Used to be, no one got worked up about religious films

One can almost hear the approaching hoof-beats of the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” when longtime religious rivals suddenly start agreeing. Such a miraculous event happened last week when both evangelical Christians and fundamentalists Moslems agreed that they don’t really care for the new Russell Crowe film, “Noah.” Islamists object because the Quran forbids any visual depiction of prophets like Noah, and Christians say that the movie “misrepresents” the Old Testament account of the Flood in Genesis (what, no dinosaurs?). A local pastor (whose denunciation of the film appeared in the March 31 Marietta Times) called it “something between ‘The Twilight Zone’ and ‘Transformers.'” and that it is yet another “attack upon religion” by the “Godless forces of Hollywood liberalism.”

As the grandson of a Methodist minister, I was encouraged as a child to go see big-budget biblical epics like “Quo Vadis,” “The Robe” (as the first Cinemascope film ever, its’ 1953 premiere at the Smoot Theater in Parkersburg was quite a big deal) and “Ben Hur.” No one got all worked up over the fact that these three New Testament films were adapted from popular novels and took more than a few liberties with the story of Jesus. Some chuckled when the blonde-blue-eyed Jeffrey Hunter’s (sincere in my opinion) portrayal of Christ in the 1961 epic “King of Kings” was referred to by critics as “I was a teenaged Jesus,” and some more recent chuckles have emanated from the too-handsome (and non-Semitic) “Christian Mingle” commercial, male-model guy who plays the role in this year’s television-to-big-screen “Son of God” movie. It is ironic that many evangelical Christians praised and thronged to see Mel Gibson’s gratuitously bloody “Passion of the Christ,” unaware that the film’s screenplay was adapted mainly from a medieval morality play that omitted most of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John …

There were no protests when Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 version of “The Ten Commandments” added sub-plots like the romance between Joshua (who does not appear in the Book of Exodus) and the Hebrew slave-girl portrayed by Debra Paget. I have searched the Old Testament and can find no reference of “Nefertiri” (the non-biblical queen of Egypt portrayed by Anne Baxter) saying anything remotely like “Moses, Moses, you mad, magnificent fool!” Nor can I locate the passage in The Book of Judges where, after his feat of killing the lion, Samson (portrayed in the 1949 epic “Samson and Delilah” by Victor Mature) repulses the amorous advances of the voluptuous Delilah (Hedy Lamarr) by saying “Hey, one cat at a time!”

No one objected when director John Huston not only narrated the 1966 film, “The Bible,” but played “Noah” and was “The Voice of God” as well, nor was there a peep when “Noah” was depicted in Disney’s “Fantasia 2000” by no less a personage than Donald Duck.

That is why I find myself partly in agreement with conservative pundit Cal Thomas (is this yet another sign of approaching “Last Days”?) who said in his April 2 column in The Times that “Instead of nitpicking over ‘Noah,’ Christians should not only be cheering, but buying tickets to encourage such movies.” He says that “Noah” is “flawed” but “better than nothing.” Of course, former CBN host Thomas is not about to let his readers forget that there is a “war” being waged by the “evil” forces of “liberalism” and the sort of “secular-humanist blasphemy” that produced films like Martin Scorsese’s “Last Temptation of Christ,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” and Monty Python’s “Life of Brian.” Thomas, of course, omits the fact that the latter two films contained absolutely no criticism of Jesus, and, in fact, re-enforced the Savior’s message of peace, love, and understanding (i.e. the scene in “Life of Brian” where some people in the Sermon on the Mount crowd are not paying attention and misinterpret Christ’s words as “Blessed are the cheese-makers”).

Thomas also said that some have complained that a sneaky “environmental message” has been inserted in “Noah” to please leftist Hollywood … that is silly! Everyone knows that there is nothing in The Bible that suggests that human activity could possibly cause a cataclysmic global natural disaster!

Fred O’Neill lives in Marietta.