NBC has decided to jump into the "religious programming" fray with Revelations, a six-part miniseries beginning Wednesday, April 13, at 9 p.m. (ET).
The series, essentially amounting to a long movie about the end times, depicts a last-days scenario centering on the final conflict between God and Satan. Writer/producer David Seltzer, who has shown a fascination for the occult before by writing The Omen and its sequels, is the creative mind behind the series. According to press releases, Revelations "revolves around the joint attempts of science and theology to determine if the end-of-the-world confrontation as foretold in the Bible is at hand and can be avoided."
The story's main characters are a Harvard astrophysicist played by Bill Pullman and a Catholic nun played by Natascha McElhone. Along the way, the scientist—surprise!—has to learn how to let go of reason and logic, learning instead how to embrace faith.
The series also features John Rhys-Davies (Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Lord of the Rings films) in a minor role as an atheistic scientist.
Seltzer and Rhys-Davies recently discussed Revelations with members of the religious media via a teleconference in New York. Here are some excerpts from that, ahem, revealing interview:
Why did you want to do this series and what do you hope viewers will get out of it?
David Seltzer: I wanted to do this series because I haven't seen it done before. I'm very interested in doing things that are original. That was the draw. And I've always been interested in the Bible and in science. This was a chance to combine the two in a compelling story.
As for the audience, I hope they'll get a wonderful ride on an adventurous, mysterious story. I hope they will feel in some way challenged to think in ways that they rarely do when they watch a television show. I think it's going to be provocative because we actually say the name Jesus Christ and we talk about the Bible and we talk about specific Scriptures and what they mean. I think an audience also will become aware of the fact that the world really is on the cusp of ending, and will look at their own faith and their own doubt and their own ability, perhaps, to affect the outcome of the very dangerous times that we live in.
There appears to be a sudden demand in Hollywood for projects that are linked to Christianity and religion. Why is that?
Seltzer: I'm observing the same thing. I'm aware of the Left Behind books. I'm aware of the huge audience that was discovered by The Passion of The Christ. I think if people are interested in religion now it's because of what they see on television with their morning coffee. Everybody wonders if their children are going to survive to have children of their own, if we're going to have an environment with air we can breathe, and an environment that we have the freedom to travel without worrying about somebody blowing us up. It certainly makes me think about religion and wonder if in fact there is a dark side and a light side, and if I'm doing everything I can to shine more light rather than create more darkness. In times of fear, people become religious, and I think that's probably what we're experiencing right now—more people wanting to come together in a community and find reassurance in a singular belief. I think we're going to help do that with the series.
How do your personal beliefs line up with this presentation of the end times?
Seltzer: I'm writing characters some of whom doubt, some of whom believe, some of whom talk of science, some of whom talk of the Bible. I don't know that as a writer it's important to talk about the confines of the way my own life works. I'm a searcher, I'll say that much. I believe in man's instinct to find a connection to something ultimately in control of their fate; I believe that's indigenous chronic, genetic, and inherent. I am fascinated with the very, very personal ways in which people dialogue with their own gods, and my mind is open to everything. It's not closed to any possibility. So I would say that I function here as a writer with a curious mind rather than a man with a belief or a dogma or a need to teach anybody anything.
It's interesting that you want to bring science and the supernatural together for this. Traditionally, there's been a pretty high wall between the two. What makes you think the end times might bring those two divergent camps together?
Seltzer: Science and theology have always been a part of my life. I'm a science buff. My background is in doing documentaries for the National Geographic Society, for Jacques Cousteau, for the David Wolper Organization, trumping around the world looking at grasshoppers and termites with a close-up lens. And looking at the stars. I do believe that the scientist and the theologian in my scenario are both searching for something higher than the tallest building and beyond the farthest star for an answer to why the things on earth happen. When the Bible predicts that the world will end with a comet in the sky, with the distress of nations, with the end of bloodshed, with pandemics and famine and with the rage of the oceans rolling, you realize we have reached that time—and science is beginning to react in a way that perfectly aligns with what's described as the end of days, not just in Revelations but in 1 & 2 John, Daniel and Corinthians.
I think that a scientist and a theologian would have to ultimately come to realize that they're searching on parallel tracks for very elusive answers, and they're not connected so much by the answers as they are by the questions. I feel that they're walking the same path, and it feel very natural to connect the two.
