Faith-themed movies hit big screen this spring

A quartet of Christian-themed motion pictures debuting this season offers moviegoers everything from a controversial big-budget retelling of Noah and the Great Flood to a spinoff of last year’s popular TV miniseries, “The Bible.”

Dominating the online chatter has been the uproar over Paramount Studios’ $125-million production of “Noah,” starring Russell Crowe in the title role. Critics say the script veers from the scriptural account and includes an environmental message that is not part of the biblical story.

In response, the producers of “Noah,” along with the international Christian communicators group National Religious Broadcasters, jointly announced Feb. 27 that marketing materials for the movie will prominently display a new message that the movie takes artistic license and that the biblical story can be found in the book of Genesis.

NRB president Jerry Johnson had lobbied Paramount Pictures to inform moviegoers that the film is not a line-by-line retelling of the true biblical account. Johnson is a former Baptist pastor and faculty member at Southern and Midwestern Baptist seminaries.

A lesser controversy concerns the “Son of God” film, said Phil Boatwright, who writes movie reviews for Baptist Press. The movie is an extended version of a segment of “The Bible,” which was aired to wide acclaim in 2013 on the History Channel.

“Cynics are asking, ‘Is this a case of producers using a strategic marketing plan to fill their own coffers?’ Who cares?” Boatwright wrote. “Whatever the makers’ incentives, the fact remains that we have a production dealing with an Old Testament man of God and another built around the Savior of the world.”

Boatwright advised those planning to see “Noah” or “Son of God” to read the stories in the Bible and study their significance. “These films will cause conversation,” he said. “Be prepared to converse.”

Another movie generating popular interest is “Heaven Is for Real,” which will open in theaters just before Easter on April 16. The Sony Pictures release is based on the #1 New York Times best-selling book of the same name.

The film stars Greg Kinnear as Todd Burpo and co-stars Kelly Reilly as Sonja Burpo, the real-life couple whose son Colton claims to have visited heaven during a near-death experience. Colton recounts the details of his journey and speaks matter-of-factly about things that happened before his birth — things he couldn’t possibly know.

On March 21, more than 600 theaters began showing “Does God Exist” by Pure Flix Entertainment. The film includes an appearance by Willie and Korie Robertson of “Duck Dynasty” and a special performance by Newsboys of their song, “God’s Not Dead,” which helped inspire the movie.

The plot involves a college freshman, Josh Wheaton, who is challenged by a philosophy professor to deny the existence of God or face a failing grade. Wheaton must choose between his faith and pleasing those whom he loves.