April 1, 2016
After Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice made $420 million opening weekend, Hollywood is looking to generate the same kind of financial success in the Christian/Bible genre. “Despite mixed reviews from critics, Risen, Exodus: Gods and Kings, and Noah have captured people’s attention” says Kevin Reynolds, director of Waterworld and 2016’s Easter-themed Risen. “People are curious about the Bible and the history of Christianity. They want a fresh take on spirituality in ways only Hollywood can provide: 100-million-dollar epics full of white-washed casts, historically inaccurate costumes, and bone-crunching action scenes.” Darren Aronofsky, writer/director of Noah, added “why read a book when you can watch an award-winning director re-envision your favorite Bible stories into a contemporary political agenda starring Robin Hood and Batman?”
This next take on Christian History by Kevin Reynolds (Risen, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Waterworld) will be a historical drama about the life of Martin Luther and the beginning of the Reformation. “Batman v. Superman reveals that people want to see heroes fight. They want to see idealism in a darker light. They want to see chinks in the armor… What better place to see conflict and corruption than in the struggle between Catholic and Protestant in the Reformation? You’ve got war, conspiracy, scandal, execution, subterfuge, a priest marrying a nun… there’s something for everyone.”
Martin Luther vs. Pope Leo X: Dawn of the Reformation will open with the Roman catholic church trying to raise money through the melodramatic John Tetzel. Tetzel put on dramatic plays about the fires of hell and the torment of Purgatory, inspiring people to buy indulgences. If one bought an indulgence (“donated money to the church”), they were forgiven of past, present, or even future sin. Many donated money in order to reduce time in purgatory for themselves and their loved ones. According to Luther, “the pope had a finger in the pie as well,” because half the money went to build St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
When Martin Luther heard about John Tetzel’s tactics, he was furious. He openly challenged the sale of indulgences, arguing that God alone can forgive sin. Luther wrote his famous 95 Theses in condemnation of these corrupt practices and nailed it to the church door. “Luther believes the system has become corrupt and publicly challenges Pope Leo X to fix it.”
Luther’s friends printed the 95 Thesis and within two months copies had spread all across Europe. “If it wasn’t for Gutenberg’s printing press, Luther probably would’ve been executed as ‘just another heretic’ like John Huss. But now the common people had the opportunity to hear Luther and agreed with him.” Pope Leo X sent an official order (a papal bull) to Luther, threatening him with excommunication if Luther did not recant and destroy his writings. Luther burned it.
Luther is given a trial, the famous Diet of Worms, where he defended himself against the church and government authorities. “This is the Batman v Superman moment right here. Will Luther give in and recant? Will David shrink in the face of Goliath? Or, will he stand up to the Pope and be executed?” When ordered to recant, Luther gave this statement:
Luther escapes his execution and eventually creates the Protestant church. “Just like Superman v. Batman: Dawn of Justice introduced all these heroes like Wonder Woman, Flash, etc., we want to introduce Reformation heroes. You’re going to see John Calvin. You’re going to see Zwingli. Dawn of the Reformation is going to be awesome.”
“Just like every Bible epic needs a big battle at the end, we’re going to have a war, too” Kevin Reynolds insists. “Luther sparks the Great Peasants’ Revolt, where the people rose up against their oppressors.” In reality, Luther was opposed to the peasants revolt and spoke against their rebellion. Reynolds has other ideas for the film. “We think Luther should be on the side of the revolt, standing with the common man against the tyrants of his day. I can’t think of a better ending than Martin Luther riding into battle against the Pope!”
“Martin Luther v. Pope Leo X: Dawn of the Reformation is a movie everyone needs to see. It reminds us that power has a corrosive effect on human beings. Many institutions start out as good but become corrupt over time, even the church. Sometimes “being aware” of problems isn’t enough. Publicly voicing our concern isn’t enough. We have to challenge corruption head on and reform it. We can’t afford to sit back and hope that someone else does something about it.”
Zack Snyder (director of 300, Watchmen, Sucker Punch, and the upcoming Man of Steel) has begun talking about his next project. Searching for another success like the historical epic 300, he’s landed on an unusual choice: the Bible story of Samson. Zack Snyder is certainly a talented director, (see our Sucker Punch review here) but he seems to get caught up in style over substance. I know that Samson certainly has potential as a great action film, but how will Snyder handle the spiritual aspect of the story? – Zack’s not the most articulate director around but he gives us a pretty good idea of what this’ll look like. – So, fingers crossed, and hope for the best!
Interview copy and pasted below:
I: Why Samson?
