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March 29, 2014

Out to sea

Darren Aronofsky's 'Noah' finds rough waters in leadup to release

(Continued)

On the heels of the recently released "Son of God," the religious drama "God's Not Dead" opened Friday and Sony is releasing the less straightforwardly Biblical "Heaven Is for Real" ahead of Easter next month. The studio is also developing a vampire twist on Cain and Able with Will Smith. In Lionsgate's pipeline is a Mary Magdalene film, hyped as a prequel to "The Passion of the Christ" and co-produced by mega-church pastor Joel Osteen.

When Jonathan Boch started his company Grace Hill Media in 2000 to consult Hollywood studios on reaching the faith community, the two "really didn't know each other," he says. Since then, films like "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" and "The Blind Side" have benefited from outreach to churchgoers.

"Over the course of those 15 years, you've seen the faith community go from almost pariah status or fly-over status to now being seen as an important market," says Boch, who consulted on "Noah." ''In my mind, what we're seeing is another renaissance where the greatest artists are telling the greatest stories every told."

Though Hollywood largely swore off the Bible epic when films like 1965's "The Greatest Story Ever Told" flopped, the revival dovetails recent trends. Figures like Noah are globally recognizable, and thus easier to market. They come with no licensing fee, and, often, plenty opportunity for flashy special effects. "Noah," which is being released in converted 3-D overseas, is perhaps the oldest apocalypse story.

The story fascinated Aronofsky as a Jewish kid growing up in Brooklyn. He recalls a poem he wrote about the tale as a 13-year-old — and a teacher's subsequent encouragement — as his birth as a storyteller. Whereas "The Passion of the Christ" was largely made by Christians and for Christians, Aronofsky says his "Noah" (which was advertised during the Super Bowl) is "for everybody."

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