Special Effects and the Biblical Epic

Elliott, Andrew B.R. (2019) Special Effects and the Biblical Epic. In: New Heart, New Spirit: Perspectives on the Modern Biblical Epic. Manchester University Press, Manchester, pp. 50-67. ISBN 9781526136589

Full content URL: https://doi.org/10.7765/9781526136589.00012

Special Effects and the Biblical Epic
Accepted Manuscript
[img] PDF
9781526136572c03_p50-67 Corrected AE.pdf - Whole Document
Restricted to Repository staff only until 17 July 2022.

Item Type:Book Section
Item Status:Live Archive


Within the historical epic in general, special effects fulfil a curious double function. First, they are the means by which impossible, spectacular past worlds can be represented; yet, in their second capacity, those same effects are designed to convince viewers of the reality of that spectacle. As such, effects are often simultaneously the tools used to represent imagined past worlds, as well as the tools designed to persuade us of their credibility.
If the concept of using credibility as a marker of quality is often true for the depiction of the past wherein even the slightest incongruity can be fatal,1 it is especially true for the biblical film. As Lloyd Baugh observes, given that biblical films attempt precisely to film the ineffable, the divine, or the miraculous, “the question of the high-technological dimension of cinema is critical to the Jesus-film.”2 From The Ten Commandments (1923) to Risen (2016), credibility and faith are primordial to the film; from the absence of Christ in Ben-Hur (1969) to his gruelling close-ups in The Passion of the Christ (2004), the biblical film relies on creating a space for on-screen belief as well as a space for off-screen faith.
The question is not, therefore, how special effects in the epic film try to convince the viewer of the reality of a given cinematic experience, but how they open up a space which would guarantee their authority to represent that experience in the first place. Consequently, I argue, alongside the development of special effects there have also arisen tropes and conventions which have become hallmarks of the epic and which are here used to support a biblical epic aesthetic. This chapter thus builds on my earlier ideas about effects in the epic film as an expression of verisimilitude, but here I propose instead to discuss effects not as guarantor of verisimilitude, but as “part of an overall process in which cinema displays itself and its powers”,3 and how effects act as a function of spectacle, becoming part of an industrial selling point driving audiences to the cinema.

Keywords:Special effects, The Bible, Bible interpretation, biblical film, Film, history, Historical film
Subjects:V Historical and Philosophical studies > V110 Ancient History
P Mass Communications and Documentation > P303 Film studies
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V900 Others in Historical and Philosophical studies
Divisions:College of Arts > Lincoln School of Film & Media > Lincoln School of Film & Media (Film)
ID Code:40493
Deposited On:07 May 2020 08:40

Repository Staff Only: item control page