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Faith in Film: Hollywood's 'Noah' and 'Son of God'

A great deal of controversy has emerged over the 2014 movie "Noah." Many religious people have objected to "the fanciful approach" taken to the story, while the movie makers wanted to appeal to a broad audience that includes "liberal modernists" and "those who vigorously dislike the Bible stories."

On the other hand, 2014's "Son of God" was made intentionally and carefully true to the Gospel accounts of Jesus, but sought a contemporary image.

"We wanted it to look cool," said co-producer Roma Downey in a 9 1/2-minute news video story prepared by correspondent Kim Lawton for Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, a source for cutting-edge reporting at the intersection of religion and culture. "[W]e didn't want this to be some old donkeys and sandals thing that maybe had good intention, but wasn't well executed."

"Son of God" has been received much more favorably by religious audiences. Lawton suggests that "How a Bible film is ultimately viewed often comes down to how people assess the intentions of the filmmakers." If that's so, perhaps one significant difference can be found in the faith views of the directors. "Noah" was co-written and directed by Darren Aronofsky, a noted atheist who generally makes dark movies and thought it important to take the story as "poetic and mythical," yet capable of inspiring a modern audience. "Son of God" was made by the husband-and-wife team of Mark Burnett and Roma Downey who are people of deep Christian faith. Aronofsky and Paramount launched a broad marketing campaign to the general public, positioning their movie as an action flick; Burnett and Downey engaged in a social media campaign and made visits to influential Christian churches, positioning their movie as an opportunity for Christians to renew their faith and evangelize nonbelievers.

Cracking the religious market may be important to major Hollywood studios, suggests Pepperdine University professor Craig Detweiler (remember "The Passion of the Christ's $600 million earnings?) "I think Hollywood is slowly learning who the religious filmgoer might be and what their concerns are," Detweiler said. "It's been a tenuous relationship. Hollywood is, I think, trying to do a good job and [is] finding that the sensitivities are much higher and greater than they realized."

In a 4-minute interview, Aronofsky explains why he chose to make a movie about Noah and shares some of his perceptions about the story and its potential meaning for contemporary people. In another interview Burnett and Downey explain their faith and approach to the Jesus story. You can also view a 10 1/2-minute video with additional perspectives from professors Edward Blum and Craig Detweiler.

"Hollywood approaches the Bible as public domain, as something that is owned by the culture at large," said Detweiler, "and they have discovered that some segment of the Christian community look at it as private property that is not to be messed with or violated. And so you see that tension arising around these biblical epics."

For more resources on religion and contemporary culture, explore our feature article "Best Resources to Research Cultural Trends."

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