Note: The following will contain spoilers for The Book Of Eli.
This week, Warner Bros. launches its first big January release with The Book Of Eli. In it, Denzel Washington plays an apocalyptic loner on a mission to put the sacred book he carries into the right hands. There is no twist in revealing that the pages within the leather-bound book containing a cross on the front is a copy of the King James Bible, the supposed last one in existence. In Todd McCarthy's Variety review, he stated that if "Warner Bros. cared to court the normally stay-at-home Christian audience, it would hit a mother lode of positive response." Despite any inherent ignorance that anyone of the Catholic faith are shut-ins who don't go to the movies, McCarthy apparently hasn't been paying attention. Perhaps "courting" isn't the right terminology, but the studio certainly hasn't been shying away from the themes, whether it be to challenge or embrace them.
Warner Bros. is still riding a wave of success with The Blind Side. Currently at $220 million and counting, we have all come to know the story by now. Affluent white family from the South "adopts" a poor black child (or teenager) and through their love and shelter watched him go on to success in the NFL with the Baltimore Ravens. The film may not have been overtly religious (aside from saying grace) or overtly political (despite several references to the Tuohy's Republican ties), but as reported here by Jenni Miller last week, the marketing certainly was. Over 22,000 Churches were sent clips of the film and encouraged to create sermons around the help-thy-neighbor message pandered throughout. Even the real Michael Oher commented that he wasn't thrilled with the way he was made out to be such a "babe in the woods" with no knowledge of football until the pretty white lady taught him how to block.
Looking back upon their 2009 lineup though, whether they were conscious of it or not, WB stirred the pot on both sides of the equation. From Harry Potter as the chosen one aware he might have to sacrifice himself to save everyone, to a leader like Nelson Mandela rising from the grave of a lengthy prison sentence, it's easy (and occasionally fun) to make the connections. John Connor was supposed to be the titular Salvation of mankind in the latest Terminator film, but couldn't even save the franchise. They went the other way in continuing to prove that Death himself is out to get us all in 3-D during The Final Destination, and Sherlock Holmes' central mystery was whether or not his arch-nemesis had risen from the grave.
One area the WB marketers completely steered away from was a central plot point in Ricky Gervais' masterful, underappreciated comedy, The Invention Of Lying. In his alternate world where everyone tells the truth, Gervais' character comforts his dying mother by telling her of the wonderful place she's headed towards where there's no pain and everyone you have ever loved is waiting for you. His little mistruth becomes a phenomenon and he is forced to create more answers for an eager public - starting with ten facts about the "man in the sky" written on the back of pizza boxes. Despite being a devout atheist, Gervais did not use his film as a recruiting tool or to look down upon believers a la Bill Maher's Religulous. Instead, through laughs and simple truths, cleverly surmised the need for faith in people's lives while pointing out how it can be used for hypocritical purposes.
Much like Gary Oldman in The Book Of Eli. While it is easy to give WB credit for not hinting at the turn The Invention of Lying takes, it's equally easy to recognize why they didn't. Richard Kelly's The Box could be viewed as one giant "man in the sky" metaphor, with an all-powerful metaphysical force putting average Jobs "to the test" and judging their actions with harsh consequences. Since few were able to piece together what the hell they were watching to begin with, it is not out of the realm that the marketers missed that aspect entirely. The Invention of Lying hits DVD on Jan. 19 and The Box on Feb. 23 and I highly recommend both no matter what faith you subscribe to.
"Who was watching the Watchmen?" About 30 million dollars worth more than Where The Wild Things Are, which amongst its many interpretations could also fit into the society-looking-for-a-leader (or "King") that Invictus falls under. The latter is an obvious Obama metaphor while the former may not have been made as such but can certainly be fit into one about the President referred to in some circles as the "Black Jesus." Or Jesus-Cola Classic. Obama may not have "taken away the sadness" to date, but WB is not giving up on showing us the light. On their slate in the coming years are Clint Eastwood's Hereafter, an adaptation of John Milton's Paradise Lost and, of course, the ultimate in only-son-coming-to-save-us-all tales in Superman: Man Of Steel. If you like your Gods Greek-style, there is the remake of Clash of the Titans this March. And if eye-for-an-eye is more your style, who better to deliver such Passion than Mel Gibson himself in Edge of Darkness.
Maybe there is a war on religion, but it's unlikely a story with so many elements of good and evil that has survived so long and keeps reinventing itself will ever disappear from the movies. Look no further than the release slate for Jan. 22 if you doubt that. Not only do you have the tale of warring angels defied by Paul Bettany in Legion and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as the Tooth Fairy, but you have Bettany again as none other than Charles Darwin writing up some little book about the Origin of Species in Creation. And if you want a true test of faith, be sure to rent WB's Whiteout on Jan. 19. I guarantee by the end the first words out of your mouth will be, "Jesus Christ!"