Hallelujah! Ten Films Featuring the Man Upstairs
RT looks at ten movies with appearances by the Almighty
Since the earliest days of film, stories from the Bible have been used as inspiration for a variety of movies. Both the Old and New Testament show up as source material, both as strict story outlines, or merely a jumping off point for a more original idea. The upcoming Easter holiday had us thinking about movies based on the Bible, and more specifically, movies have some kind of portrayal of God himself. So we've put together a list of ten the highest-rated films with a certain, shall we say, divinity.
The Ten Commandments - 96%
Based on the story of Moses and the Israelites, director Cecil B. DeMille's final film is arguably his best, and probably his biggest as well. The film's scale is simply staggering, with location filming in Egypt and a cast of thousands (literally). Charlton Heston stars as Moses, who grows up as a prince of Egypt, but later becomes a prophet, and eventually leads the Israelites out of captivity. Although the movie takes some liberties with the source material, the main points are still there; the burning bush, the plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, and of course, the titular commandments. The film is definitely dated, and it's more than a little bit hokey, but the sheer spectacle of the sets and locations (in the days before CGI) are still impressive.
Raiders of the Lost Ark - 95%
In 1981, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas teamed up to create a modern version of the serialized adventure movies from the 30s and 40s. The end result is one of the greatest adventure films ever made. Just in case you've been in a cave since the early 80s, here's the story: a very "hands-on" archeologist named Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) is enlisted by the U.S. government to find the Lost Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis do (obviously that would be a Bad Thing). Along the way, he hooks up with an old flame, runs from the Nazis, and dodges venomous snakes. Jones can't keep the Ark once he's found it though, and loses it to the Nazis, who find that opening the Ark results is some old school, Old Testament-style wrath of God.
Time Bandits - 94%
On a mad dash through both history and legend, director Terry Gilliam stops for brief visits with Agamemnon, Robin Hood, and Napoleon, plus a quick ride on the Titanic. The story focuses on a young boy who meets up with six hapless little people that used to be employees of the Supreme Being. Fed up with their work, they stole a map from their boss that shows the "holes" in the universe and turned to a life of crime; stealing from history's richest figures and jumping through the holes in the universe to escape to a completely different time. That may sound like a good plan, but the Supreme Being wants his map back, and Evil wants the map too. Sound crazy? It is, but it's a lot of fun, too. And Ralph Richardson turns in a great perfomance as the Supreme Being, appearing as a kindly and wise (but slightly befuddled) English gentlemen.
The Gospel According to St. Matthew - 92%
Christ's life is presented with respect for the traditional religious doctrine of the Church, but Pasolini's trademark naturalism "humanizes" his subject and makes him his own. The documentary-style camera captures Christ's meetings with the men who were to become his disciples, the Last Supper, the betrayal by Judas, and the Crucifixion. The impassioned music of Bach, Mozart, and Prokofiev lends a further aura of spiritual intensity to the proceedings.
The Last Temptation of Christ - 81%
This striking vision from the mind of director Martin Scorsese offers an allegorical interpretation of the last days of Jesus Christ, based on the book by Nikos Kazantzakis. Based strictly on Kazantzakis's book, the film has a very different focus than past portraits of the "Messiah." This Jesus (Willem Defoe) is a man wracked with doubt over his position among his followers and fear of the role God has chosen for him, as well as the pain that must accompany it. He is unsure whether the messages he receives come from God or Satan, and he is tempted by a mortal life filled with earthly possessions and sensual love, resulting in a controversial, though genuinely sympathetic, account of Christianity's most revered figure.
King of Kings - 79%
Nicholas Ray's lavish and beautifully constructed widescreen epic about the life of Jesus of Nazareth. "King of Kings" is built upon a series of narrative parallels and contrasts between Jesus and Barrabas. The film portrays the thief as a rebel leader of the Jewish resistance; unlike Jesus, who preaches a message of peace, Barrabas advocates violence as a means to an end. By building his drama around this religious and philosophical conflict, Ray establishes a tension that defamiliarizes this well-known story. Highlights include the Sermon on the Mount and the scene in which Salome asks King Herod for the head of John the Baptist.
The Prince of Egypt - 79%
A full-length, animated musical version of the story of Moses. After being raised as the son of a Pharoah, Moses learns that he is a Hebrew and must accept his destiny as the leader of his people. Moses' brother Rameses refuses to let the Hebrews go, and brings down the wrath of God upon Egypt. A triumph of animated storytelling and colorful design.
Oh, God! - 73%
Jerry Landers (a terrifically surprising John Denver) is an average guy in every sense of the word. He lives a completely normal, dull life, working at the local supermarket (where everybody, of course, knows him and likes him) and never doing anything out of the ordinary. That's why no one is more surprised than he is when God chooses to make himself known to the world through Jerry by sending him a typewritten, misspelled note granting him an audience with the Supreme Being. Jerry doesn't believe his eyes when God turns out to be an old, scrawny man (who looks a lot like George Burns). This wry, thoughtful comedy from Carl Reiner, based on the novel by Avery Corman, carries a serious message about religion, faith, and the way people care for the world they've been given.
Dogma - 67%
Imaginative theology and a bigger than usual budget make Kevin Smith's fourth film a kind of post-Catholic fantasy that only a comic-book enthusiast of his caliber could dream up. The plot is set in motion by two banished angels, Loki (Matt Damon) and Bartleby (Ben Affleck). After a few millenia in Wisconsin, they've discovered a loophole in Catholic doctrine that would allow them back into heaven--but prove the fallibility of God and destroy the universe. Unaware of the peril, they make their way to New Jersey to receive a plenary indulgence. Meanwhile, God has dispatched a seraphim (Alan Rickman) to recruit lapsed-Catholic Bethany (Linda Fiorentino) to stop the angels. She finds help in muses, prophets (Jay and Silent Bob), and the forgotten 13th apostle, Rufus (Chris Rock). Before long, all hell breaks loose (literally), and God (Alanis Morrisette) has to put in an appearance of her own.
Jesus Christ Superstar - 57%
This famous rock opera depicts the last week of Christ's life. Norman Jewison directed this adaptation of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical, starring Ted Neeley as Jesus and Carl Anderson as Judas Iscariot. Among the classic songs in the film are "I Don't Know How to Love Him," "Hosanna," and "King Herod's Song (Try It and See)." The song score was nominated for an Academy Award.