The Buzz On Religious Films

 by D.J Wilson –

There’s been a lot of buzz about the large number of Biblical movies about to be released in 2014.  Will religious groups across America rise up to support such films?  Faithful churchgoers are being urged to attend these productions in large masses with the goal of selling out theatres.  Meanwhile, Hollywood is waiting with baited breath to see the turn-out.  While Hollywood does look for money signs, success of the films will send a wake-up call to liberal Hollywood and create support for future religious projects.  Due to restricted production and marketing funds for some of these current films, producers are working diligently to stir grassroots movements through social media to turn these dramatic expressions of faith into mega blockbusters.  Here’s a taste of what to look forward to:

First of the motion pictures to be released this year is Son of God, slated to hit theatres on Friday, February 28, 2014.  Critics are hailing this 20th Century Fox release as one of America’s most powerful religiously-themed films ever made.  The film is produced by husband and wife team Mark Burnett and Roma Downey. To maintain religious sensitivity, they consulted over 40 academics and church leaders while the film was being made.  Opening to 3,000 screens nationally, this stand-alone film production is based upon their successful miniseries The Bible, which attracted over 11 million viewers during its five-week run on the History Channel.  The movie chronicles the life of Jesus Christ through his resurrection.  Brilliant acting, captivating sceneries and beautiful orchestral pieces enhance the movie’s appeal.  Co-producer Roma Downey, of Touched by An Angel fame, also acts in the movie.  She describes her part as “…the most beautiful role of my career playing Mary the Mother of Jesus.”  Portuguese actor Diogo Morgado poignantly portrays the adult role of Jesus in this larger-than-life movie.

Though Mary of Nazareth was previously released in October, 2013, it made our list as it’s currently being presented in limited theatres.  Interested groups may arrange a showing by contacting Ignatius Press and Carmel Communications.   In this sensitive portrayal of the Blessed Mother, German born actress Alissa Jung gives a moving performance of Mary, mother of Christ.  Pope Benedict XVI viewed the full length feature in the Apostolic Palace and was deeply moved by Jung’s portrayal of Mary and her expressions of tenderness and hope.  The story follows Mary from her childhood through the Resurrection of Jesus and brings us into her daily life.  The movie shows the agony which Mary felt at her son’s violent Crucifixion, demonstrated through Jung’s deeply emotional portrayal.  Many critics feel the film is worth seeing as it truly captures Mary’s essence and shares her faith and trust in God.

Noah, to be released by Paramount Pictures, has a large and impressive estimated budget of $150 million and features an all-star cast including Russell Crowe, Anthony Hopkins, Jennifer Connelly, and Emma Watson.  The film is based on the story of Noah, a virtuous man, who is instructed to build a wooden ark and save remnants of life from a massive flood which covers the earth.  Set to be released in theatres on March 28, 2014, the film uses extensive visual effects to simulate an animal kingdom.  Poor early reviews by faith-based audiences caused critics fear the movie may veer off course from the Biblical story.  Should Hollywood’s version stray from the Scriptures, the film may lose its appeal to religious moviegoers.  Just one month shy of release, Paramount Pictures is standing by director Darren Aronofsky’s adaptation of the film.  Actor Russell Crowe, who plays Noah, is hoping to get the Pope’s endorsement to create public acceptance and seal the movie’s success.

Heaven is for Real is an interesting religious themed movie, though not technically a Biblical movie.  It’s a film about a little boy’s life-after-death experience and is based on the New York Times Bestseller of the same name. The story is the true account of a nearly four-year-old boy, son of a small town Nebraska pastor, who during surgery slips from consciousness and enters heaven.  He returns to life with the astonishing story of his trip to heaven, where he met his great-grandfather, the biblical figure Samson, John the Baptist, a sister he never knew of, and Jesus.  He describes angels who sang to him to ease his anxiety.  He also watched his parents from heaven and could recount their actions while his body was still in surgery.  While some folks shoulder criticism over the story, it’s tough to argue with the inspirational and Christian based message of the movie, that heaven is genuine.  Stars of the movie include Greg Kinnear, Kelly Reilly and Thomas Haden Church.  Sony Pictures will release the movie on April 16, 2014.

Considered a smaller budgeted dramatic motion picture, A Long Way Off, is a modern day retelling of the parable of the prodigal son.  Young Jacob grows tired of life on the family farm and demands his father’s inheritance.  Jacob ignores the advice he receives and heads to the city for a new life.  He seeks the highlife and begins taking risks, only to discover his world comes crashing down around him.  After hitting rock bottom, he returns home.  Audiences will be on the edge of their seats waiting to see his father’s reaction.  The film features well-known actors like Robert Davi, Edie McClurg, John Diehl and Jason Burkey, with cameos from famous people like talk show host Sean Hannity.  This well produced film is a personal favorite of mine as I was lucky enough to be an extra in the bookstore scene.  PRODIGALFILM LLC and its production partners have announced the film will be distributed by Word Films/Warner.  A limited theatrical release is planned for May and the DVD release is scheduled for June, perfect timing for Father’s Day.

20th Century Fox announced it will release the biblical epic film Exodus on December 12, 2014, just before Christmas.  The movie will star Christian Bale, Sigourney Weaver and Joe Edgerton.  Bale will take on the role of Moses, and critics are sure to compare his performance to that of Charlton Heston in The Ten CommandmentsExodus is based on the biblical story of the ancient Israelite people and their liberation from Egypt as led by Moses.  It is believed the movie will cover Moses’ life and show aspects never before presented on screen.  Based on the Book of Exodus, Moses was hidden by his mother when the Pharaoh ordered all newborn Hebrew boys killed when learning of the prophecy of a messianic deliverer.  The child was discovered on the Nile River and was adopted into an Egyptian royal family.  Moses encounters God in the form of a burning bush.  God persuades him to lead enslaved Hebrews out of Egypt and into the “promised land.”  Later, Moses receives the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai.  Like Noah, this is another big budget films coming out this year based on a story from the Old Testament.

The prequel to Mel Gibson’s 2004 Passion of the Christ is slated to arrive before Christmas.  The cast includes Peter O’Toole, Sir Ben Kingsley, Julia Ormond and Odeya Rush.  In the first film, Gibson and his director took criticism for refusing to put the film in English.  Despite the subtitles and some graphic violence controversy, the movie went on to earn over 600 million dollars.  The prequel hopes to follow in popularity and will be called Mary Mother of Christ.  Popular televangelist Joel Osteen is an executive producer of the picture.  The movie, to be distributed by Lionsgate in North America, will focus on Mary during her youth and tell the story of her tribulations as a young mother caring for Jesus.  The film is also expected to emphasize Mary and Joseph’s experiences during the reign of terror of Herod the Great. Look for its release near Easter, 2015.

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