The Bible is back on the big screen – and in a big way. Not one or two but three biblical epics are being offered up to moviegoers this year, along with a pair of sword and sandal spectaculars for those who like their ancient history sprinkled with sex and CGI and with fewer religious trappings.
Son of God, the latest version of the story of Jesus debuted last Friday – and took the number three spot at the box office. That is not bad considering that much it was culled from last year’s History Channel series, The Bible, and that there was no big-name actor in the titular or any other key role to draw in audiences. It is also a clean, simple film, with very few of the special effects that predominate every other biblical and ancient movie out this year.
Produced by television’s favorite Irish angel, Roma Downey, and her husband, Mark Burnett, the film was very well received by Christian audiences – whom the producers targeted with a massive eight-week PR campaign that focused on churches and religious groups. They also timed the opening for the weekend before Lent (which begins on Wednesday March 5), thus playing into the religious calendar. Burnett is unabashedly and unapologetically Christian, and is presenting his film not just as a quality piece of movie-making but also as a work of faith.
Next up is Noah – where director Darren Aronofsky went the opposite way than Downey and Burnett in almost every choice. First, he picked Russell Crowe for the title role, and is banking on his star power to pull in audiences who might not otherwise flock to a Bible story. Second, he has gone for a full-blown blockbuster treatment – building a massive and full-scale Ark at Oyster Bay, New York, and then calling upon the mages of CGI to fill the ship and screen with herds of animals and storms of, well, Biblical proportions. Noah opens on March 28.
Third in the Biblical trifecta is Exodus, with Batman’s Christian Bale as Moses. Due out just before Christmas, the film is everything audiences have come to expect from director Ridley Scott. There will be big battles, individual Gladiator-style combats, pillars of fire, rivers of blood, a rain of toads and, of course, the parting of the Red Sea.
Similar CGI marvels were about all that saved Pompeii from extinction when it opened in late February. Yet another retelling of the old novel The Last Days of Pompeii, director Paul W.S. Anderson’s film had gladiators and sex scenes and torrents of lava, fire and ash to bury the Roman version of Sodom and Gomorrah. Game of Thrones' Kit Harrington as a heroic gladiator and 24’s Kiefer Sutherland as a nasty senator drew in enough traffic to help it take the number three box office spot in its opening weekend, but reaction to the film has otherwise been tepid – and its returns very disappointing considering its Mt. Vesuvius-sized budget.
On March 7 the fifth and perhaps most-anticipated of these Biblical and ancient epics hits the screen, and it is unique in several ways. For one thing, 300: Rise of Empire has a woman in the lead role: Eva Green, perhaps best known as 007’s lover in Casino Royale (as well as the queen in Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven and Morgana on cable’s Camelot series). The sequel to Zack Snyder’s 300 from 2007, this film picks up after the glorious death of 300 Spartans at Thermopylae and follows the Persian march into Greece. Green plays the historical figure Artemisia, the queen of Caria who as a Persian ally led her fleet into battle against the Athenians in the 5th Century B.C. – and was eventually defeated by them at Salamis, one of the greatest and most decisive naval engagements in history.
Much like Synder’s previous film, 300: Rise of an Empire plays fast and loose with history, and adds in elements of fantasy and magic (as well as a lot of sex). The battle scenes are extra-heavy on the CGI, and this sword and sandal on the seas film is more sci-fi war movie than historical re-enactment, but it is at least BASED on history, and may just lead some movie-goers to go look up that history – which they can find in a book.
Mark G. McLaughlin is a Connecticut-based free lance journalist and game designer with over 30 years of experience as a ghost-writer, columnist, historian and game designer. An author whose first published book was Battles of the American Civil War, and whose games include the Mr. Lincoln’s War set, Mark continues to be enthralled by stories from the age of Lincoln. To view Mark's 16th published design, the American Civil War Naval strategy game Rebel Raiders on the High Seas, visit his publisher at http://www.gmtgames.com/p-238-rebel-raiders-on-the-high-seas.aspx
…or his blog at http://markgmclaughlin.blogspot.com/
Mark’s latest work, the science fiction adventure novel Princess Ryan's Star Marines, is available on Amazon.com in both paperback and Kindle e-book formats at http://www.amazon.com/Princess-Ryans-Star-Marines-Save/dp/1466218487/ref...
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