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So long Superman, bye-bye Batman, and see you later Spidey. Hollywood has a new line of superheroes and they will be wearing sandals and robes, rather than spandex and masks.
After decades spent wowing audiences with an assortment of superheroes dreamt up by the modern mind, Hollywood is turning to the heroes of the Bible in 2014 to reinvigorate jaded audiences.
The flood of biblical epics starts in March with Noah, starring Russell Crowe as the iconoclastic patriarch who warns all his corrupt contemporaries that the world is ending and, together with his brave family, builds an ark to save them as well as a huge menagerie of creatures from the legendary flood.
Another epic based on the good book will see Christian Bale starring as Moses in Exodus, a Ridley Scott movie about the man who led the ancient Israelites out of slavery in Egypt.
Also hoping to become a Bible blockbuster is Mary Mother of Christ, starring Odeya Rush, a 16-year-old Israeli-born actress. The story will show Mary and Joseph struggling to make a life for young baby Jesus under the oppressive regime of evil King Herod.
Another Moses movie, God and Kings, will be directed by Oscar-winner Ang Lee, while Will Smith is said to be eyeing a movie version of the original rival siblings saga, Cain and Abel.
Also rumoured to be in the works is a Pontius Pilate picture starring Brad Pitt in a movie called Resurrection in which a Roman soldier is sent to investigate the death of Jesus. Turning Bible stories into hit movies is one of the oldest Hollywood traditions, with classics such as the Ten Commandments and Ben Hur having wooed movie audiences of past decades.
More recently, Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ was a huge box office success in 2004.
The faith-based cable TV miniseries The Bible averaged 11.4 million viewers on the History Channel earlier this year to become the US’s most watched cable show of 2013, thanks largely to support from pastors who screened excerpts and urged their followers to watch.
Whether the new Hollywood versions of traditional Bible stories will enjoy the same level of church support remains to be seen. Take Noah for example: directed by Darren Aronofsky, whose past works include Black Swan and Requiem for a Dream, the film is a $150 million special-effects extravaganza that is already causing waves with its vivid trailer.
Replete with booming soundtrack and apocalyptic images, it showcases Noah as an “environment wacko”, as one critic wrote, who embarks on his grandiose ark- building crusade after dreaming that God plans to destroy the world with a great flood.
Aronofsky, who specialises in portraying complex and conflicted people with scarred psyches, has described his Noah as a “dark and complicated character” who experiences survivor’s guilt after the flood.
Further spelling trouble with the conservative church crowd is Aronofsky’s interpretation of the ancient legend as a kind of global warming parallel, in which the short-sighted behaviour of the planet’s inhabitants leads to the environmental catastrophe of the flood.
The Hollywood Reporter says test screenings for Christian and Jewish groups generated troubling reactions, especially when the movie diverges from the literal biblical text.
There is also the traditional conservative distrust of Hollywood’s liberalism to contend with. “I won’t see it because Crowe is in it. Crowe who proclaimed Obama to be ‘the light’,” said commentator Alex Zarkadas on the right-wing website Breitbart.com.
“They will RUIN this film” said one commentator.
“They will de-Christianise it. It will be an environmentally preachy offering. I will not be seeing it,” said another worried Christian.
Still, such movies have distinct advantages for movie studios with their roster of well-known characters and legions of ardent fans – in this case more than 90 million evangelical Christians in the US alone.
And unlike superhero films, biblical tales are all in the public domain, which means that there are no copyright or licensing fees due.