The deeper problem with portraying Jesus, Reinhartz says, is that "to make a compelling movie character, you need flaws. And that doesn't fit into most conceptions of Jesus."
One exception was Martin Scorsese's 1988 "The Last Temptation of Christ," starring Willem Dafoe as a Jesus conflicted about his identity and experiencing earthly temptations, like lust. That didn't please everyone — a Christian fundamentalist group hurled Molotov cocktails at a Paris theater where it played.
Then there was Mel Gibson's 2004 "The Passion of the Christ," starring Jim Caviezel, an enormous hit which is deemed one of the most controversial films of all time, both because of its bloody depiction of the Crucifixion — Roger Ebert called it the most violent film he'd ever seen — and allegations of anti-Semitism.
Caviezel, Dafoe, Morgado — all give different interpretations, but they all look a certain way. None, for example, are dark-skinned, as some have speculated Jesus was. Others have noted that men of the time were significantly smaller than they are today.
"The fact is we just don't know how Jesus looked," says Kraftchick, at Emory. "How big was he? Did he have a speech defect?"
Downey, asked about the issue, points out that her Jesus is a Latino, and that in itself is groundbreaking. (The film is also being released in Spanish.)
What troubles Mahan is that heartthrob Jesus portrayals ignore that "Jesus was an outsider. And this 'pretty Jesus' is an attempt to make him sort of a celebrity. That isn't accurate according to the tone of the Gospels. "
Morgado says he's taking the long view.
"When I was in Jerusalem, I saw a man and a 10-year-old kid praying," he says. "And I looked at the kid and thought, 'Wow, I will be his visual and spiritual reference."
That's what producers are hoping.
"I think people who don't know Jesus will fall in love," Downey says. "And those who do know him will fall in love all over again."