Word is out that Tom Cruise will reprise his role as the reckless combat-ace Maverick in a Top Gun redo. This must end badly.
Cruise is long past the day when he could deliver a film performance worth watching. Recently, in Edge of Tomorrow and Oblivion, he delivered two back-to-back performances that were as lackluster and interchangeable as Legos.
And what exactly do we expect Maverick to do? The US Navy won’t be taking on the Chinese. That would be politically incorrect and threaten ticket sales on the mainland.
And, what exactly will Maverick be flying? The Navy’s F-18 Super Hornet is a fine aircraft, but its been around since the 1980s. That’s old and boring. The Navy’s new fighter the F-35 is still in trials.
They could always put Maverick in charge of a Navy unmanned fighter. Then he could fly combat missions from the ward room. That would be an age appropriate activity for a 52 years old fighter pilot.
To make matters worse, modern air-to-air combat doesn’t look anything like old-fashioned dog-fighting. Planes engage at long range with missiles. From a movie-watcher’s perspective, following a real air-to-air engagement would probably be pretty boring.
So with no enemy to fight, nothing to fly, and nothing to see it is hard to imagine how Hollywood is going to come up with much of a movie. Hopefully, the music will be good.
Both famous and infamous, a 1971 Stanford University experiment recreated the conditions of prison life with volunteers role-playing both inmates and guards. Shockingly, but perhaps not unsurprisingly, when the guards were allowed to brutalize the prisoners things pretty much spun out of control. After six days they had to shut the whole thing down before somebody got hurt.
The movie, released this summer, presents a dramatization of events at the mock prison. But this is far from the first film about the grisly academic affair. There have been a number of documentaries including one by the university.
Nor was Stanford’s prison experiment the first time serious science went pyscho. The “obedience experiments” by Yale scientist Stanley Milgram were even more infamous. The tests, which began in 1961, measured whether subjects could be induced to give a lethal electrical shock to innocent people just because an authority figure said it was alright.
Eventually, even the Ivory Tower figured out conducting human experiments that intentionally inflicted turmoil and anguish might be a bit shady. Research institutions adopted institutional review boards to determine whether research was ethical—before the experiment started.
Given that we know what happens when these things go haywire, it is doubly shocking that modern abuses, such as were inflicted at Abu Ghraib, are ever allowed to happen. How could the Army be so dumb as not to recognize the potential for a toxic environment and not provide more stringent oversight?
Such lessons are worth remembering. When we act inhuman to humans, inhumanity often results.
There is a reason the U.S. Senate just voted to ban torture, even though torture is already against the law. Senators want to again make the statement that no matter how brutal our enemies are, we don’t defeat them by joining them.
Conversely, don’t expect those who act inhumanely to act human just because we treat them nice. So, it is also not surprising that Congress just held a hearing lambasting the administration for its anti-ISIS strategy. Obama’s secretary of State may have thought it’s a good idea to emphasize with our enemies. Most realists think that’s a dead-end idea. They would prefer we defeat our enemies rather than coddle them. We can act humanely and also be mean and win wars.
In the end, this film about the Stanford experiment reminds us that humans act human.
Let’s confine the horror of inhumanity to stomach-churning films like Hostel, and then let’s just skip those movies.
You thought the Chinese are bad actors online? Now comes news the FBI are investigating the St. Louis Cardinals for hacking into the computer system of the Houston Astros. If the allegations are proved true, this is a big deal. Hacking is not just another case of baseball hijinks. It is serious criminal activity.
Bad baseball behavior online is yet more proof that that game is no longer about the boys of summer. It is about big business, a business that is increasingly disconnected from what once was noble about the game.
In many ways this is worse than the Chinese hack of OPM. The attack from Beijing is the kind of espionage activity we ought to expect from a foreign power. That’s what great powers do. They spy on one another. Live with it.
On the other hand, American companies maliciously spying on other companies are no different from bankers robbing other banks.
Cyber-crime is a crime. There ought to be little tolerance for it, particularly from companies that fly the American flag over their stadium and play the national anthem before every game.
