God’s Not Dead (2014) — PASS
The Hobbit / The Lord of the Rings / The Return of the King (1977–1980) — PICK
Noah — PICK
Although both have religious themes, I suspect there’s not much overlap between fans of God’s Not Dead and fans of Noah, both new on home video.
God’s Not Dead is evangelical comfort food, offering a simple, reassuringly black-and-white picture of a world in which virtually everyone is either a true believer (or at least a seeker) with no moral faults or an unbeliever with no redeeming qualities. No one has any real moral conflict or changes much as a character in any way, except when non-believing characters move toward faith. Noah is a daring, acerbic Jewish fusion of traditional and modern flavors, elaborating wildly on the text of Genesis with a blasted, Mordor-like world, semi-fallen angel-giants and portrait of the beloved Old Testament patriarch as a troubled, conflicted human being who wrestles with understanding his heaven-sent visions and is wracked by survivor’s guilt.
Both films retell a story told many times before. The urban legend of a bullying atheist professor (Kevin Sorbo) who tries to humiliate a believing student in front of the class, but who is instead humiliated by the student, has circulated for decades in various forms. The story of the Flood, of course, is found in myths all around the world, but it has also been retold and elaborated in its Jewish form in midrashic and rabbinic literature — sources Noah draws on in expanding on the biblical story.
While Noah isn’t for everyone, its blend of epic spectacle, character drama and creative reworking of sources makes it a rare gift to some viewers, including me. God’s Not Dead has its fans, but I can’t recommend it. (For more on both films, see DecentFilms.com.) Blu-ray extras for Noah include a cute reunion of director Darren Aronofsky and the seventh-grade teacher for whom he wrote his award-winning poem about Noah.
P.S. J.R.R. Tolkien fans: The motley animated three-film retelling of the Ring saga — comprising Rankin-Bass’ The Hobbit, Ralph Bakshi’s half-told The Lord of the Rings and Rankin-Bass’ The Return of the King — is newly available in a three-disc set from Warner Home Video.
Caveat Spectator: Noah: Action violence and battle mayhem; disturbing images; a childbirth scene (nothing explicit); brief sensuality; theological ambiguities requiring critical thought. Might be fine for thoughtful, mature teens. The Hobbit / The Lord of the Rings / The Return of the King: Animated menace, action and some scary images, particularly in The Lord of the Rings. Fine family viewing.