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Friday, 30 August 2013 09:00

Rebooting the Rapture: Will Nick Cage Resurrect the "Left Behind" Series?

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BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

jesusteachWithout warning, millions of people around the globe simply vanish. All that remains are their clothes and belongings ... and an overwhelming sense of terror. The vanishings cause unmanned vehicles to crash and burn. Emergency forces everywhere are devastated. Gridlock, riots and looting overrun the cities. And there is no one to help or provide answers. In an instant, the earth has been plunged into darkness...This is the story of the Rapture, the story of those LEFT BEHIND.

– Synopsis, "Left Behind"

Feeling that moviegoers didn't get their full bang for their buck the first time around, Cloud Ten Pictures is rebooting "Left Behind." According to leftbehindmovie.com, the "Left Behind" reboot, "will focus on the hours immediately following the rapture," but it won't "cover everything that the first book includes." if an amped-up "Left Behind" is successful at the box office, will more servings of the bestselling "Left Behind" series of End Times novels be green-lighted?

Since the public can't seem to get enough of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic movies, it will be interesting to see how it responds to a souped up remake – bigger budget, celebrity actors, and a theatrical release -- of "Left Behind," a film based on Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins' series of 16 wildly popular and mega-bestselling End Times/Rapture-ready novels. Total sales for the series surpassed 65 million, and in 1998, four "Left Behind" books occupied the top four places on The New York Times bestseller list.

The Christian Post reported that Paul Lalonde, the founder and CEO of Cloud Ten Pictures, which released the first film adaption of "Left Behind," is the producer and writer of the reboot (along with John Patus). According to the Christian Post, they said they were remaking the film in order "to give it the blockbuster treatment many fans had felt the original version deserved."

"... I've spent 24 years producing Christian-themed TV, films and documentaries that were made specifically for a Christian audience. Preaching to the choir so to speak," Lalonde told The Christian Post via email. "It has always been my goal to produce a big-budget version of 'Left Behind' that would appeal to a wider audience. The resources to do this exist now where they didn't back in 2000."

Academy Award-winning actor Nicholas Cage is heading up the cast for the remake, which is currently being shot in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Track star and U.S. bobsledder Lolo Jones, popular recording artist and 2007 winner of American Idol, Jordin Sparks, and actors Chad Michael Murray and Nicky Whelan are also listed as cast members.

According to nola.com, Cage will play repentant Ray Steele, "the series' born-again protagonist." "Left Behind," which is being produced by Stoney Lake Entertainment and will be distributed by Samuel Goldwyn Films, is being directed by Vic Armstrong, "the legendary stunt coordinator and second-unit director who boasts screen credits dating to the 1960s and including work on everything from 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang' and the James Bond film 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service' to 'Raiders of the Lost Ark,' 'Superman' and 'The Amazing Spider-Man.'"

Between 1995 and 2007, LaHaye and Jenkins, produced 16 books in their "Left Behind" series, published by Tyndale House; three movies -- "Left Behind: The Movie" and "Left Behind: Tribulation Force," and "Left Behind: World at War"; and, the video game "Left Behind: Eternal Forces" and its three sequels, "Left Behind: Tribulation Forces," "Left Behind 3: Rise of the Antichrist," and "Left Behind 4: World at War."

Writing for Salon in 2002, Michelle Goldberg, the author of "Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism," pointed out that "The Left Behind series provides a narrative and a theological rationale for a whole host of perplexing conservative policies, from the White House's craven decision to cut off aid to the United Nations Family Planning Fund to America's surreally casual mobilization for an invasion of Baghdad — a city that is, in the Left Behind books, Satan's headquarters."

"On one level," Goldberg wrote, "the attraction of the Left Behind books isn't that much different from that of, say, Tom Clancy or Stephen King. The plotting is brisk and the characterizations Manichean. People disappear and things blow up. Revelation is, after all, supremely creepy, which is why it gets so much play in horror flicks from 'Rosemary's Baby' to 'End of Days.'"

The election of Barack Obama in 2008, allowed "Left Behind" devotees to reinforce their beliefs, as many conservative Christians saw Obama as the Antichrist.

The "Left Behind" books became a cultural phenomena, and in 2004, Newsweek ran a cover story featuring LaHaye and Jenkins. The story, which described the "Left Behind" co-authors as "an odd couple," pointed out that they were "arguably, the most successful literary partnership of all time. And if you define success in worldly terms, you can drop the 'arguably.'"

According to Newsweek, "Their Biblical techno-thrillers about the end of the world are currently outselling Stephen King, John Grisham and every other pop novelist in America. It's old-time religion with a sci-fi sensibility: the Tribulation timetable comes from LaHaye; the cell phones, Land Rovers--and characters struggling with belief and unbelief--come from Jenkins. And their contrasting sensibilities suggest the complexities of the entire evangelical movement, often seen as monolithic."

"Tim LaHaye isn't merely a fringe figure like Hal Lindsey, the former king of the genre, whose 1970 Christian end-times book 'The Late Great Planet Earth' was the bestseller of that decade," Michelle Goldberg wrote. Not only was he "[t]he former co-chairman of Jack Kemp's presidential campaign, [he] was a member of the original board of directors of the Moral Majority and an organizer of the Council for National Policy, which ABCNews.com has called 'the most powerful conservative organization in America you've never heard of.'"

In 2011, Dustin Rowles of Pajiba.com compiled a list of "The 20 Most Successful Christian-Themed Films of All Time." At the top of the list was Mel Gibson's "The Passion of Christ," followed by three movies based on C.S. Lewis books, "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian," and "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader," and "The Nativity Story" rounded out the top five. Holding down the 18th spot was "Left Behind," which brought in a little over $4 million at the box office.

In the FAQ section at leftbehindmovie.com, one question is: "How closely will the new 'Left Behind' movie follow the books?" The answer: "The 'Left Behind' reboot will focus on the hours immediately following the rapture. It will not cover everything that the first book includes, but will be more specifically concentrated on those first few hours and the chaos of the world in the wake of millions of people vanishing with no explanation."

If movie goers respond to what Cloud Ten Pictures promises to be a more visually thrilling and electrifying reboot, might Left Behind 2, 3, 4, etc. be green lighted?

As Michelle Goldberg noted, you can "ignore 'Left Behind,' or chuckle at its over-the-top Christian kitsch," but "keep in mind, though, that for some of the most powerful people in the world, this stuff isn't melodrama. It's prophecy."

(Photo: Harry Kossuth)