If baseball wants to be America’s game, it needs to start acting more American.
Jurassic World is setting world records for the biggest box office movie opening ever. One reviewer called it “big dumb fun.” No wonder audiences are flocking to the film like interns to free donuts. Good creature-features have always been a healthy cash cow for filmmakers. Before Chris Pratt took on the role of dinosaur whisperer, the silver screen had its share of unforgettable movies about the monsters from our lost world. Here are five films that are worth a look.
#5. Gertie the Dinosaur (1914). Maybe The Lost World (1925) was the first full-length big production of a SciFi dinosaur movie. But it wasn’t by a long shot the first big reptile on the silver screen. Animation pioneer Winsor McCay made this short in 1914. This is the great-grandfather of Hollywood’s fascination with the Mesozoic Era. This first deserves to be on the list of the very best.
#4. The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953). No master monster-movie list would be complete if it didn’t include a film by the special effects genius Raymond Frederick “Ray” Harryhausen. Ray created his dinosaurs using animated stop-motion models. The strange “beast” released from the frozen Arctic that makes its way to Coney Island is one of his most marvelous creations. This film inspired countless other monster movies. This black and white movie is a not-to-be-missed classic.
Don’t blow your mind! In the future a record of brain biometrics could replace conventional passwords. This may be a little short of extreme mind-control (featured in Sci-Fi movies like the classic 1981 thriller Scanners), but a recent study from researchers at Binghamton University predicted “brain prints” could be used instead of fingerprints, retina scans or facial recognition as a unique identifier for security purposes including online passwords.
While the technology has promise, according to one of the researchers, don’t expect to be using your brain to open up your Android anytime soon. “We tend to see the applications of this system as being more along the lines of high-security physical locations, like the Pentagon or Air Force Labs, where there aren’t that many users that are authorized to enter,” concluded one of the research team.
Apparently, mind-melding with a laptop or the monstrous Krell mind-machine is still a ways off.
Lately, from Caitlyn Jenner’s new Twitter account to Charlize Theron’s road-rage character in the new Mad Max film, Americans seem obsessed with gender-bending. But Theron’s sci-fi feminist heroine isn’t all that groundbreaking. And, that’s business as usual for the movie business. Hollywood heroines are the last to catch on. Here are seven films that make the case for how female sci-fi heroes have transformed from willowy window dressing to being rougher than Rambo.
#7. The Lost World (1925). In 1920 women got the vote. But as far as Hollywood was concerned, as part of the show, they are pretty much there for show. This film adaption of the Arthur Conan Doyle story about a plateau populated by dinosaurs (think Jurassic World without sound) was one of the first Hollywood studio science-fiction hits. Bessie Love plays Paula White, whose main purpose seems to be making terrified faces in front of the Triceratops. Paula’s pet monkey Jocko plays a more prominent role in the plot.
#6. King Kong (1933). This monster movie wowed critics and audiences. “One of the very best of all the screen thrillers, done with all the cinema’s slickest camera tricks,” raved the New York World-Telegram. King Kong also set the standard for Hollywood’s women in peril. While Amelia Earhart was making headlines as a daredevil aviatrix and real-life heroine, there are no females piloting the planes taking pot-shots at the Empire State Building. Instead, the heroine’s job was to be threatened by the monster and saved by the hero. Nobody did it better than Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) — her screaming is unmatched in cinematic film history.
Our president has a Twitter account. Who cares? Apparently a lot of people. @POTUS set a Guinness world record for attracting a million followers in five hours. That number included the abject faithful, harassing racist trolls and the curious.
What makes social networks (like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram) serious business, however, is not just their size. Online networks are important when they are linked to human networks— webs of people that get together in real space not just cyberspace. ISIS, for instance, is dangerous not because it can post videos online. It’s the people that get together after watching terrorist online murder porn and do dangerous things that you have to worry about.
And that is why we should pay attention to what our president is doing online. As a recent piece in the Washington Post points out, the White House is mostly using social media to whip up the faithful with calls to action that prompt them to advocate for Obama’s political agenda. This approach “raises the prospect of fostering further political polarization if the president opts to communicate mostly with parts of the electorate that identify with him ideologically or can be helpful politically.”
