- - Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Not since Mel Gibson’s wildly successful “The Passion of the Christ” a decade ago has a faith-based movie caused this much pre-release drama. Except Gibson’s film was under the gun from secularist and anti-Christian critics. Paramount’s upcoming “Noah” is in the cross-hairs of its target audience.

Since the studio hosted test screenings for faith-based audiences in May, the negative buzz around the film has only escalated. Early cuts of the movie were said to abandon the traditional biblical origins of the story, which were replaced with a Leftist environmental message.

Ted Baehr of Movieguide, considered perhaps the top Christian film critic in the country, said reactions to those early test screenings were so negative that Paramount essentially had to take stewardship of the movie away from its Academy Award-nominated director Darren Aronofsky.

“[Paramount] suddenly realized they had a $200 million movie everyone hated so they were scrambling,” Baehr said.

Recently Baehr’s Movieguide saw the final cut of the film that will open in theaters later this month, and he says it’s a different movie.

“The studio took the movie away from [Aronofsky] and buried a lot of his environmental message,” Baehr said. “Some of it’s still there, but the main part of the story is that man is sinful and must repent, and God is 100 percent the judge, which is in the Bible.”

Since the controversy, Aronofsky has done little to soothe his target audience’s angst over the film. He recently called it the “least biblical movie ever made.”

“I think he probably is trying to sabotage the movie,” Baehr said.

It seems to have worked to some extent.

Ray Comfort, one of the nation’s leading evangelists, isn’t a fan.

“Paramount originally listed ‘Noah’ as ‘fantasy,’ which was the catalyst for the production of our own Noah movie that is coming out on the same day as theirs,” Comfort said. “[Paramount] has the fake Noah, but we have the real thing.”

Comfort’s version can be seen online at www.NoahTheMovie.com.

Dick Bott, founder and chairman of Bott Radio Network, one of the largest Christian radio companies in the country, told me the negative advance buzz for the movie made him hesitant to promote it on his airwaves.

“Knowing the film is controversial makes me leery of what message is intended by those producing it,” Bott said. “The message of the Bible is one of redemption and forgiveness, not license.”

Jerry Johnson, president of the National Religious Broadcasters, urged Paramount to include a disclaimer with the film that it was inspired by the Bible but not taken directly from the Bible, lest audiences feel like they’re victims of a “bait and switch.”

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