If you look at the structure of the grasshopper as a scientist, you realize that's no accident. It doesn't have lungs. It has bellows. It sucks the oxygen in through its skin. The way it's constructed like a little mathematical piece of perfection. So what I'm saying is everywhere you look in science you would have to be blind to the fact that this is more than some random accident. So to me it's natural to think of the two in the same breath.
According to the book of Revelation and other Scriptures, after the world ends, we will have a new heaven and a new earth. Why would anybody want to stop that from coming? And what can man do that will stop the hand of God?
Seltzer: The hand of God ultimately will have its way for those people who believe in it. We believe the things we want to believe, and we deny the things we don't. Sister Josepha [a character in Revelations] is considered a blasphemer; she's one inch away from excommunication. She deals with a woman named Mother Francine who believes more literally in the Bible. The Vatican plays a role. And there are various characters we meet, some of whom literally believe that when Christ appears, he'll descend on a cloud surrounded by a thousand angels—and when the anti-Christ comes it will be as a seven-headed dragon. But the book of Revelations is always interpreted in the context of the historical time that it's being interpreted in. I think it's possible for us to look at the end of days and see that we're talking about nuclear destruction. And with all the efforts being made to try and forestall that, I think there is a metaphor here to forestalling the end of days. We have a character who believes that.
Christianity has a wide variety of views especially about the end times. What kind of Christianity are you portraying here?
Seltzer: I don't know that I'm portraying a particular kind of humanity. I wish I were more scholarly than I am. I'm a fan of the Scriptures and I love to read it. To me it's a great mystery novel, because it is nothing but clues and you are trying to create some kind of understandable picture. If I were a scholar, I'd be able to answer the question of what of Christianity. I can tell you what kind of characters I'm dealing with, but I really don't know that they would follow the track of any particular faith.
The title of the book in the Bible is usually translated Revelation, singular. Why did you call the series Revelations?
Seltzer: We decided to call it Revelations to put it into a broader context. There are personal revelations involved for our characters. There are revelations of things surrounding the events of our day. There are revelations of the Bible itself. So revelation meaning enlightenment I believe we are making plural because it's enlightenment on a variety of levels as they pursue the mystery of this story.
[At this point in the teleconference, the segment with David Seltzer ended, and John Rhys-Davies got on the line.]
You've been in a lot of films with some sort of spiritual theme—the Lord of the Rings and Indiana Jones films and now this. What's your attraction to movies with a faith angle?
John Rhys-Davies: Well, it's more an attraction to stories that are about good and evil, stories that have a moral argument. I think we're at our best as a people when we are morally engaged. And coincidentally, they happen to be the best stories as well. It's very rare that you can find a great story that does not have a moral dilemma in the middle of it.
In what ways does this story remind you of The Lord of the Rings, because they're both kind of end times stories?
Rhys-Davies: I suppose you could say it's a perennial challenge of good versus evil, that it is a time of great challenge. Lord of the Rings is basically about a group of people who, if they do not fight, will lose their civilization and their entire world. And similarly, Revelations is about a conflict between good and evil that comes to a particular head at this particular time. And if the battle is lost then we will lose mankind and it will be the end of days and the bad side will have won.
Does it seem that the industry is gravitating toward religion in its programming, and if so, to what do you attribute the shift?
Rhys-Davies: Filthy lucre would be the great motivator, wouldn't it? By and large, all the bad things you hear about Hollywood are true. There are very few people who actually understand that a good story done well may just attract an audience and make money. The people who are in charge of Hollywood really are not quite literate in any real sense, and very few of them actually understand what a good story is. But the reason Hollywood has discovered good and evil is that people believe in it.
Revelations looks beyond human good and evil to the realms of supernatural good and evil. Do you think viewers will take that side of the story seriously?
Rhys-Davies: First of all, Revelations is a marvelous script. I think it's an exceptionally good piece of entertainment. It is also I think going to be controversial. Some people will take very literally, and if you take it literally, it may well offend your worldview. But we always get back to a good story that impresses us. What if it over impresses us? What if it gives us nightmares? Does that make it a bad thing, or does it mean that the story was very powerful?
When you're faced with a supernatural threat, the trick is to remember that God managed to turn spirit into flesh, which gives him one up on the Devil, because the Devil can't do that. The old Dominicans used to say when you're faced with this great evil, just remind the Devil of his limitations—and the incantation was Jesu ad verbum caro factum est—Jesus and the Word was made flesh. It is the incarnation that gives the moral and spiritual value of good over evil that actually defeats the Devil in the imagination.
For more information on the series, click here.
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