Americans ought to be concerned, when instead of speaking to all Americans, White House digital media outreach becomes little more than his personal political action project paid for by all of us.
Calling Memorial Day a “federal holiday” is a bit of a sacrilege. More than a day for big sales or a stretch at the beach, this is a time for remembrance. Our freedoms are secured and preserved by those that serve. This is our day to honor their sacrifice—and our loss. Over the years, Hollywood hasn’t been half-bad at recounting the nobility and the pain of war’s cost. These movies are particularly moving—unforgettable films where the sense of loss on the silver screen is just sometimes overwhelming.
#7. The Fighting Sullivans (1944). They were five brothers from Waterloo, Iowa. They all served on the cruiser USS Juneau. They all died on November 13, 1942, when the ship went down. Their true story was lovingly told in this wartime drama. The film is often cited as an inspiration for the 1998 blockbuster hit Saving Private Ryan.
#6. Sands of Iwo Jima (1949). John Wayne dies. Really? John Wayne never (well, almost never) dies. Arguing he was too old when World War II broke out to make much of a contribution as a soldier, Hollywood’s biggest wartime star played patriotic heroes in a number of films. In this movie, Sergeant Stryker (John Wayne) bravely leads men through some of the toughest fighting of the Pacific War. On Iwo Jima, after taking over 26,000 casualties the Marines snagged the summit of Mount Suribachi. In the film, the battle won, Stryker’s platoon takes the spot right at the foot of the iconic raising of the American flag. One of Stryker’s squad mates is distracted reading a letter from home. Sacrificing himself, Stryker throws his body across a grenade tossed at their feet. The audience just gasps. Did that really just happen?
Apparently, some people don’t know it is make-believe or at least that is what British authorities thought.
According to recently released 1997 report, Scotland Yard feared young viewers might be inspired by Star Trek and other sci-fi TV to commit suicide or mass violence. While it is true Star Trek fans can get pretty zealous (They keep track of how many people show up at conventions in costume. The current record is over 1,000.), Trekkies certainly never turned into the Manson Cult.
There are lots of reasons to scratch your head and wonder what Scotland Yard was thinking back in the day.
Media can be used to inspire madness. ISIS has used its presence online to add to its ranks, raise recruits, fund raise and even motivate terrorist attacks against the West. But it is not just ISIS’ online abilities (which, of course, wasn’t around in the 1990s) that is the problem. What makes radicalization on social networks so dangerous is when they can be linked to human networks—where people engage with one another face-to-face. The merging of social networks and human webs can be formidable force. No country in the West has a bigger challenge in dealing with that challenge right now than Great Britain where radicalization of Muslim youth is a major concern.
I bet Scotland Yard is wistful for the good old days when they just tracked Trekkies.
Rape, sex and fisticuffs in space are only some of the musings about what awaits us out there. If that was the strangest story, it might not merit much attention, but it is not.
And that’s not all. There is Mars One, a non-profit organization promoting a “one way mission to Mars” in 2026.
A bigger question than “who wants to blast-off with who” is asking “why do we care?”
Following the debacle of Vietnam, we just kind of gave up on Kennedy’s vision of Camelot in space.
America pretty much lost interest in the space race when we won it. Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon in 1969. Then our attitude pretty much became “been there, done that.”
After that our interest in space was, at best, episodic. Everybody paid attention to the Challenger disaster in 1986. The Apollo 13 movie in 1995 may have pulled a bigger audience than the original moon mission in 1970.
Now, all of sudden, we all want to be lost in space again.
Also we are seeing some unprecedented developments in private sector commercial space efforts. Maybe we think we can make a buck?
Certainly space is back in our imagination. Why else would Disney be interested in cranking out new Star Wars movies other than to cash in on our new lust to go to (and, I guess, lust in) space?
Maybe a little (age-appropriate) discussion of sex and violence isn’t bad. After all, as soon as humans started thinking seriously about going into the great beyond, Hollywood started making films of fighting and wooing there–like Cat-Women of the Moon.
