Saturday, March 28, 2015

Why Movies Like "Noah" and "Exodus" Aren't Working

Well, it's been a while. Last time I wrote, I had just finished a 5K and was on a runner's high. After that, my life slowed down. A lot.

Seriously, I'm just not that interesting lately. The weather has been nice, life has been smooth, and Easter/General Conference is just around the corner. For those readers who have questions about what General Conference is, read this article. Yes, in case you haven't noticed, I am a Latter-day Saint (Mormon) and I love it. I also am more star-struck by the men and women who speak at General Conference than I would be if I ever met Tom Hiddleston. And that's saying a lot.

Considering that the speakers at General Conference are prophets, apostles, leaders of Church organizations, and more, my love for them may very well be justified. And then President Monson does something like this:
Love him!

And it falls on Easter weekend, which makes it all the better. That means that between sessions of hearing uplifting and spiritual talks about Jesus Christ and what I can do to be a better person, I get to watch The Prince of Egypt.

(Side note, here: I've recently been looking at a job that would rock hard, but to get it, I need to write a paragraph on a movie I hate and how I would fix it. I decided to go with Moulin Rouge, but the topic of "why bad movies are so bad" has been on my mind. Okay, back to the flow of this blog.)
I love The Prince of Egypt. Great music, awesome voice cast, lovely animation...and most importantly, it's an example of a movie based on a religious text that actually works.

Admittedly, I have not seen Noah and Exodus, two Bible-based films that came out recently. I was warned off them, and I heard enough to decide that my time and money were better spent elsewhere. I know that Exodus got panned by Rotten Tomatoes, which also influenced my decision. Noah did well, box-office-wise. But from the people I talk to, active Christians who love the stories that are being told in these movies, they were both described as terrible movies that I shouldn't see.

Why? When a book is made into a movie, the fans all turn out. They may hate the film, but they will all go to see it. They won't warn fellow fans off it, knowing that it's something that needs to be seen. Why isn't this happening with some of these religious movies?

I'm no expert on films; I just know stories. I also love retellings. As I said, I adore The Prince of Egypt. I also love The Nativity Story and would watch it outside the Christmas season if I thought I could get away with it. Friends agree. Why do these succeed while the other two are hated?

The art of the retelling. That's it, pure and simple. When writing a retelling, the story in question is already accepted and loved. That means that something about it is already loved by the people who know the story. That needs to be present or the retelling rings false or even obnoxious. Imagine a retelling of Cinderella without the ball, the fairy godmother, the prince, the shoe. Or worse, imagine one where Cinderella loses and stays, serving her stepfamily, forever. You'd throw a pillow at the screen, right?

This goes double for religious stories. These aren't just nice tales to the audience that loves them; they are scripture. If they are not treated with respect as a religious text, they fall flat and the religious people who love the stories come away feeling annoyed. It's worse than when the movie tramples the source book (or TV show, in the case of The Last Airbender), as this goes deeper than fandom.

The two films I like are very respectful of the religious significance of the stories they tell. They don't mess with the tale, but flesh out the people until we, the viewers, relate with them and care. They take what is present, take what is already loved, and keep it as it is. They build on what is there.

This is a hard topic to talk about, as religion usually is. People have different tastes, and some may have found the movies I like boring or the ones I was warned off really inspiring. With this post, I hope to draw attention to the need to consider what audiences value in a story before you go and retell it, especially with religious texts. The story is getting retold because it already has power in some way: why not borrow that power?

Last, here's "Through Heaven's Eyes," because it's awesome.