It’s not just that the stories have been done, but that Hollywood can’t move forward in the arena of film.
A recent article on this website claimed that the biblical epic is making a comeback in Hollywood, and that this is a great thing. The article claims that it’s “about time the story of Moses comes back to life on the big screen.” The article argues that it’s a good thing because Hollywood loves good stories and the Bible is crammed with them. Hollywood, then, is interested only in good stories and not with reintroducing Christianity to the heathens. Whilst it may be true that Hollywood loves a good story, by mining the Bible (again) for stories, it is taking yet another step backwards in terms of actual filmmaking.
With Christians representing around 80% of religious groups in the US, there’s undoubtedly a large audience for Christian movies
Hollywood has pretty much declared 2014 as The Year of the Biblical Epic. With Christians representing around 80% of religious groups in America, there is undoubtedly a large audience for Christian movies. Moreover, stories like Noah and his ark are full of bombastic moments (the whole world gets flooded at one point) that are likely to satisfy modern-day cinema-goers who have a fetish for SFX and mighty on-screen explosions. The truth is that biblical stories, which include God parting a sea and a swarm of locusts invading Egypt, are made for Hollywood 2014. Armed with increasingly brilliant SFX, revisiting the Bible for stories seems like a great idea for the modern incarnation of Hollywood. With a director like Michael Bay in charge, who knows what could happen? The story of Moses could probably more than match Godzilla for mindless anarchy.
But what is the real reason for Hollywood revisiting the biblical epic? Spreading the word of God? Telling a good story? Using an excuse to use its latest, expensive effects? Desperation? Whilst it’s true that the current generation of kids brought up on Transformers will treat The Ten Commandments (1956) with disdain, it is not absolutely necessary that such a film and story needs to be updated. But that’s what Hollywood is doing at the moment – it’s updating everything. One can’t help but cynically wonder if cinema-goers will lap up a hundred retellings of films like Godzilla as long as a new effect is introduced in each movie. When does all the updating stop?
This is instructive. Hollywood evolves in terms of how big it makes its explosions, and how slick it makes its fight/battle scenes, and how many worldwide locations it can cram into a single film. But in terms of pure filmmaking, in terms of innovative storytelling, freshness and invention, it is behind other countries. Hollywood’s screenplay template has largely gone untouched for at least a century. If a character doesn’t change psychologically throughout the course of a film, if there are no turning points, Hollywood doesn’t want to know.
Hollywood has to revisit the Bible because it knows its own stories that fit the action movie template have become too thin. It’s an act of desperation
Whilst it has always catered to the tastes of the masses, Hollywood’s major films in the 80s still had a touch of invention and imagination to them. Films like Back To The Future and Lethal Weapon were box office hits, and they had charm and originality. Now, though, we are in danger of witnessing a huge dumbing down. Hollywood’s films, though they may be finding their inspiration from the Bible, are getting dumber. They’re certainly not getting any cleverer. The article reminds us that history repeats itself. History may well repeat itself, but content should not. People say there is a dried-up well of new stories in Hollywood at the moment. This isn’t the case in other places around the world, or even in independent American cinema, so what makes Hollywood so special? Because its audience, which includes millions, can only handle certain plot templates?
The truth is that there are good stories out there, hundreds of them, and Hollywood has more money than anyone else to cherry pick the best. The problem is that, somewhere along the line, the action movie spiralled out of control, and now there is seemingly no way back. Hollywood cannot stop what it is doing – the explosions are only going to get bigger, the battle scenes are only going to get huger, because that is what the fans want. Hollywood has to revisit the Bible because it knows its own stories that fit the action movie template have become too thin. It’s an act of desperation to keep the masses enthralled.
Hollywood began to fall behind European filmmakers in the early 1960s because of the restrictive Motion Picture Code. The likes of Bergman and Fellini, free to be as creative as they liked, were showing the Americans how to really make a film. Once the Motion Picture Code was abolished, the new wave of American cinema was introduced. Pearls of cinema such as Taxi Driver, The Godfather and Mean Streets led the way. If Hollywood returns to the biblical epic, on an even grander scale than before, it risks falling behind its world counterparts once more – and this time there may be no way back. Profits may well soar, but Hollywood is only going to distance itself more and more from pure filmmaking.
If Hollywood returns to the biblical epic, on an even grander scale than before, it risks falling behind its world counterparts
Then again, Hollywood is all about enhancing the theme park-like cinematic experience. Students at film school aren’t taught Hollywood’s methods because they are financially unviable. This is an art form that is totally inclusive, that distances itself from filmmakers working on a budget. Whilst Hollywood works out how to make its monsters more real than ever, independent filmmakers around the world work within their means, honing their craft to produce the next real gem of cinema. They don’t just work out a new story to tell, but a new way of telling a story. Away from the brashness of American extravagance, European, South American, African and Asian filmmakers continue to lead the true way. There has often been Hollywood and everyone else. The gap is getting bigger with each explosion.
Hear more on Noah: It’s our take on the epic in the SR Filmcast
Featured image: Paramount
Inset images: Warner Bros; Paramount