We should be capitalizing on a renewed interest in space to inspire a new generation to study, learn, invent, create and dream.
Whatever it takes to get America thinking big and bold again works for me.
Josh Trank, slated to direct the second of the new Star Wars films from Disney, won’t be taking us to a galaxy far, far away after all. News reports declare he is out. At least one source claims Trank got trashed because he was, like with his forthcoming reboot of Fantastic Four, moving away from the stock material and charting his own course.
Last month, Disney launched its effort to take over the Star Wars universe by making a big deal out of dumping “digital” versions of the old films on the Internet. This sure looked like an effort to cash in on the mythology created by George Lucas in the original 1977 film rather than bring audiences something fresh. The release of the trailer for the first new Disney film, slated for later this year, just confirmed that Disney looks like it wants to play it safe – and just cash the check.
When the world’s greatest “imagineers” go all risk averse, that’s bad for the company. Walt Disney once said, “We don’t make movies to make money, we make money to make more movies.”
Apparently, that virtue is lost on the suits.
Sure, letting directors run loose might crash and burn like the Death Star, but it would have been worth the risk.
Disney is passing up the opportunity to inspire a new generation with the vision to think bold. Instead, audiences will get to go where everyone has gone before.
The next generation of military robots hasn’t been built yet. But, there are already efforts to ban machines operating independent of human control. There is even a Facebook page.
In practice, military robots are already joining the ranks. The US Navy recently unveiled its ship-board firefighting robot.
But, the Pentagon isn’t the only one trying manage the rise of the machines. Google, for one, recently took out a patent for commanding a robot army.
The robotic arms race is going to match the military against the private sector. Don’t be surprised with its deeper pockets and innovative practices if the private sector wins. Maybe the plot of RoboCop is not that far-fetched after all.
HBO is already hyping its soon-to-launch original series based on the 1973 sci-fi thriller Westworld. And now Galaxy Quest, Hollywood’s hilarious 1999 send-up of Star Trek, is slated to become a series. It’s a trend!
Sadly, experience suggests we keep our expectations low for both efforts. Science fiction rarely translates well from the silver screen to the small screen. Case in point: Planet of the Apes. The original 1968 movie was awesome. The TV version was awful.
Most TV adaptations fail because they never move beyond the original premise of the film. A successful transition to a series requires both an engaging plot that travels beyond the starting storyline and engrossing characters who continue to evolve as the tale unwinds. This formula can work, but studios need to pick better material. Here are six films that are strong enough to be made into viable series.
#6 The Thing (1982). This film is a re-imagining, not a remake, of the 1951 original. An alien shows up at a remote arctic ice station, devours the occupants and assumes their shape. This freaks out the remaining survivors who spend the rest of film trying to parse co-workers from gruesome monsters. (A 2011 sequel was a dud, failing to build on the originality of the previous films.) For the series, let the monster go global, and show us how people in different climates and cultures approach the challenge of containing the contagion. And, let’s get some insight into the alien, too. How and why did he come to Earth? And what’s the plan for after he’s eaten everyone?
China Maybe Taking over Our Internet
By James Jay Carafano
Except, people are still wonder if Red China really is the bad guy?
Hauwei, China’s massive global telecom giant just rolled out its new smartphone to compete with Apple and Samsung.
Nobody really sees that as much of a threat. Between them, Apple and Samsung own more than half the global market. Hauwei has a cool video, but less than five percent of the market.
On the other hand, Hauwei sells a lot of the stuff the Internet is run on. That raises big concerns. The company doesn’t sell that stuff here. But they are doing business big time in Canada and Mexico. Isn’t that just a backdoor into the US cyber-infrastructure? Who wants the Red Dawn running our Internet?
The Day is Coming When Your Body Will be Your Mobile Device
By James Jay Carafano
Passwords are stupid security. Jimmy Kimmel proved it.
Corporate America is frustrated with how dumb we are. They are busy looking for other ways for you to prove that you are you-before you start using their stuff.
The most unique identifier we have is us.
