Sacred Screen – The Flux of Religion in Films

Why is there an increase in films with themes based on religion.

Muddled in the mix of remakes and sequels, Hollywood has recently been churning out several films with themes based on religion. Some popular examples of course being “Noah”, and the February release “Son of God”. These overt biblical tales are not the only spiritual stories making their way on the screen. Why the increase in these types of films?

People at this point have yawned away the debate over whether these films should even be made. With a whopping budget estimated at over $120 million, “Noah” has had no problem finding companies to throw money at them, even if the themes are touchy. Perhaps this is why there were hefty narrative and emotional changes to the films story. After all, a film that only appeals to believers wont rack in as much as a film that attempts to compensate for a variety of viewers, even if that means smoothing out or even removing old story points. But this has caused criticism over straying too far, leaving many unsatisfied with that film for that very reason.

Willem Dafoe in 'The Last Temptation of Christ'
Willem Dafoe in ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’

How can it be forgotten, as seemingly every generation has one…a religion based film that riles the fire-and-brimstone communities up in protest, upset that their sacred stories have been wrongly depicted, or even upset that they are depicted at all. One such example is another, much older Jesus tale, “The Last Temptation of Christ”. Director Martin Scorsese’s humanizing depiction of the Bethlehem-born preacher infuriated all manner of Christian groups, crippling the film’s release. Here we see the difference between “Son of God” and “The Last Temptation of Christ”. The more subtle you are, the less you explore and change, and the more stringent you are with remaining along the stories original guidelines, the smoother your films release will be. But I can’t help but feel that these films become dull, since they won’t take their own artistic path. If the motivation isn’t money, why make such a film at all? If you aren’t going to make changes for the nuance of the screen, then why should an adaptation be produced? Some of this dull feeling may reside in the constant stream of revamps and remakes littering Hollywood these days. It is my hope that it not be too much to ask for some bold originality, even in the biblical blockbusters.

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The conflict within these films is very archaic- a conflict that essentially everyone understands before they even step into the theatre. This is the conflict between good and evil, and though this is found in countless other stories, we find it here in its earliest form. Could this be another draw to the increase of these types of films? A type of relapse to the most base and simplified stories whose villains and heroes we all recognize from the first frame? The horns and the halo hit home quite quickly. Another possibility is that these projects are now being executed in greater number because of the advancements in the visual effects, spurred along by a flourishing digital industry. Remember that old classic Hollywood jewel “The Ten Commandments”? Its 1950’s technology was astounding, for its time of course. Because of the straightforwardness of the story, the scope and scale can be taken to enormous heights.

Peel back the curtain, and reasons for the spike in the iconography become more apparent. Regardless of whatever your religious stance may be, there is no denying such a rise. Yet another of these is soon to be released; “Heaven Is for Real”, an upcoming drama, not a time-based epic. We will have to see how this picture plays out in a film scene seemingly more and more accepting of seeing the sacred on the big screen, while highlighting some interesting ideas about change, story, and economic safety.

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