Monday, 25 April 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #716: Hollywood Gets Religion... Just Kidding

My Grand-pappy used to sat that if you want to start an argument start talking about religion. That's because everyone has their own ideas either about religion, or against religion, and they all are damned certain that they are right.

Well, according to this report from
Deadline: Hollywood, the movie industry is itching for a fight with four potential movie projects that tackle religion, mostly Christianity, in ways pretty much designed to piss off the religious, and get praise from the sort of people who think saying stuff along the lines of: "Your two millennium spiritual and moral-philosophical tradition is just a fairy tale," and expect people to suddenly convert to atheism from the sheer depth of that argument.

Lets look at the projects, the likelihood that they will be made, and how well they might do with audiences.

The Final Testament of the Holy Bible, by James Frey. I talked about this book before. It's basically James Frey's attempt to recover from his long running pariah status by plopping out a book that is essentially critic proof. It's about the second coming of a promiscuous bisexual Jesus, who supports abortion, and anything else that might hopefully get religious people riled enough to protest, and hopefully get a few fringe wing-nuts to demand it be censored, or even toss out a few threats. That way, he goes from being the hoaxer with the bogus bio, and book packager with probably the worst packaging deal I have ever seen to be born again as a "courageous rebel" getting pats on the back from critics and literary journalists, because if they dare to say anything negative about Frey, or the book, they will be branded as "tools of the religious right."

Now back to the proposed movie version. There is no deal to make a movie yet, just agents from William Morris Endeavor shopping it around to various studios and producers.

The likelihood of the film getting made is slim. Making the film would be the equivalent of taking all the money needed to make and market the film, piling it up in the studio parking lot, and setting it on fire.

The only difference is that the fire would attract a larger audience. The religious would be repelled by the movie as much as they are by the very idea of the book, and atheists are just too few, and too apathetic to make the film profitable.

I'm not saying that the film will never be made, but the odds are extremely slim, and even then it would be a bigger bomb than anything dropped by Curtis LeMay.

2. Jesus of Nazareth by director Paul Verhoeven. This is based on the Showgirls auteur's own novel, which retells the New Testament story without the religious or spiritual elements. The immaculate conception is replaced by a rape by a Roman soldier, and the miracles are just plain left out, making over Jesus into a more secular version of Gandhi.

Once again, anyone making the film would be better off with the fire in the parking lot. The tone of the project, as well as Verhoeven's own inability to present or understand subtext that doesn't fit within the narrow confines of his own world-view (remember Starship Troopers?) and
his love of cheap, sleazy, shock-value will repel all but the most trash-curious.

3. The Master by writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson. Now this film doesn't involve Christianity, but about a man who creates a new "belief system" in the 1950s that then spreads "like wildfire." While this project is the least likely to offend large portions of the audience, it is actually the least likely to get made, here's why:

The proposed budget is at $35 million. That usually covers the costume budget for the traditional "trying on dresses" montage of the typical Hollywood romantic comedy, but it's a massive amount for a period drama about philosophical, moral, and spiritual beliefs.

It also hits too close to Hollywood's home. We're talking about people who traditionally leap
into whatever fad is going, from fresh squeezed religions AKA "spiritual movements," to campaigning against vaccines because Jenny McCarthy told them too. A movie about a man starting a cult simply must involve the conversion of Hollywood celebrities, and that's not just too close to home for Hollywood, it's practically in their living room, watching their TV, and asking what's for dinner.

Now some independent folks with deep pockets are interested in making the film, but it will have a fight finding distribution and wrangling a decent release.

4. The Book Of Mormon by Trey Parker & Matt Stone. This is already a hit Broadway show, and while some have found the show's style and content to be offensive, it's not subject to any massive campaign to get it banned. It also has the best potential to not only get made as a movie, but to sell to a wide audience.


Two reasons, one for getting it made, and one for it doing well with a wider audience.

It might get made because Mormonism is currently persona-non-grata in Hollywood because it's blamed (technically incorrectly) for the successful blocking of legalized gay marriage in California. The Mormons are also a relatively small religious community, that prefers to ignore Hollywood for the most part, and non-Mormons don't really know much about them and their history. So it could be viewed as a calculated risk.

Now here's why it might catch on, and it rests completely at the feet of South Park's creators, and authors of The Book Of Mormon, Trey Parker & Matt Stone. They are probably the truest and purest satirists operating in Hollywood these days. They don't just take the knee-jerk easy route of sharing the prejudices of their Hollywood peers, they take aim at hypocrisy and inanity of all sorts, from all sides with their razor barbed comedic arrows.

Unlike Frey and Verhoeven, there is usually real value in their shock value that a wider audience can catch onto better than the people in Hollywood. That's how they've been able to produce a continuously fresh satirical comedy for 15 years that still wows viewers and critics. Cut through the lowbrow humor and the crude language and their mission is not to insult, or to degrade, but to challenge. That's a subtle difference, but it's extremely important.

I could sum it up by saying that Hollywood would make it for the wrong reasons, but it might succeed for the right reasons.


  1. Jake Was Here25/4/11 11:41 pm

    For what it's worth, their SOUTH PARK episode making fun of the Mormons also directed some very pointed remarks at the kind of people who talk tremendous amounts of s__t about the Mormons.

  2. "Verhoeven's own inability to present or understand subtext that doesn't fit within the narrow confines of his own world-view"

    A more perfect explanation for what's wrong (generally) with many of Verhoeven's films I don't think I've ever seen.

    Well put, D. Well put.

  3. Jake- That's what makes the South Parkers so good at what they do. They make you think they're going one way, then BAM! they take an unexpected direction that makes you reconsider not just what you saw, but what you think about the issue at hand.

    Everyone else in Hollywood these days picks an easy, safe, and fashionable target, and then plops out some cheap ridicule with very little thought and rarely any humor to it.

    Nate- Thanks for the compliment. What made me realize that about Verhoeven was Starship Troopers. Heinlein wrote the book to illustrate his two favorite things, martial values, and libertarian politics.

    His world's electoral system was a tad extreme by denying the vote to anyone who hadn't done any "Federal Service." But it wasn't an oppressive regime. People were free to do and say anything they wanted as long as it did no harm to anyone's person or property. If you didn't like the system, you were encouraged to do your federal service and vote to change it. Otherwise the state didn't interfere with anyone's business.

    Verhoeven saw people in uniforms with limited suffrage, had a flashback to WW2, and immediately interpreted the whole thing as a sequel to Triumph of the Will with big bugs.

  4. Starship troopers originally started out as verhoven's BUGHUNT, but then got the rights to the book to slap the title on for brand recoginition

  5. Jake Was Here4/5/11 3:11 pm

    Gary: That and they didn't want Heinlein's estate, or whoever had previously held the rights to STARSHIP TROOPERS, to sue.