American Express is looking at facial recognition. They are busy “trying to figure out how to capture and authenticate face images accurately and quickly on a mobile device, given that facial recognition has a potential to be more secure than usernames and passwords.”
PayPal wants to be even more intrusive—and gross. How about ingesting an authenticator and carrying it in your stomach?
As these systems proliferate they blur the line between us and our machines. And what privacy do we have left when corporations take up space in our intestines?
Hollywood loves wickedly lethal killer robots on the loose. The common fear of ‘killer robots’ is grounded in what we learned from the movies, not in the science behind autonomous weapons. Here, to make the case, are seven of the more bodacious boogieman ‘bots of the Silver Screen.
7. The Golem (1915)
This silent film was hailed as the first science-fiction movie ever. (It predates Sharknado III by a full century!). Only fragments of the film still exist. Plot summary: antique dealer finds mythical ancient Golem and brings it back to life; Golem falls in love with dealer’s wife; Golem goes postal. Not much science in this fiction. Heck, the dude is made of clay.
6. The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
Robots became a staple of Hollywood science fiction. Most were mindless drones like the trash-can robots that battle “Crash” Corrigan in Undersea Kingdom (1936). But this classic sci-fi film offers a different take. Here, the eight-foot tall Gort has a mind of his own. He’s aboard an alien spacecraft that lands next to the Washington Monument. When an earthling speaks those mysterious words “Klaatu barada nikto,” Gort takes off on a rampage to recover the spaceship’s pilot. The filmmakers were mostly interested in presenting pacifist metaphors that chide Cold War hysteria. Their message: The only way to handle violence is to have no violence. Sure, get right on that. Warning: A 2008 remake of this movie is brain-numbingly terrible. Watch it at your own peril.
5. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
“I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.” Wow, that’s not what Dave wants to hear. Dave is floating through space and HAL, the robot brain that is piloting the ship bound for Jupiter, won’t let Dave back in. Hailed as one of the greatest science fiction films ever, the betrayal by a computer run amok struck a chord with audiences. In the heyday of the hippie, at the height of the Vietnam War protest movement, the motto was trust no one over 30—and that goes for our robots too. Technology is the enemy.
4. Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970)
Before The Terminator had “Skynet,” there was Colossus—a super-computer running all US nuclear defenses. In this anti-tech movie, the humans turn on Colossus. The big brain then speed-dates the Soviet computer system, and they team up to rule over mankind for its own good. It’s a not-so-benevolent dictatorship. If humans don’t cooperate, the computer just threatens them with nuclear holocaust. What could go wrong? The problem with the science here is that it’s strictly aspirational. Forty-five years after this film’s release, we still aren’t close to building true artificial intelligence.
3. Westworld (1973)
Think Disneyworld, only filled with robots. They look like humans, and you can do whatever you want to ‘em… and they don’t mind. Who wouldn’t want a pass to that park? It’s all fun and games until the protocol that keeps the robots from harming guests goes haywire. Then, most everybody dies. Michael Crichton wrote the screenplay. He made a career out of writing about the moral implications of science gone wild. But his science is usually just short of being solid. In Jurassic Park (1993) scientists extract DNA from fossils to make their own dinosaurs (just ask the world’s expert on the subject, Jack Horner). And Crichton’s killer robots were just as fantastical.
2. Hardware (1990)
This vastly under appreciated movie about a raging robot in a post-apocalyptic world is so worth watching. Think the Golem with wires. The film is particularly noteworthy for the evil, bloodthirsty, peeping-Tom killer robot. Love the style and gore—but, like the Golem, there is not much science here either.
1. i, Robot (2004)
Not the best killer-robot movie ever. But in 2035, where robots do pretty much everything, a detective investigates the unimaginable: the murder of a human by an android. In the process, he discovers a robot revolution. The future of humanity winds up in the hands of Will Smith (just as it did in the 2007 film I am Legend). The science is pretty non-existent, but the film is notable for popularizing writer Isaac Asimov’s law of robotics: “a robot may not harm humanity, or by inaction allow humanity to come to harm.” Humans can’t make decisions with that kind of efficiency, and we sure can’t make robots with that capability. It’s Asimov’s laws that are dumb—not the idea of building safeguards to keep killer robots in line.
