Will Hollywood Revive Biblical Literacy?

Janice Shaw Crouse

10/2/2007 2:50:40 PM - Janice Shaw Crouse

Recent evidence suggests that the left’s worry about, and legal challenges to, public displays of the Ten Commandments were unfounded, since the general public was not paying attention anyway. Recently, USA Today noted that 70 percent of Americans were unable to name the Ten Commandments. In a culture where physical health is a higher priority than spiritual vitality, another recent survey found that more Americans are familiar with the specific ingredients in a McDonald’s hamburger than know the individual commands that comprise the Ten Commandments. The vast majority of the 1,000 people surveyed by Kelton Research knew that there are two beef patties in a Big Mac hamburger, while only a few could name all Ten Commandments — even among those who regularly attend worship. Less than half (45 percent) of the respondents could recall the commandment to “Honor thy father and mother.” Sadly, more respondents knew the two least known members (43 percent) of the Brady Bunch (Bobby and Peter) than knew the two least recalled commandments: “Remember the Sabbath” (34 percent) and “Do not make any false idols” (29 percent).

A new movie coming out on October 19 addresses such Biblical ignorance. The Ten Commandments, an animated feature film by Promenade Pictures, will be released nationwide. Dr. Ted Baehr, publisher of Movieguide (www.movieguide.org), reports that the movie faithfully retells the Biblical story of Moses and the flight of the Hebrews out of Egypt. He promises that the whole family will be entertained by the excellent animation and screenplay. More importantly, those who’ve seen early screenings say that viewers will be inspired by the skillful way the film promotes the Biblical principles of love, repentance and faith without sounding like a dull Sunday School lesson.

Family movies are better than ever, and they are more popular than ever. Family films gross an average 200 percent better than movies aimed at the adult marketplace. In 1985, only six percent of movies were family-friendly. By 2002, fully 45 percent of movies released in theaters were aimed at families. Also in 1985, most movies (81 percent) were R-rated, but since 2001, less than half (45 percent) of the movies in theatres have held that rating. In 2005, only two of the top 20 grossing movies had an R rating. This shift in public tastes has yet to be recognized by the Hollywood elites, who continue to promote movies that are less financially successful at the box office.

Ed Naha, the screenwriter for The Ten Commandments, is best known for the hit movie “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.” Naha’s version of adventure and humor is said to entertain while providing much-needed education for both young and older viewers. Frank Yablans (former president of Paramount Pictures and former CEO of MGM and United Artists and current Chairman and CEO of Promenade Pictures) sees this effort as having a vision similar to Walt Disney’s 1938 mission to bring quality family entertainment to the big screen. Baehr describes The Ten Commandments as a “faithful adaptation of the Exodus story” and praises the movie for its “strong Christian worldview.” He highly recommends the movie for its “strong moral elements that promote love, repentance, and faith in God.”

The new animated movie is the first in a new 12-part series, “Epic Stories of the Bible.” The next picture in the series, about Noah’s Ark, will be released next year. The movie unites Promenade Pictures (one of the leading privately held independent film and television companies focusing on the family market) with Motive Entertainment (who marketed Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ; the Tom Hanks/Robert Zemeckis film, The Polar Express; and the Walden Media/Disney epic series, The Chronicles of Narnia). Promenade Pictures has aggressively aligned with moral-values authors and filmmakers to attract top actors for their projects. Ben Kingsley narrates the movie, and Christian Slater stars as the voice of Moses, while Alfred Molina is the voice of Ramses. Oscar nominee Elliott Gould is the voice of God.

The Ten Commandments Commission (a coalition of churches, synagogues, civic and community organizations founded in 2005 with a mission of “keeping America One Nation, Under God”) underwrote the Kelton survey along with “man on the street” interviews that tested knowledge of the Ten Commandments in contrast to familiarity with trivial cultural facts. Ironically, numerous interviewees could cite the names of all four members of the Beatles rock group, but could not recall a single one of the Ten Commandments. In conjunction with the release of the movie, Motive Entertainment is conducting a grassroots campaign that includes a “Ten Commandments Challenge” that will enable participants to test their knowledge about the Ten Commandments and see how well they stack up to the national average in their age bracket. [Click on www.10commandmentschallenge.org.]

In their newly-released book, The Culture Wise Family, Dr. Ted Baehr and Pat Boone write, “The average child in the United States only gets about 21 minutes a day of primary attention with their parents, but, according to the Motion Picture Association, spends up to 10.25 hours per day with the Internet and TV.” Dr. Baehr’s analyses show studio executives and filmmakers that family-friendly content, and even Christian-friendly or conservative content, can significantly and consistently increase the profitability of their movies.

Promenade Pictures and Motive Entertainment are proving that Biblically-based and family-friendly movies can be educational and informative while being highly entertaining for both children and adults.

Now that’s something that the left should worry about!