Faith-based movies and movies based on biblical stories typically face numerous hurdles on their way to your neighborhood movie screen. They don’t often get the necessary budgets, backing, or distribution muscle it takes to compete with mainstream movies. They tend to be seen as niche-market projects and have a reputation for lower production values and spotty distribution. They tend to tackle modern-day family-oriented stories that don’t require huge casts, period costumes, special effects, or vast spectacles. They can be viewed as risky ventures by Hollywood’s money and marketing powers.
In recent times when faith-based stories do get the big Hollywood treatment they suffer from abstract interpretations and mangled story lines in an effort to both appeal to a wider secular audience and not put off the Christian-based audience. Witness 2014’s “Noah” and “Exodus: Gods And Kings.” Both attempted to tell sweeping biblical tales, but ended up leaving audiences baffled and unengaged. Both had substantial budgets, high profile casts, big name directors, and short lives in the theaters.
2004’s “The Passion of the Christ” proved that it CAN be done. That film is the top-grossing Christian film of all time. And, although it has its critics, it remains a highly regarded treatment of the Gospel story. Many wonder, however, if that kind of movie might have been a one shot wonder that won’t easily be repeated.
Now comes a movie that might…just might…bring us something different.
The film is “Risen.” It tells the story of Clavius, a Roman tribune charged with overseeing the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and guarding His tomb. When Jesus rises and leaves the tomb empty, the unbelieving Clavius is commanded by a panicked Pontius Pilate to “find the body, dispel rumors of a risen Messiah and prevent an uprising in Jerusalem.” The film is told from Clavius’ perspective and follows him as he seeks to solve the mystery of Jesus’ disappearance and track down the missing body as rumors spread that Jesus is indeed alive.
The movie features some impressive credentials. It stars Joseph Fiennes (“Shakespeare in Love,” “Luther”) as Clavius, Tom Felton (the Harry Potter series) as his assistant Lucius, Cliff Curtis (“Live Free or Die Hard,” “Training Day”) as Jesus, and Peter Firth (“Pearl Harbor) as Pontius Pilate. Kevin Reynolds (“Red Dawn,” “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves,” “Waterworld”) directed and co-wrote the screenplay. The film is edited by Steven Mirkovich, best known for his editing work on “The Passion of the Christ.” Affirm Films, a Sony Pictures-backed production group that specializes in faith-based movies (Soul Surfer, Courageous, War Room) is distributing the film.
Although the makers of “Risen” say the story takes dramatic license, and the character of Clavius is fictional, they insist the film will maintain a “faithful scriptural treatment of the story.”
Producer Rich Peluso was impressed when he first read the script in 2007. “It unabashedly told the story between the crucifixion into the full-on resurrection…and traveled with Christ into Galilee with the disciples all the way to the ascension. No one really ever tackles that,” Peluso states.
Peluso has tested the film four times in front of large audiences, and has gotten favorable reviews from Christians and non-Christians alike.
Personally, I’m intrigued by what I’ve heard so far. It’s interesting that a story this big and this powerful will be told through the eyes of an aggressively antagonistic non-believer. Ordinarily we see stories like this through the eyes of grieving believers or concerned disciples. We pretty much know what to expect. Here we will have the opportunity to witness the miracle of the resurrection and its impact on people through the eyes of a pagan soldier. I’m wondering if he can’t help but be transformed by the experience. I’m wondering if it’s a chance for non-believers to connect with the story of Christ and for believers to connect all over again.
“Risen” is scheduled to hit theaters on February 19th. Will it be a different kind of movie about Jesus? We shall see.