Hollywood’s killer robots are pure fantasy. Autonomous weapons are real. But the two should not be confused. Denouncing autonomous weapons, as Human Rights Watch does, is premature.
Soon the UN will debate whether or not to ban the ‘bots. But outlawing technology before it’s even built is a dumb idea. The question is: Will Turtle Bay be swayed by Hollywood horror plots or by the science?
$212.46. That is what the average family of four spent at a major league ballgame last year. For the budget-conscious, that price tag makes it mighty tempting to stay home and enjoy the boys of summer on TV—either a live game or a classic baseball movie.
But watching some of the most fondly remembered films about the national passtime suggest that maybe both the game’s time and what made America great are passing. Here are five films that make the case.
5. Moneyball (2011)
Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill take the Oakland Athletics from a mediocre, going-broke franchise to a cash-cow winner by using analytical, evidence-based “sabermetrics.” The film garnered six Oscar nominations, critical acclaim, and box-office success. That’s terrible. Celebrating the “corporatization” of baseball is not a good thing. Sure, making money is a good thing. “Last season,” Forbes reports, “MLB saw gross revenues of over $8 billion, and the expectation is it will reach $10 billion within a year or two.”
But where is the gut, the intuition, the love of sport for sport’s sake that we learned from movies like The Pride of the Yankees (1942), Gary Cooper’s epic portrayal of the greatest star of baseball’s finest hour?
It is far from the first time Twitter has taken to policing the Internet.
Recently Twitter deleted 10,000 accounts suspected of being linked to ISIS—in one day.
ISIS is fighting back—making death threats against Twitter founder Jack Dorsey.
Twitter argues it is trying to be a good citizen online. But, does it makes sense to tee-off terrorists and Game of Thrones zealots in the same week? Probably. Otherwise the government will want to take over the job–then there could be a real information dictatorship.
DARPA, the military home for mad scientists, doesn’t think humans can think big enough for future wars. The agency is building a machine that can process 2.5 quintillion bytes (that’s 2.5 followed by 18 zeroes) and predict the future. FYI: that’s how much information is created each day—about what would fit on 57.5 billion iPads.
The science shop famous for “out-there” projects (like building a real-life Terminator) has tried grappling “big data” before. Congress shut down the controversial Total Information Awareness (TIA) Project.
DARPA’s latest lab experiment raises all kinds of questions. Is it possible? Will the project (like TIA) get derailed over privacy problems? Does the Pentagon have any choice?
How else is it going to stay ahead in the information war? If the military can’t out-compete enemies in cyberspace, it will lose wars — and there will be no freedom left to protect.
Reports accuse the Mets of cutting its stadium security force by 1/3. Mets officials dispute. “The security of all who enter Citi Field is a top priority,” reads a press release. Maybe, but it’s impossible to find public safety info on the stadium web site.
And, its not just sports, in this post-9/11 world, any public event from college commencements to Taylor Swift concerts raises concerns. The short video above from the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing shows how quickly competition turns to chaos.
Major League Baseball’s response? Ordering stadiums to add metal detectors. Fans no doubt noticed longer lines.
Security theater alone won’t protect people against everything from gang-bangers to urban terrorists. Are we now faced with a choice between living in fortress America or staying home?
image illustration via here
Spring is the time “when kings go off to war.” It’s in the Book! Twice!! (2 Samuel 11:1 and Chronicles 20:1.)
Springtime therefore has seen more than its fair share of military defeats. On April 1, 1865, for example, General George Pickett suffered a defeat far worse than “Pickett’s Charge” at Gettysburg. His troops were cut off and crushed at the Battle of Five Forks, Va. The loss of Pickett’s forces pretty much ended Confederate hopes of defending Richmond. The Confederacy surrendered just eight days later.
America has seen more than a few military setbacks of late. The administration’s latest reversal came this month, when it had to hastily pull our special operations forces from Yemen.
