The other day I was catching up on my Film History. At some point I came across a sub-chapter on Cecile B. DeMile and the reviving of Biblical spectacle, which proved lucrative in the 1920s and 1930s. But until 1949 when Samson and Delilah had been released, it had lain untouched.
With this new film more followed such as: Qua Vadis?, David and Bathsheda (both 1951), The Ten Commandments (1956), Ben Hur (1959) and Spartacus (1960). There were many more but these were the most successful in that time. With Ben Hur holding the all time record for winning most Ocsars (11 in total) until James Cameron’s Titanic in 1997, which also won 11 Oscars.
But after this the genre virtually disappeared. From time to time the historical genre would come back to the cinema with films on World War 2 (A Bridge too Far, The Longest Day) or the Arthurian Legend films such as Excalibur (1981), which I still regard as the best film ever made on the legend of King Arthur. And First Knight (1995). But no films were released that actually revived the genre not even Ridley Scott’s Gladiator from 2000 could do that.
The man behind the reviving, actually re-inventing, of the historical genre, I believe, is Zack Snyder and his look at the genre with his 300 (2006). This film was made in such way that was never seen before. Instead of using big sets, thousands and thousands of extra, the bigger part of the film was done with CGI/animation and the use of green screen. 300 Was a game changer and inspired a whole range a movie makers to followed suit in Zack Snyder’s style. The film Immortals (2011) and the tv series Spartacus (2010 – 2013) both used that 300 style of filming.
But Zack Snyder’s vision with 300 inspired other sto pick up the genre. Directors such as Doug Lefler (The Last Legion - 2007), Louis Leterrier (Clash Of The Titans - 2010), Jonathan Liebesman (Wrath of the Titans - 2012) and Neil Marshall (Centurion - 2010) took the plunge in the genre and box office wise they did well. Not like Marvell does with its films, but they made quite good money. And let’s not forget the controversial film The Passion of The Christ for 2004, which was the most talked about film that year.
This year the historical/ biblical genre seems to have the biggest come back so far, with 6 releases to cinema. Starting with The Legend of Hercules ( release date February 6th), Son Of God ( release date Februay 28th) followed by none other than Zack Snyder’s long awaited sequel to 300, 300: Rise of an Empire (release date March 6th) And in order of release, Noah starring Russel Crow (release date March 28th US), Hercules ( release date July 31st) and a remake of the 1960 classic Exodus starring Christian Bale.
One thing in noticed that, it might be a coincidence, and that is the biblical genre flourished in a period of economic wealth after a time of great depression and war, during times of recessions not so much. Now that we, again, have climbed out of a global recession this genre seems to be back again , or is that just a coincidence?