Los Angeles, CA – It has been four years since Bruce Almighty conquered the box office, and a lot has happened at the intersection of faith and film since then.
Many Christians were leery of the film when they heard that it starred Jim Carrey as a man who is endowed with supernatural powers after he complains God isn’t doing a good enough job of running the world.
But many Christians were pleasantly surprised to discover that, despite its bawdy humour, the movie raised serious questions about love, free will and the need to submit to God’s plan for our lives.
Bruce thus became the latest in a long line of mainstream films to be embraced by culture-savvy Christians. Then, a year later, a little film called The Passion of the Christ came along and alerted Hollywood to the fact that lots of money could be made by specifically targeting the church market.
So it is tempting to wonder if Evan Almighty – a sort of sequel to Bruce Almighty – is a response to Passion on some level. In Bruce, Carrey played a single guy who uses his powers to arouse his girlfriend; but the new film stars Steve Carell as a devoted family man with three sons. And while the earlier film earned a mildly risqué PG-13 rating in the United States, the new film is a family-friendly PG.
Director Tom Shadyac, speaking to several journalists on the Universal Studios back lot, insists the so-called “Passion effect” had no effect on his own creative decisions. He says any differences between the two films are rooted in the subject matter – and since Evan Almighty is a sort of modernized version of the story of Noah’s Ark, he felt obliged to make sure the movie was “safe” for all audiences.
“If it’s an ark story, with animals and a flood and a big boat, I thought it would be insane to not invite a two year old and a grandparent and everyone in between. The ark story speaks to everyone, and I thought this movie ought to.”
Was it easier to persuade the studio to make a film with religious themes now than it was four years ago? Not necessarily, says Shadyac. He had worked with Carrey before, on Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Liar Liar, and he says it was “very easy” to get the studio to greenlight their third big-screen collaboration.
The new film, however, was more of a gamble. With so many animals and effects, it is rumoured to be the most expensive comedy ever made; and Carell, the new leading man, is not quite the proven commodity Carrey was – though his star has risen in the past few years, thanks to The Office and The 40-Year-Old Virgin.
The film brings back Morgan Freeman as the warm, humourous God who gives Evan his mission. When God’s sudden appearance causes Evan to scream in fear, an amused God says: “Let it out, son. It’s the beginning of wisdom.”
Shadyac, who attends a Catholic church in Los Angeles and is a self-professed “Jesus freak,” says the God who appears in his movies is “very personal to me. I’m very exacting with it – how he delivers [his dialogue], the way he says it.”
And what would God warn us about now, if we could speak to him? “I think he would say, ‘I’ve already warned you.’ I always had a dream about Jesus, looking me dead in the eye, when I was very young, and he said ‘I never knew you.’ Right into the gut and the soul. It’s already out there, it’s been said. I don’t think he needs to say much more. We need to listen to what’s been said; we need to incorporate and act on what’s been shown us through the lives of others and the written word.”
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Filming of the Narnia sequels is underway. Disney has set up a blog at Narnia.com, where the makers of Prince Caspian – currently being shot in the Czech Republic – can discuss what they’re up to.
Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely have already hinted at some of the revisions they will make to C.S. Lewis’s novel – and suffice to say, they sound much bigger than the changes that were made to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
Disney and Walden Media aren’t wasting any time on the follow-up movies. Michael Apted, whose credits include everything from the Seven Up documentary series to the James Bond film The World is not Enough, has been hired to direct Voyage of the Dawn Treader – for release in May 2009, less than 50 weeks after Prince Caspian comes out in 2008.
This is not the first film Apted will have directed for Walden; his last feature was Amazing Grace, the story of anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce.