That's right. He's back. Doing everything by The Book.
And as he goes about his Father's business -- walking on water, raising the dead -- clusters of heavily bearded gentlemen with vaguely British accents and very white, well-cared for teeth, worry aloud in Jerusalem's shadows that maybe, just maybe, this crazy Nazarene is, you know, who he says he is.
Cue the Sermon on the Mount, the delirious mob, the ominous sound of an orchestra foreshadowing that bad day at Golgotha.
Halfway through the tantalizingly trashy trailer for what looks like a painfully literal movie called Son of God, the eight-year-old boy inside me gave a whoop of hopeful pleasure.
I flashed on ancient Cinemascopic vistas, across which clanked manly centurions in red-plumed helmets and pleated metal miniskirts, cursing the humbly attired slaves who invariably got in their way, all of them on their way to either arrest or adore the mild-mannered Man from Galilee, even as, back in Rome, grinning, gimlet-eyed sybarites and their slatternly wives lounged on divans and quaffed goblets of wine amid ersatz stone pillars around which danced big-bosomed slave girls who spun about them in swirling, sinful orbits of gauzy lasciviousness.
Ah, Rome! Memories of your sinful ways set my cynical old heart to beating double-time once again.
Could it be that Hollywood has finally emerged from the desert of right-wing / left-wing Biblical revisionism (cf. the Mel & Marty shows) and returned to its Biblical roots? Has it finally recognized that only Hollywood could make a sufficiently sanctimonious, acceptably "reverent," religiously correct big-budget Hollywood epic that would disturb no one's notion of Jesus as a grinning, soft-headed spouter of bumper-sticker nostrums?
For all the religiously inclined, innocent eight-year-olds out there, I pray God the trailer delivers what it appears to promise.
Heaven was once a place I could not only envision during the children's mass back then, it was a place I could actually see later that same Sunday afternoon at a matinee showing of movies like my favorite, The Robe. In that particular epic, heaven could be found in the climactic, benumbed expressions of Richard Burton and Jean Simmons as they strolled, hand-in-hand, toward their off-screen martyrdom. It was one of the few time the movie left anything to the viewer's imagination.
And hell? Hell was the debauched and bloodthirsty Roman empire, which was crowded with those dancing slave girls and scheming character actors (Dean Jagger! Richard Boone!) chewing as much of the scenery as they could get their hands on.
I've never forgotten seeing Victor Mature, as the slave Demetrius, wiggle his ears in emotional torment when he discovered he was too late to save Jesus from the cross.
Do I sound cynical? No doubt. But no more cynical, I hope, than the Church I was raised in or the Hollywood I was enthralled by in my youth.
Religious sword-and-sandal spectacles such as The Robe,its sequel Demetrius (ibid.) and the Gladiators, not to mention subsequent classics like Ben-Hur and The Ten Commandments were high points of my movie-going youth. I was a holy little kid, having so few sins to report at my weekly visit to the confessional that, I confess, I sometimes augmented the number and nature of my real transgressions with false ones. Temptation in any form had barely entered my life.
And the Church was hellbent on seeing that temptation stayed far, far away from my unsuspecting door. An outfit called the Legion of Decency dictated what movies Catholics like myself could or could not see. It was a lot like today's MPAA ratings, except if you ignored the Legion's rulings, you could go to hell.
These spiritual watchdogs, who used to wield at least as much power with Hollywood's studio emperors as so many ancient Roman procurators once did, invariably loved and approved of Biblical epics, thinking of them, no doubt, as excellent propaganda.
I'd like to think there's still an audience -- a young one -- for Hollywood-style films such as Son of God promises to be, though not for propaganda purposes.
I'm well into my sixth decade, and innocence is a memory I treasure even more than memories of Richard Burton's heroic march into heaven or Victor Mature's wiggling ears. I enjoy imagining that somewhere, out where most of today's eight-year-olds are spraying electronic death on computer screens, there lives among them a boy or a girl so guileless and guiltless -- so sinless -- as to be taken in, if only for an hour or two, by a story that feeds their innocence the way such movies once fed mine, even if that same movie style now feeds this old boy's sense of cynicism.
If that sounds hypocritical, so be it. Cynicism will eclipse youthful innocence soon enough. Any movie that prolongs a youngster's sense of innocent wonder, any movie that is made in that simple spirit, is not a movie for the cynical old man I've become.
But such a movie is just right -- perfect, really -- for the eight-year-old boy who still resides inside me, the boy who still remembers what it was like to believe in a heaven triumphant, a deliverance from evil and life everlasting.
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