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Religious movies find niche in Easter season

Marty Schroeder | Thursday, April 13, 2006

There was a time when movie pictures were considered the work of the devil – back in the 1920s. This association of religion and the cinema is as old as the medium itself, but there have been points in film history where religion has become the focus of a film. People have their own opinions of how religion should be treated on film and these opinions range from the respectful, to the artistic, to the musical. A plethora of religious films are available this Easter season to anyone with $3 and a Blockbuster card.

The Ten Commandments (1956)Directed by the prolific Cecil B. DeMille and starring Charlton Heston as Moses and Yul Brynner as the obstinate Rameses, this film brought the story of Exodus to the silver screen in epic proportions. This film clocks in at 3 hours and 40 minutes so this would be the ideal film for relaxing after that big Easter dinner.

It is notable for the gargantuan cast used in the making of the film, which included 14,000 extras and 15,000 animals.

The special effects were also cutting-edge. To create the sandstorm in the film, DeMille used tied down airplanes from the Egyptian Air Force. The parting of the Red Sea, one of the most memorable scenes in the film, was an amazing accomplishment in 1956.

Jesus Christ Superstar (1973)Based on the Andrew Lloyd Weber stage musical, this film is an amalgamation of the Gospels and hippies. With its rock music and Biblical message, it was hailed by some as a way to bring Jesus’ word to the masses and criticized by others for associating Jesus with hippies. Judas is chased by tanks and the cast arrives at and leaves the set in a Volkswagen bus.

This may not be for everyone, especially those with a more traditional view of the Gospels. But if viewers are looking for a completely divergent take on the Gospel from the Passion plays performed at churches, this may be the one to check out.

The Passion of the Christ (2004)Mel Gibson’s controversial film about the last hours of Jesus was one of the most widely discussed films of 2004. Many Jewish groups condemned it for racism, alleging a questionable depiction of the Jews, while many Christian groups hailed it as an accurate representation of the Gospel account of the Passion.

Whatever one may think, this is not a film for the faint of heart. The scourging at the pillar and the crucifixion are displayed in full detail down to a close-up of a nail being driven though Jesus’ hand.

Jim Caviezel and Monica Bellucci put in excellent performances as Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Rosalinda Celentano also performs marvelously as Satan. This film is noted for its exclusive use of Aramaic and Latin for the script but is subtitled for the large percentage of the general populace who are not Biblical scholars.

The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)On the opposite end of the spectrum from “The Passion of the Christ,” Martin Scorsese’s vision of the Christ parable focuses on the incarnate Jesus. Starring Willem Dafoe as Jesus and Harvey Keitel as Judas, the film explores the personal difficulties the historical Jesus would have encountered in his ministry. A Catholic himself, Scorsese encountered scathing remarks from many who claimed the film was heretical and the Catholic Church went so far as to place it on its banned list of films. This is a thought-provoking film that may offend many. But it provides an excellent comparison to “The Passion of the Christ” – both films provide two very different takes from two Catholic directors.

All of the aforementioned films are an attempt to navigate the stories of the Bible through the eye of the cinema. They approach religion from different vantages but are all sincere in their own exploration of humanity’s relationship with the divine.