Snyder: Well, I’ve been wanting to do another historical film, like I did with 300. But not something that’d been done before.
I: Not done before?
Snyder: Oh, you know, like Alexander the Great, King Arthur, gladiators… Everybody has done that stuff. With 300 and Watchmen, I was taking something familiar but had never been made into a film. So towards the end of Man of Steel, I was asking around about something that hadn’t been, well, something that was well known but at the same time hadn’t really been done before.
I: You wanted something fresh.
Snyder: Exactly. Like, 300 was a story that was powerful, historically, but wasn’t something like Robin Hood that’d been done so many times in so many sh*tty ways that there aren’t any surprises left. Not to be mean to Russell Crowe, or anything. I mean, they tried.
I: What excites you about the project?
Snyder: There was work to do on Samson, but I was struck by the story. It was surprisingly dark and dynamic. I mean, here’s a guy that little kids learn about in like, Church and stuff, right? And he’s totally not a hero! Samson’s life is all about violence, sex, betrayal… I mean, there’s a reason Disney hasn’t done it. (laughs)
I: What did you like about it?
Snyder: I saw a lot of tension in the character. He spends his whole life struggling with his destiny. There’s this struggle between who people expect Samson to be and what he actually does. I mean, Samson is supposed to be Israel’s hero, someone to really look up to, y’know? But Samson refuses to fight on anyone else’s terms. Then after the Philistines kill his wife, the dude just snaps and kills a bunch of people.
I: How will you handle Delilah?
Snyder: Delilah is a great character. She’s cunning and intelligent, and he keeps falling for her tricks. I mean, Delilah loves Samson, she sees him as invincible, but she’s totally taking advantage of him at the same time. The irony around them is great.
I: Do you have casting ideas?
Snyder: Y’know, casting has been tough on this one. A lot of people have come up and said “this would be perfect for Gerard Butler.” And, Gerry is a great actor, but he’s too refined for the role. I needed someone rougher, and physically massive. I mean, this guy has to kill a thousand philistines in one afternoon. (laughs)
I: Have you officially cast anyone?
Snyder: Officially, no. But we’re in final talks with Dwayne Johnson about the role.
I: You mean, “The Rock?”
Snyder: (laughs) Y’know, Dwayne has done a lot of sh*tty movies in the past. But he’s really matured as an actor and I think he’s ready for more serious stuff. I needed someone who could really be believable as this conflicted, tortured antihero whose supernatural strength has made him an outcast. I mean, the guy rips a lion in half. You’ve gotta cast someone believable in that role or the audience will just die laughing. So, yeah, I think Dwayne will be great.
I: What about Delilah?
Snyder: I loved working with Abbie Cornish on Sucker Punch. She works very hard, very dedicated… and will wear any costume you ask her to. (laughs) No, seriously, I see Delilah being this sweet and sensual character, but having a darker side to her too. I know Abbie can handle the role.
I: So, you’re doing this big, rated-R epic of a Bible story.
Snyder: (laughs) Yeah.
I: I’m thinking… well, why Samson now? Does it have any relevance for modern audiences?
Snyder: Oh, I think its totally relevant. Everyone’s… well, Christian or not, everyone is always talking about “what God wants them to do.” Politicians are talking about it, the Middle East is talking about it, and I just keep asking myself… “how do they know?” Y’know, seriously? How can God be telling one guy this thing, and another guy this totally different thing? And why does it usually involve killing the other person? How does anyone know what God wants them to do? And, y’know… I think that’s really similar to Samson’s story. Here’s this guy who is on a mission from God, right? To fight the bad guys, the… the Philistines. And he’s even given this super-strength to do it. But Samson doesn’t want to fight the Philistines, he wants peace. I mean, he marries a Philistine girl, right? And then its not until they trick him and kill his wife that Samson starts beating up on the Philistines. And even then, Samson’s not killing Philistines because God told him to, he is killing Philistines out of revenge. So, he’s a very interesting character.
I: So how do you see that playing out in the film?
Snyder: Well, I see a lot of conflict in Samson. He has a lot of human emotion. In the end, he’s fighting the Philistines like just God told him to, but its not… well, its not necessarily because God told him to, its because of this very real and deep need for vengeance. For revenge. That’s very human. In a sense he’s sort of obeying and defying his God at the same time. And that’s very interesting to me… That kind of conflict between a divine order and a human emotion.
I: Last question. What’re you most looking forward to?
Snyder: Ah, easy. Samson killing a thousand dudes with the jawbone of an ass.
What do you think? Can Zack Snyder bring an interesting (and faithful) adaptation of Samson to the big screen? Let us know in the comments!