LOS ANGELES — Ten years after “The Passion of the Christ,” Jesus is returning to movie theatres with a gentler, more inclusive approach.
“Son of God,” spun out of the hugely successful “The Bible” miniseries, plays up the political maneuvering that led to the crucifixion. It won an endorsement from the Anti-Defamation League’s Abraham Foxman, one of the Jewish leaders who denounced Mel Gibson’s 2004 blockbuster “Passion.”
“Clearly we were aware of the controversy that had been created around that film,” actress and executive producer Roma Downey said in a recent interview. “If everything begins with intention, our heart on ‘Son of God’ was to find the places that we could bring people together.”
Gibson famously self-financed and distributed his ultra-violent “Passion” in 2004. It became a box office hit but was criticized by some reviewers and religious leaders for its depiction of Jews.
Downey’s husband, “The Voice” and “Survivor” producer Mark Burnett, said the Christian filmmaking team reached out specifically to other faiths to tell the story of the life of Jesus — played with an air of bemused dignity by Portuguese actor Diogo Morgado — without causing offense.
“It just took a lot of work and a lot of time and a lot of listening over a number of years to see everybody’s point of view and how to not take the teeth out of the story — the dynamic drama from the story — but be sensitive across groups,” Burnett said. “Because there’s very different interpretations across the Catholic faith and the Protestant faith and the Jewish faith.”
Using footage shot during production of History Channel’s ten-part miniseries “The Bible,” the film being released Friday spends much of its final half examining maneuvering by Jerusalem’s military governor, Pontius Pilate, and Judean high priest Caiaphas.
“It’s like ‘House of Cards’ in many ways,” Burnett said. “They’re all humans living their lives … Pilate is scared of Caesar and what Rome might do. Caiaphas is scared of Pilate and losing the whole temple and their faith. It’s a real political thriller with tension which explodes at Passover in Jerusalem.”
Burnett credits his miniseries, which garnered strong ratings and broke DVD and Blu-ray sales records last year, with this year’s flurry of biblical films from major Hollywood studios.
“You’ve got to believe that the enormity of ‘The Bible’ series had other biblical productions speed up,” he said.
Darren Aronofsky’s take on “Noah,” starring Russell Crowe, is coming next month, and Ridley Scott’s “Exodus,” with Christian Bale, is due out in December.