Hollywood’s Recent Fascination with Bible Stories… Good or Bad?

Ever since “moving pictures” were invented, Bible stories have been featured on the big screen.  The very first Jesus movie, The Life and Passion of Jesus Christ, was released in 1907!  There have been Jesus movies and other Bible stories produced ever since, including The Ten Commandments, starring Charlton Heston (one of my personal favorites).  With the recent success of the History Channel’s The Bible miniseries, it seems like Hollywood has a fresh fascination with Bible stories.

Noah_Russell_Crowe
Russell Crowe as Noah

When the movie, Noah, starring Russell Crowe, was released, there was mixed reaction on the part of Christians across the country.  Some were indifferent or uninterested.  Others were horrified.  These were Christians who heard about the movie, hoped it would be in the same vein as The Bible miniseries or The Passion of the Christ, but were sadly disappointed with the movie turned out to be very different than the Bible story they grew up with.  I heard plenty of feedback from both sides, from pastors who were taking their entire youth groups to the theater to watch Russell Crowe’s portrayal of Noah, to Christians who were considering organizing protests and boycotts.  Naturally, I had to watch the movie myself to see what the hype was all about.

Personally, I found it to be a little cheesy – definitely not Russell Crowe’s finest movie, although he acted well, as he always does.  I wasn’t offended by the differences between the movie and the Bible story because the movie was never billed as a biblically accurate telling of the flood story.  I will admit, however, the discrepancies between the Noah movie and the Bible’s account were of a different sort than those found in The Ten Commandments.  That classic movie of Moses and the Exodus was filled with content that is nowhere found in Scripture.  However, that content also did not explicitly contradict Scripture, and the overall tenor of the film was consistent with the Bible’s story.  It wasn’t a movie designed to remake the Moses story, but simply to take advantage of gaps in the Bible’s story and fill in something that could have happened.

Noah, on the other hand, didn’t just fill in gaps with dramatic content that could have occurred, it actually reimagined the story.  From the stone giants who were embodied fallen angels trying to earn back favor with God, to the magic snakeskin, this movie wasn’t an attempt to visualize the Bible’s story in HD.  But, let’s not forget that the producers never claimed to be making a biblical film.  And, from the trailers of the upcoming Exodus: Gods and Kings, starring Christian Bale, it would seem that Hollywood is venturing off the biblical path again.

So, here’s the question: should Christians be concerned about this new trend in Hollywood Bible stories?

Speaking for myself, I do find this trend a little disconcerting, and not because Hollywood is adding a little dramatic flair to some of the greatest stories ever told.  The Ten Commandments added a lot of dramatic flair!  What troubles me is that in remaking the stories the way that Noah does, Hollywood shows little or no regard to the integrity of the biblical story.  Content is added that, if true, would make the Bible’s story false.  But that’s just the point, by making the fundamental changes they do, Hollywood relegates the epic narratives of Scripture to the realm of myths and legends.

Nobody gets offended when a movie is produced that remakes the story of Hercules or changes the fundamental details of a character from the King Arthur folklore.  Of course not, these stories were never true.  They are myths, legends, folk tales; who cares if we change them?  Now Hollywood is treating the Bible’s stories the same way.  Does it matter if we add a magic snakeskin to the Noah story?  No; the story is a myth, a legend, a folk tale.  It was never true to begin with.  Who cares if we change it?

Charlton Heston as Moses in The Ten Commandments
Charlton Heston as Moses in The Ten Commandments

What troubles me is to see the credibility of the biblical stories subtlety undermined by Hollywood.  Am I going to organize a boycott or protest?  No.  That’s not helpful, and Christians have done far too much boycotting and protesting in our society.  But I am going to be careful about what I watch and what I allow my kids to watch.  When we watch movies like Noah or Exodus: Gods and Kings, I will make sure my kids understand that its the movies that are myths, not God’s Word.  And to be honest, I’m not sure if any of the new Bible-story-based movies coming out will ever be able to top The Ten Commandments! 🙂

What’s your take on the Noah movie?