Hollywood praying its religious gamble pays off
The saint-like image of a hooded woman looms out from the movie poster, her arms outstretched as a divine light bursts from the sky. A message written above is simple and unambiguous: "You Will Believe".
So goes the promotional campaign for the forthcoming Hollywood blockbuster 'Mary Mother of Christ'.
"It is a part of Mary, Joseph and Jesus's life that has not been shown on the big screen before," reads a synopsis.
"Under the reign of terror of Herod the Great and, against all odds, they survive as young parents in one of the most treacherous times in history."
It promises "faith-based high-action drama" and there is no room in the audience for doubting Thomases.
Studio executives who have spent the past few years releasing superhero, vampire and zombie films have, it seems, had an epiphany.
Now their new best friends are evangelical pastors whose endorsements they actively seek, even inviting them on to sets during production.
Pastors in turn play clips from films of which they approve to 10,000-strong congregations on 40ft-wide movie screens.
Larry Ross, who has handled publicity for Christian groups and leaders, including Rick Warren and Billy Graham, said "no pastor goes to seminary in order to market movies" but if the movie "proves edifying to their congregation -- if it builds their faith", they would recommend it.
In March, audiences will be treated to 'Noah', a $150m (€109m) special effects-laden extravaganza, in which Russell Crowe will build an ark and rescue mankind from the Great Flood.
'Harry Potter' actress Emma Watson will play his adopted daughter, and Anthony Hopkins is portraying Methuselah. The ark was built on Long Island, New York. 'Noah' will be followed by Ridley Scott's 'Exodus', in which Christian Bale, as Moses, will part the Red Sea. Scenes from ancient Egypt have been reconstructed in southern Spain, with Bale wielding a bow and arrow and Sigourney Weaver playing the Pharaoh's wife. Scott has described the film, in a less than godly phrase, as "f****** huge".
Phil Cooke, a film-maker and media consultant to Christian organisations, said Hollywood's epiphany had financial, not spiritual, origins. "What's happened is they've understood it's very good business to take Christians seriously," he said.
"For years, Hollywood bent over backwards to reach special interest groups, be it feminists or environmentalists. It has finally realised that there are 91 million evangelical Christians in America."
For their part, studio executives have taken something of a leap of faith that films in which religious figures save the world will bring big box office receipts. (© Daily Telegraph, London)