Americans prefer not to dwell on defeats, but they are worth pondering. Sometimes the worst setbacks can be the best teachers. Here, courtesy of Hollywood, are six cinematic accounts of thumping failures that are worth revisiting.
6. Khartoum (1966)
You think Obama has an Islamist insurgency problem? In 1883, the “Mahdi” leads a revolt that overruns much of the Sudan. The British government dispatches Major General Charles George Gordon (Charlton Heston) to Khartoum. Gordon decides to defend the city. It doesn’t end well for the Brits: the garrison is slaughtered, 4,000 civilians are put to the sword and the general loses his head (literally). Gordon hoped that if he refused to retreat, the British would send reinforcements to crush the Mahdi. They didn’t.
The lesson: Hope is not a strategy.
The force is back with us. On April 10, Walt Disney Studios, Lucasfilm Ltd. and 20th Century debut “digital” downloads” of the Star Wars saga.
They will be looking not only to cash in, but to heighten the frenzy for a new slew of films starting this summer.
Are movie-goers again ready to travel to a galaxy far far away?
Certainly, Star Wars still has a hold on our popular culture. After all, Americans petitioned the White House to build a Death Star.
But the real magic of Star Wars was the imaginative mythology and original character-driven story lines. Reloading the franchise might be a cash cow, but it’s no more inspiring than Fast and Furious 7. If audiences are content with Xerox cinema, maybe it’s a sign we have lost our mojo–more new movies may not mean imagination and innovation are the core of American culture anymore.
In 2013, Roma Downey and Mark Burnett produced The Bible, a television miniseries that drew a cable audience of over 13 million. They then recut the miniseries into a successful theatrical release: 2014’s Son of God.
Late this March, the National Geographic Channel attracted a record-breaking audience with its adaptation of Bill O’Reilly’s best-selling book, Killing Jesus.
The Christian ratings rampage seems a bit of a head scratcher. The statistics say our nation is rapidly becoming less religious. The Pew Forum finds, for instance, that “[w]hile nearly one-in-three Americans (31%) were raised in the Catholic faith, today fewer than one-in-four (24%) describe themselves as Catholic.” And, for the first time, Protestants are on the verge of becoming an American minority.
Yet, the Almighty’s resurgence on screen is not restricted to niche cable channels. A.D. The Bible Continues, a sequel to Burnett’s original mini-series, has a primetime broadcast premiere on Easter Sunday. The suits at NBC wouldn’t green-light a project like this unless they thought it would pull a broad audience.
Maybe the Bible is back because it never left. While Americans may be less likely to self-identify with a particular formal religion, they are part of a nation whose roots are grounded in a strong religious heritage. “We ignore at our peril,” writes scholar Mark David Hall,
“the Founders’ insight that democracy requires a moral people and that faith is an important, if not indispensable, support for morality.”
The Judeo-Christian faith has always been entwined with American culture, even in hedonistic Hollywood. Here are seven of the most significant Bible-based movies from Tinseltown.
7. The Ten Commandments (1923)
Cecil B. DeMille was, as one paper wrote, “the Golden Age of Hollywood in a single man.” He knew the kinds of films the American public would hand over their hard-earned cash to see. DeMille delivered a string of films based on the Bible, beginning with this silent screen epic depicting the exodus from Egypt (as well as a modern-day morality tale showing the wisdom of following the 10 Commandments). At the time, it was one of the most expensive movies ever made—and a huge box-office hit.
6. The King of Kings (1927)
DeMille followed-up with a film based on the life of Jesus. He enlisted a cadre of religious advisors to help steer clear of charges of antisemitism. However, not everyone was satisfied on that score. The resulting controversy, in part, led Hollywood to adopt the 1930 Production Code provision that barred “[w]illful offense to any nation, race or creed” from the silver screen. Still, it was a good film on the final days of Jesus’ ministry, better than many of the “talkies”—such as The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)—that followed.
