):
All in all, there are many excellent films — as well as many not-so-excellent films — produced every year. The challenge, of course, is being astute enough to figure out which ones are worthy of our time! I only hope that I may have highlighted a few films that are worthy of viewing!
Mark Goodacre notes on his NT Weblog a recent article on Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (2004) that examines the response to the film from a Jewish perspective. The article, “The Passion by Mel Gibson: Enthusiastic Response in the Catholic World, Restrained Criticism by the Jews,” by Sergio I. Minerbi appears in the online journal Jewish Political Studies Review 17:1-2 (Spring 2005).
The article provides a much needed Jewish perspective on The Passion, highlighting the uncritical way that Christians (including evangelicals but especially the Catholic Church, according to Minerbi) embraced the film and the lack of significant opposition from Jews.
I tried to have a variety of perspectives represented in the public lecture I organized on the film last year (14 April 2004) entitled, “Mel’s Passion: An Analysis of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ from Evangelical, Catholic, and Jewish Perspectives.” Rabbi David Kunin of Beth Shalom Synagogue, Edmonton, presented a Jewish perspective and Rev. David Norman, O.F.M., Professor of Systematic Theology at Newman Theological College, Edmonton, presented a catholic perspective, while yours truly gave an “evangelical” assessment. The three lectures (in MP3 format) are available for free download from the Public Lectures section of my website.
I have made some relatively minor updates and additions to my Old Testament on Film pages based on Herbert Verreth’s manuscript De Oudheid in Film, Fimografie (2003). The changes primarily consist of including some missing directors for silent films as well as adding a few movies.