Superman Takes A Deliberate Christ-Like Turn In New Film

The new Superman movie features startlingly overt Christ-like images. Warner Brothers has encouraged the comparisons with a distinctive PR campaign targeting Christian audiences, all the way down to a website where pastors can crib a sermon that likens Superman to Jesus Christ: How might the story of Superman awaken our passion for the original superhero who ever lived and died and rose again?

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block. Warner Bros.' new smash film "Man of Steel" is creating buzz at church. It's the story of Superman's interplanetary origins. A being with supernatural powers is sent to Earth to save humanity from evil. He becomes a force for truth and justice. The movie is chock-full of messianic imagery and the Warner Bros. publicity machine is pitching directly to a Christian audience. As NPR's John Burnett reports, if Jesus saves, Hollywood has learned that Jesus also sells.

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: Here's Superman floating in water in a crucifixion pose. Here's Superman consulting a priest with a stained-glass image of Jesus over his shoulder. Here's Superman at age 33, no less, trying to save mankind.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "MAN OF STEEL")

KEVIN COSTNER: (as Jonathan Kent) You're the answer, son. You're the answer to are we alone in the universe?

BURNETT: And here's Superman as a boy speaking with his earthly father played by Kevin Costner.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "MAN OF STEEL")

COSTNER: (as Jonathan Kent) And I have to believe that you were sent here for a reason.

BURNETT: Warner Bros. has used a clever marketing strategy to sell movie tickets to Christian audiences. This includes a special Christian-themed trailer, holding screenings for clergy and creating a website complete with sermons to help pastors teach positive messages from the film if they find themselves with writer's block on Saturday evening.

NICK YOUNG: I never recommend a movie. If I mention it in a sermon, it's not because I'm suggesting that you go and see it.

BURNETT: Pastor Nick Young took the bait. He leads Carrollton Church of Christ in suburban Dallas. Young went to see "Man of Steel," came back, read the online resources, then wrote his own sermon, which is posted on the church website.

YOUNG: It's just a movie. It's a movie about a myth, Superman. It's a movie about a guy who was a comic strip character. But I'm not here today to talk about a myth. Are you with me, church? I'm here today to talk to you about Jesus, the only superhero.

BURNETT: Superman was, by the way, created by two Jews, writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster, in Cleveland in 1933. The role model was reportedly Samson. Religion writers have had a field day with "Man of Steel" since it came out and made more than $125 million in its opening run. Warner Bros. hired Grace Hill Media, a prominent Hollywood Christian marketing firm, which, in turn, contracted with Craig Detweiler, a film scholar and theologian at Pepperdine University. He wrote the sermon notes.

CRAIG DETWEILER: Over the last decade, Hollywood has really discovered the size of the underserved religious market from films like "The Blind Side" and "The Book of Eli." And now, with "Man of Steel," they're discovering that audiences are hungry for movies laden with faith and entertainment.

BURNETT: Think of the History Channel's recent wildly successful 10-hour series on the Bible. I bought a ticket for seminarian Hunter Ruffin, who's studying at the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest in Austin to go see "Man of Steel" and answer this question: Is it OK to compare Superman to Jesus?

HUNTER RUFFIN: The big problem I have in drawing that parallel theologically is that Superman comes from another planet, another world, he's alien, whereas Christ is - he's fully God, yet fully human. I'm not quite on the Man of Steel as Jesus bandwagon.

BURNETT: One final theological observation: How far can you go with this Christian allegory, really, when Superman begins his long-term mission on Earth as a journalist? John Burnett, NPR News.

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