'Noah': Religious Leaders Who Supported 'Son of God' Not Planning Screenings for New Biblical Film

8:48 AM PST 03/28/2014 by Hilary Lewis

Some organizations that were strong supporters of the Mark Burnett- and Roma Downey-produced story about the life of Jesus aren't as enthusiastic about Paramount's movie inspired by the Genesis story.

When Mark Burnett and Roma Downey's Son of God was released last month, churches and religious organizations across the country were renting out entire theaters to screen the film. But ahead of the release of the year's next biblical film, Paramount's Noah, some of those same groups are taking a more cautious approach, with a number of the leaders who were instrumental in the Son of God push saying they haven't even seen the film and aren't planning massive screenings like they did for last month's Fox-distributed title.

But they still support the idea of a movie inspired by the story of Noah's Ark and the broader trend of Hollywood catering to religious moviegoers.

PHOTOS: 'Noah' NYC Premiere

"We're among those who are really enthusiastic about Hollywood making films for faith-based audiences," Liberty University spokesman Johnnie Moore said, even though he claimed the school hadn't been contacted by Paramount to screen Noah but recently had a screening of Sony's April 16 release Heaven Is for Real.

Moore pointed out that Noah, which was directed and co-written by Darren Aronofsky and stars Russell Crowe, might not be as big of a deal for Christians as a film like Son of God, which focused on Jesus.

"I think for Christians, we're very enthusiastic about Noah just as we're enthusiastic for a movie about Jesus. … I mean, Jesus is sort of the focus of the story, so I think you're going to find a greater level of enthusiasm and zeal among Christians who will show up in droves because they're hearing the story of someone who is sort of responsible for everything," Moore said. "So, you're not going to see the same kind of enthusiasm … for Noah, but we'll definitely encourage our community to go out and see it."

VIDEO: Russell Crowe Calls 'Noah' Criticism 'Bordering on Absolute Stupidity'

Bayside Church spokesman Mark Miller says the Sacramento organization -- which, like Liberty, participated in a theater takeover for Son of God -- supported the film and was encouraging people to see it, but wasn't planning any formal screenings. He added that Bayside welcomes the discussion started by the movie.

"If there's any movie that will spark conversation around the Bible, we are for it," he says. "Hollywood certainly has its right to do its creative interpretation of those stories. That's not really up to us to police the accuracy. … It's a good thing when people are saying, 'Is this true? Did this really happen? Is God true? Is the Bible true?' Those are all questions that we encourage."

Moore said that while Paramount had the right to take artistic license with the story for a movie, Son of God's success shows that you can take the Bible as the basis for your film and people will support it.

"We would rather them have taken the Bible at face value, and I think that's one of the lessons from Son of God, which is that if people take the Bible at face value, you get a different kind of support," Moore said. "For sure, we would have rather that happened. But we're also realistic: Paramount is not a church, it's not a Christian college like we are, it's making a feature film."

VIDEO: Religious Leaders Praise 'Noah' in New Featurette

Brooklyn pastor A.R. Bernard, who was among the first to plan a theater takeover for Son of God, said that he's already noticed some artistic license taken with the story from looking at the trailer.

"Just looking at the trailer it's obvious that … civilizations were much more advanced than it's being depicted in the movie," Bernard said. "So already … I can see that there was some artistic license taken. … When I say that I'm always comparing it to the biblical record."

Bernard noted that while he plans to see the film, he can't tell his congregation to see it until he's done so himself.

Another early Son of God supporter, Christian nonprofit founder Gabe Lyons, has seen the movie, attending a screening organized by Paramount's faith-based consultant Grace Hill Media for roughly 12-15 religious leaders.

STORY: At 'Son of God' NYC Theater Take-Over, Faithful Viewers Cry, Repeat the Gospel

Lyons not only enjoyed the movie, but he said he thought it honored the biblical source material.

"I thought actually Darren [Aronofsky] and [co-screenwriter] Ari [Handel] were very respectful of the story," he said. "In a movie like this, you need to give artists the artistic liberty and creative license to tell the story in a compelling way. And first, it's a film, which means it's meant to be entertaining. And so the big themes of Noah in scripture are carried through marvelously in the film, but the creative license to develop characters and subtext and stories that the Bible may have never mentioned was helpful in terms of making the story a little more cohesive. The liberties that they did take that were different than what the literal scripture would say did not change the bigger dynamics of the theme of the story."

Lyons said he's encouraging people to see the film, informally, making sure that friends and those associated with his nonprofit Q are aware of what a great conversation starter it is. But, he's not planning any specific screenings beyond taking his family to see it and encouraging others to do the same.

Lyons is one of many religious leaders featured in a video Paramount asked Cooke Pictures to put together that includes heads of churches and other Christian organizations sharing their thoughts on the movie.

Paramount and Grace Hill also screened special trailers at Christian conferences and gave Hillsong megachurch pastors Brian and Bobbie Houston a chance to screen the film on the studio lot.

Paramount did not respond to The Hollywood Reporter's multiple requests for comment.

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