Monday, February 17, 2014

"Son Of God" Coming Soon--Has Hollywood Got Religion?

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The film "Son Of God" is officially coming to certain theaters February 27, the day before it's official opening.

Major churches across the country are buying up entire theaters for opening night screenings of the movie about the life of Christ.

Many Christian leaders are giving the film a "thumbs up."

However, "NOAH", another film based on a Bible theme and soon to be released is getting a "thumbs down" from a number of biblical Christians who have seen it, while getting a restrained approval from Hillsong pastors Brian and Bobbie Huston.

Yet another biblical theme film..."Exodus," is planned for release toward the end of this year.

Did Hollywood get religion? Has there been a change of heart in tinsel town?

I wish.

I want to share some facts and insights about the films and who is behind them, and some personal thoughts.

We always encourage our readers and our radio listeners to "Be Informed" and "Be Discerning."

Here's why.

The Hollywood Reporter, one of the two most influential magazines in the entertainment industry says, "Church groups are seeking to take over entire theaters for the opening night screenings of 'Son of God', the upcoming movie about the life of Jesus Christ."

HR says, for example, "Crossroads Church in Cincinnati is bringing thousands of people to a Cinemark theater, where 'Son of God' will be showing on 13 screens at the same time."

Obviously the church is using the screenings for the entertainment and enjoyment of the members, but also as an outreach to people who may not attend a church service.

The magazine also says, "Mega-church pastor Rick Warren is buying out screens in 8 different theaters throughout Orange County" in Southern California.

Warren says, "I've seen most of the films about Jesus produced in the past 50 years, and 'Son of God' is the best."

I've personally heard that from others who have seen it.

The film was produced by Hollywood producer Mark Burnett (producer of TV's Survivor, The Apprentice, The Voice, Shark Tank, The Sing Off and People's Choice Awards for the past 5 years) and his wife Roma Downy (Touched By An Angel). They, you will recall, also produced "The Bible" miniseries that set a record 11.4 million viewers per episode on the cable History channel this past year and sold an all time record of DVDs for a miniseries.

Obviously there is a lot of money involved in this kind of success. But Burnett and Downy have been very outspoken about their passion to reach people with the biblical message of the gospel. They have said they believe God has led them to do this and that this is the most important thing they have done in their lives, etc.

I believe them.

They have also been very careful to include input from a number of evangelical biblical scholars and leaders regarding their storyline.

This is the "Son of God" video trailer.

While there were a couple points mentioned by many of those who saw "The Bible" such as... the story showed the destruction of Sodom, but did not give the reason for the destruction...but most thought it was very good and true to the biblical story. I agreed.

Based on what I have seen and heard, I personally believe this story of Jesus will be very much the same.

Hollywood is also scheduled to release the film "NOAH" on March 28, an "epic" as they call it, starring Russell Crowe as Noah.

Paramount Pictures and New Regency Productions has already put $125 million into the film and are still unsure of what they will use as the final cut in several parts.

The film's producer Darren Aronofsky is facing rough seas with his story of Noah and the Ark.

He says he's "never been treated this way" before.

What's happening is that Paramount is getting nervous. They are concerned that biblical Christians may not support the film the way the studio thought they would. There are a couple of reasons for this.

Aronofsky, raised in a devout Jewish home, is said to have drifted from the faith. He has created a "fantasy" effect in the film. It is said to be very dark, with a conflicted Noah who gets drunk...and considers taking drastic measures to eradicate mankind from the planet.

One man who viewed the film for a focus group said he saw a Noah who was a "crazy, irrational, religious nut" who was fixated on "modern-day problems like overpopulation and environmental degradation."

Concerned, Paramount Pictures has now reached out to the faith community. They have hired Grace Hill Media consultants who have in turn reached out to Pastors Brian and Bobbie Huston of Hillsong Church in Australia. As you may know, the Hustons have worldwide influence within the Christian community.

The Hollywood Reporter says Ben Field, the church's head of film and television, has promised Paramount that the pastors will publicly support the film.

HR also says that on February 4, Pastor Brian told several thousands of people in the church "you'll enjoy it [the film]...if you're not too religious."

Women of Faith and a couple of other groups are now coming out in support of the film. I haven't seen it, but from what I'm reading and hearing, I have reservations about it.

The studio is saying it is actually a movie about redemption and second chances. A movie for everyone, religious or not.

Hollywood is certainly free to make what they want to make and call it what they want to call it, but be sure you use discretion and be informed as you make your decisions regarding what you do and don't watch.

Be discerning.

The producer is upset saying, "No one has ever done this to me before."

Hollywood wants to be sure they don't lose money on it. And Paramount will do what they feel necessary to get out the Christians. We often see a similar ploy from politicians who want and need the Christian vote, so they appeal to Christians as supporting our values and interests when in fact they do not.

Pastor Huston says, "There can be opportunity for Christians to take offense, [but] we are pretty excited that a studio like Paramount would invest in a Bible themed movie."

Hollywood studios have done Bible themes before...The Ten Commandments comes to mind, but in some ways that was a different Hollywood. Two generations ago there was not the level of public anti-Christian, anti-Bible narrative that exists today.

Perhaps I lived there too long.

I do not share the excitement of a studio merely "agreeing" to produce a movie with a "biblical theme." If the industry wants to reach the Christians with a biblical theme, then they should at least be true to the biblical theme they are trying to sell.

Yet another film with a Bible theme---"Exodus" is scheduled for release late this year. We will keep you informed.

It's great that Hollywood is aware of the Christian market, but let's not misunderstand their interest and believe they are seeking some kind of long term committed relationship with us and our values, when in fact they are only interested in a one night stand.

Be Informed. Be Discerning. Be Prayerful. Be Pro-Active. Be Blessed.