While the movie "Son of God" had a blockbuster opening weekend at the box office, the next biblical big-screen production on Hollywood's horizon, "Noah," is taking heat from some Christians for departing from the scriptural account of the Old Testament story.
Paramount Pictures will release "Noah," starring Oscar winner Russell Crowe in the title role, on March 28. But last week, after receiving feedback from the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) organization, Paramount took the unusual step of offering a disclaimer that had been suggested by the group to accompany the movie and various marketing materials.
"The film is inspired by the story of Noah. While artistic license has been taken, we believe that this film is true to the essence, values, and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide. The biblical story of Noah can be found in the book of Genesis," reads the disclaimer.
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Whether that action will be enough to satisfy Christian audiences remains to be seen. But with "Son of God" taking in $26.5 million in its opening weekend, Hollywood is taking notice of the earning potential of Bible-based movies.
While some say the wave of religious-themed films slated for release this year presents great opportunities to discuss the Christian faith, others have expressed their disappointment with how Hollywood portrays traditional Bible stories with abstract elements and creative interpretations.
Jerry Johnson, president of the NRB, sees enough positive in the movie to recommend it.
"Because of the quality of the production and acting, viewers will enjoy watching main themes from the 'Noah' story depicted in a powerful way on the big screen," Johnson said, following Paramount's acceptance of the disclosure. "However, my intent in reaching out to Paramount with this request was to make sure everyone who sees this impactful film knows this is an imaginative interpretation of Scripture and not literal."
Johnson said during an NRB panel discussion that there are a number of negatives with the film pertaining to Biblical accuracy, including Noah's conflicted inner battle, which comes off as "crazy" at times, and an over-emphasis on environmental abuse as a sin.
But Johnson said major Christian themes are still overtly present in the film, including sin, judgment, righteousness, God as the Creator, and the importance of stewardship.
Others aren't quite as forgiving over the film's portrayal of the biblical story.
Ken Ham, founder and CEO of Answers in Genesis and visionary of the planned Ark Encounter attraction in Kentucky, said he doesn't think Paramount's "Noah" film is going to be as popular among evangelicals as some people might think.
Ham told Newsmax he believes Christians will realize the blatant inaccuracies that Hollywood is portraying, saying the contrast between Noah as depicted in the film and the Noah of the Bible is quite alarming.
"In the movie, it seems Noah is a far cry from the Noah of the Bible. He's angry, even crazy," Ham says. "It makes a mockery of Noah's righteous nature and is actually anti-biblical."
Ham said that in the Bible, Noah is credited as being faithful and "a preacher of righteousness."
"This just isn't the case in Hollywood's version. He's a delusional, conflicted man, more concerned about the environment, animals, and even killing his own grandchild than he is with his family and his relationship with God," Ham said.
Ray Comfort, founder and CEO of Living Waters Publications and co-host of the television program "Way of the Master," plans to release a film on the same day as Paramount's "Noah."
His film, titled "Noah and the Last Days," approaches things from an entirely different perspective.
"I want people to see that the Bible isn't an ordinary book. It gave us human history from beginning to end, before history happened," Comfort told Newsmax. "Jesus warned that what was happening back in Noah's day would be happening at the end of the age."
Ham and Comfort do not endorse "Noah," and don't encourage Christians to see it.
"I wouldn't encourage a soul to pay Hollywood to make any movie that undermines the credibility of the Bible, and this one certainly does," Comfort said. "Do it right — according to the script in the Scriptures — and we will support it in the millions, as we did with 'The Ten Commandments' and 'Ben-Hur.'"
Ham acknowledged that religious soul-searching could result from seeing the movie, but said that in the end, the film is a departure from the real account in the Bible and will likely do more harm than good.
"Sure, after watching the film, people could be directed to read the true story for themselves in the Bible," Ham said. "But in this day and age, young people have a hard time deciphering reality from fiction and don't often take the time to form their own educated opinions."
Chris Stone, founder of Faith Driven Consumer, had written an open letter to Paramount, saying, "Changing a biblical story like Noah by superimposing a revisionist message does not make the story more compelling.
"In the run-up to 'The Lord of the Rings' trilogy or the Harry Potter movies, journalists wrote extensively about the need to remain true to the books and ensure that these films still connected with their core audiences," Stone wrote. "By respecting these audiences and the stories as told in these novels, these films did resonate and were successful business enterprises. We know this can be done with the faith market, because it has been done before."
Stone said that Paramount's disclaimer is a step in the right direction.
"Paramount is taking steps to respect, connect with, and reach out to the core faith audience of this film," Stone said. "While many faith-driven consumers will likely find valid reason to pause on some elements of the film, we are becoming more hopeful that many other areas will resonate and be compatible with the Bible's core message."
Biblical consultant John Snowden, a liaison for Paramount regarding the film script and the Bible since April 2012, has worked to align the movie with the biblical account as much as possible.
Although it's not perfect, Snowden said Christians can still use the film as a platform for spiritual conversations.
"We can have fun, spirited debates of how you'd do it differently if you had $125 million to make your version of Noah's ark, but let's focus on the opportunity for now and use it as a springboard for holy conversations," Snowden said at the NRB panel discussion.
Filmmaker and media consultant Phil Cooke, also on the panel, said, "Why not take friends, family, and co-workers to the film?"
"Then go to Starbucks afterward, and buy them a coffee, and discuss what you just saw," Cooke said. "'Noah,' it's going to be water-cooler conversation. So let's get in there and start sharing our views on the story."
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