Comment: Hollywood’s slew of biblical films is no return from Exodus

" Wherever you look you can find the Bible lurking. What is new in the latest offerings from Hollywood is how it’s packaging the Bible – but then the Bible is constantly repackaged and retold for new audiences. "

Dr Katie Edwards, Director of the Sheffield Institute for Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies at the University of Sheffield, discusses why Bible epics are making a Hollywood comeback.

by Dr Katie Edwards, posted on The Conversation

The tan-tastic trailer for Ridley Scott’s new epic Exodus: Gods and Kings was recently released, to lukewarm response. What I find most striking about the trailer is not, as you might expect, Christian Bale’s representation of Moses, but that the cast managed to rival The Kardashians for overly liberal application of St Tropez and extraordinary HD brows. Never has the Bible looked so orange.

The film is stated to be the first in a series of biblically inspired films for Scott. Exodus will be followed by a film on the giant-slaying biblical King David, and then a TV film adaptation of Bill O’Reilly’s bestselling book Killing Jesus.

In addition, MGM have announced a remake of Ben Hur. This slew of biblical blockbusters following hot on the heels of the success of Noah and the TV mini-series The Bible, is causing many to ask why biblical epics are making a Hollywood comeback.

It seems that the Bible has been off the Hollywood menu since the mid-20th century when films such as Samson and Delilah and The Ten Commandments brought the text to cinema goers. Since then, despite the success of Mel Gibson’s 2004 Jesus torture epic The Passion of Christ, biblical films don’t seem to have gained any traction in Hollywood - until now.

Talking to the BBC, biblical scholar David Shepherd argued that mainstream cinema returns to the Bible when it’s under threat:

It’s worth remembering that the cinema has often turned to the Bible and other epic subjects when it was under threat. In the early 20th Century, the cinema turned to the Bible to prove to its detractors that it was a force for good, not evil... In the 50s, it was the rise of television which prompted DeMille and others to turn to the biblical film, filling the big screen with casts and sets of epic proportions.

Shepherd goes on to suggest that the current resurgence of biblical epics is a response to its latest threats of gaming and online film providers: "I think the studios are yet again looking for the big stories of the Bible to save them."

So is Scott’s Exodus really going to save Hollywood? I spoke to TV Executive Producer Jean-Claude Bragard. He thinks the answer is much simpler. There’s a large audience for Bible films, a fact that’s been proven by popular TV series time and again. Bragard is responsible for developing and producing many highly rated and award winning Bible TV series, such as Son of God and The Bible’s Buried Secrets. He suggests that Hollywood’s return to the biblical epic isn’t a surprise and it’s not a response to threat, but rather a way of exploiting ready-made stories for a ready-made audience:

Directors like Scott have seen that the Bible has attracted audiences and made money on TV and so they’ve transferred it to the big screen. Headlines about a "resurgence" are inflated because the Bible’s never really been away.

That’s certainly true. Darren Aronofsky’s Noah and Scott’s new bevy of biblical tales aren’t heralding a sudden interest in all things Old and New Testament - the interest has been there all along. The Bible is inherent in popular culture, whether it’s Beyonce singing biblical verse on a Jay-Z track (Pray; American Gangster); Sky Sports depicting Jesus miracles in an ad campaign or Stieg Larsson creating a Leviticus spouting serial killer in The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo.

Wherever you look you can find the Bible lurking. What is new in the latest offerings from Hollywood is how it’s packaging the Bible - but then the Bible is constantly repackaged and retold for new audiences. The influence of the Bible on our cultural landscape never diminishes.

Still, judging by the trailer, Exodus seems to be more TOWIE does Gladiator than classic Hollywood fare - but then what’s a biblical epic without a bit of camp? My heart still lies with Victor Mature - now there’s a man who knows how carry off fake tan with style.