Whatever happened to biblical epics? And why can't we do a good one now?

I’d always meant to watch Kings because of Ian McShane and I guess the conceit sounded interesting, right? Well, I don’t know if I’m going to continue - the conceit turns out to be awfully labored, and damn it’s slow, etc. And I know it didn’t get to finish. But it made me pull out my Oxford Study Bible and look up the original story, and holy crap that would be an awesome movie! We could keep Ian McShane, okay? But truck in a bunch of dust and sandals and such. And do it as a complex, dark, bloody epic sort of thing.

With no irony at all, I’ve got to call I Samuel a crackerjack yarn. There’s a ghost! There’s romance and intrigue and people torn between family and friends and a bazillion people mostly without names get their heads chopped off! There’s even a pee joke! It’s positively Shakespearean! But they’d never make it, or at least they’d never make it good (I’m sure there are plenty of boring pious versions.) Why not? I’m an atheist Buddhist and I’d go to see that!

So why don’t they make that sort of thing anymore for mass non-super-religious audiences? Now you got your Passion of the Christ and your Nativity, but it used to be you could get The Ten Commandments or Ben Hur (well, sort of Biblical) which were for general movie-loving audiences. And farther back there were all those Biblical silents because you could have a lot more sex in your Biblical epics than your regular standard-type epics.

Did movies like The Last Temptation of Christ kill the sincere Biblical epic? Are we too ironic now? Is it too controversial? What?

“The Borgias” on Showtime not your cup of tea?

Biblical epics would be good, except they put all of that religious crap in them.

Oh, the religious stuff in this one is just fine, because it’s all murdering too. :slight_smile:

There was a movie with Richard Gere playing King David a few years back that didn’t do that well. There was a series of movies on some cable channel a while back that were based on Biblical characters (Joseph, Moses).

Period epics are expensive and studios want to be assured of a return on their investments. I imagine they woulkd just be gun shy about an OT epic unless it had a really established star and wasn’t too preachy. It’s all about the twentysomethings. They’re the ones who go to movies, so if a studio is going to spend $200M on a production, they want it to be something they know will open (i.e. some kind of 3D shit or superhero shit), and they probably think the kiddies don’t want a bunch of God in their face at the movies.

I don’t think an OT epic couldn’t be a hit, though, with the right sort of casting and production. If that happened, then you would suddenly see a whole bunch of other Bible epics. It’s a copycat industry.

I agree with the OP. There’s plenty of material in the Bible that would make a great movie. I, too, would pay to see a good movie made from I Samuel. And I think a decent comedy could be made from the book of Acts.

And not just Biblical material, but other classical literature, history, and mythology. A definitive cinematic version of The Odyssey, for example, would kick ass.

Why not the Qu’ran? The Book of Morman? Or those wacky Bahá’ís? :smiley:

Biblical epics were always a device to get vices onscreen in a context that nobody could get mad at. We forget today that the real censorship body that led to the toughening of the toothless Hays Code was the Catholic Church. Priests and church-sanctioned officials literally wrote the rules and handed them to Hollywood. Church groups in each city continued to have additional censorship powers because they claimed to speak for such a large percentage of the population that they could demand further cuts before local theaters ran them. The National Legion of Decency rated movies. If they got a C or Condemned rating good Catholics could not go see them. This was taken very seriously by everyone. Most of the major censorship battles that are famous today are over movies that were rated C.

Biblical epics almost always seemed to get a pass, though. They could contain semi-nudity, male and female, or sodomic leering or bloody entrails, but because they were based on Bible stories they got by.

As soon as filmmakers could do these things in ordinary movies there wasn’t much point to Biblical epics. The underlying assumption that the Bible was the official book of a Christian society has been swept away as well. No filmmaker outside the Christian community - which has a separate and parallel filmmaking world - would play it straight enough to satisfy believers or truthfully enough to satisfy those who aren’t so literal. It’s a lose-lose money sink when aliens are non-controversial.

Of course if somebody does it and it makes money, you’ll see 50 more before the fad plays out.

How does Gibson’s PotC fit with that analysis? An anomaly?

Gibson was embraced by the Christian religious movie community; it was, after all, the version of the story that they liked, so they went.

But take a look at the audience for the big budget summer blockbusters: they are generally aimed at a teen male demographic (some aim at the teen female, but those are usually low budget). The people who would go see a bible film are not the audience needed for a blockbuster these days. Given the choice of the life of King David and Iron Man IV, the audience will pick the latter. Thus, it makes no business sense to make a big budget religious film, since it’s unlikely to earn back its cost.

Okay, but I guess that invites the question: Why can’t the Christian religious movie community be expected to do for, say Jonah and the Whale what they did for PotC?

I didn’t see Passion of the Christ, but from my understanding, it’s more in the tradition of the traditional passion play than of the cinematic biblical epic. And the events it portrays are certainly more central to Christianity than those of Jonah.

Although Jonah and the Whale did make it to the big screen fairly recently.

Okay, I’m gonna just go with PotC being an anomaly, for various reasons.

Since the premise of Kings intrigued you, can I recommend the graphic novel series Testament by Douglas Rushkoff? It takes place in the near future and the conceit is that the archetypal stories from the bible play themselves over and over in different ways through history due to the intervening of various sub-dieties. And it’s up to our intrepid band of humans to figure out how to break the cycle of history.

It seems to me that the Biblical movies of this generation (e.g., Passion of the Christ, The Nativity Story, One Night With the King, etc.) are considerably more preachy than the Biblical epics of yesteryear. There seems to be a strong sentiment in moviemaking these days that movies based on Biblical stories need to have a strong religious message to them, one which could be seen as an alienating factor on the mainstream audience.Passion is more of an outlier than anything else, which did well because of the novelty of being a big-budget, foreign language film directed by Mad Max.

Maybe it doesn’t count as modern, but you left out Prince of Egypt. Christians and non-Christians seemed to enjoy that movie.

What, the Veggie Tales movies not good enough for ya?

There are, however, still epics – even if not biblical. THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy films certainly were epics on a grand scale.

What do Buddhists think of it?

The threshold of protest has dropped.

If you do a movie about any religious subject, there are going to be people somewhere who are offended by it. And nowadays they’ll get organized and start a protest campaign.

So studios avoid the headaches and go to comic books for their inspiration on epics instead.