5. The Ten Commandments (1956)
DeMille returned with a remake of the story Moses, this time on an even grander scale (and in Technicolor!). It was the height of the Cold War and Americans craved a shot of moral courage. With Charlton Heston in the lead, the film was a phenomenal success at the box office and nominated for seven Academy Awards. One wonders how Ridley Scott thought he could top that. His 2014 remake was a disaster for the Egyptians and moviegoers. Many consider it the worst movie Scott ever made. Stick with Heston and DeMille.
4. Barabbas (1961)
Not every Bible-themed movie was made by DeMille. Indeed, some of them—like Barabbas—have precious little to do with the Bible. In this gritty, action-packed movie, Anthony Quinn plays the thief Pontius Pilate freed instead of Jesus. The movie imagines the rest of Barabbas’ life, including his own confession and redemption.
Similar films like The Robe (1953) and Ben-Hur (1959) also played on themes related to the life of Jesus Christ, part of Hollywood’s effort to cash in and be bigger than the Bible. Barabbas also marked the beginning of the end of Hollywood’s Bible craze. After the upheavals of 1960s, the only way God could get on the silver screen was in rock-n-roll musicals like Godspell (1973) and Jesus Christ Superstar (1973) or an irreverent comedy like Life of Bryan (1979).
3. King David (1985)
Trust me, this movie is not on the list because it’s particularly good. Making heartthrob Richard Gere the king of the Israelites must have seemed like a good idea at the time but the movie bombed. Gere was nominated for the Golden Raspberry Award for worst actor (though he lost to Sylvester Stallone). What was significant about the film was that the Bible was back after a long hiatus in Hollywood. Hollywood’s anger and post-Vietnam War, anti-establishment angst mellowed in the Reagan era.
The Bible was once again okay—although King David’s dismal box office dampened the suits’ enthusiasm for Bible epics for a good while.
2. The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
Another not very good film that needs to be on the list. “Artsy” types liked the Martin Scorsese movie, but the box office was just so-so. For years, this and other films that played with the Christian story were disconnected from Americans. As a result,they received little attention.
1. The Passion of the Christ (2004)
It’s hard not to respect this controversial and disturbing film by Mel Gibson. “The violence aside,” wrote the film critic for Christianity Today, the movie conveys “the divinity and humanity of Christ, respectively; and, more than any recent director, Gibson captures the grand supernatural conflict which gives the death of Christ its meaning.”
Compare this movie to recent “big” Hollywood productions like Scott’s Exodus or the unwatchable Noah (2014) and you’ll see why films that try to tell the Christian story touch something in Americans, while those that try to cash in by turning the Bible into another Fast and Furious sequel flop with most movie-goers.
The Duke basketball team sailed into the Sweet Sixteen. That may be ho-hum to Blue Devils fans. The hoopsters have been there 28 times before. Twenty-two — think about that for a moment. Twenty-two times the team has been to the regional semifinals under Coach Mike Krzyzewski.
The first Division One basketball coach to win over 1,000 games, Coach K is no stranger to coming out on top.
His passion for winning b-ball goes back to his days playing as a West Point cadet. Later, he ran the program at the military academy. Coach Krzyzewski called the academy his “leadership laboratory.”
Would Krzyzewski have ever become one of the game’s greatest if it weren’t for the foundation of discipline and excellence ingrained in him at West Point?
Great coaches and great generals have a good deal in common. They have to put together a team and a campaign plan. As my fellow West Point classmate General Rick Lynch wrote, they have to “adapt or die.”
In sports, as in war, no plan survives contact with the enemy.
West Point has produced many of America’s finest field generals—including most commanders on both sides in the Civil War.
Eisenhower and MacArthur were academy graduates, as were many senior Army offices overseeing battles from Normandy to Kabul.
But, not every great American combat leader passed through West Point. George C. Marshall, the “architect of victory” during World War II, graduated from the Virginia Military Institute.
Regardless of where they went to school, however, the best ones lived the ideals of West Point — the dedication to “duty, honor, country,” but also the passion never to finish further behind than first.
It is no different at the elite levels of sport. John Wooden may have gone to Purdue and John Thompson attended Providence, but they would have made smart cadets — and probably pretty decent field marshals.