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By Michael F. Haverluck

The novels have sold more than 65 million copies and exceeded $1 billion in sales, but will next year’s new “Left Behind” movie featuring “National Treasure” star Nicolas Cage measure up to that success?

Jerry B. Jenkins, who co-authored with Tim LaHaye the 16-volume “Left Behind” book series published by Tyndale House, believes the new “Left Behind” movie, based on the first book, will have mass appeal.

But he said there’s a more important consideration.

“I like anything that creates conversations about the future and the End Times, because our goal from the beginning has been to urge people to be sure they won’t be left behind,” Jenkins said in an interview with WND.

“If the new movie generates more readers and more debate, as long as it spurs people to search for the truth, I’m happy.”

Jenkins said he would describe the movie script he read as “pre-evangelistic.”

“There is a lot about the fact that the disappearances constitute the Rapture of the church by Jesus, but those left behind are naturally skeptical and in terror,” he said.

The $15-million-budget “Left Behind” is the first of a trilogy, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Does the fact that the movie only focuses on unbelievers immediately after the Rapture increase or take away from its ability to evangelize the lost?

“The very subject should get viewers thinking about what the Bible prophesies about the end of time,” said Jenkins, who has considerable experience in the movie industry.

He owns the filmmaking company Jenkins Entertainment, which produced one of Movieguide’s Top 10 family films, “Hometown Legend,” won Best First Feature at the 2007 Cinequest Film Festival for “Midnight Clear” starring Stephen Baldwin and was nominated for Best Family Film of 2010 with “What If…”

Jenkins’ “Are We Living in the End Times?” is available in the WND Superstore.

With Scripture playing such an integral part of the “Left Behind” series, Jenkins was asked if the Bible brought relevance and meaning to the storyline of the film that’s being shot this spring in Baton Rouge, La., for its 2014 release.

“I did not find the script filled with Scripture,” said Jenkins. “It’s really more of an action picture and covers a very short period, just a few hours.”

Jenkins has authored 180 books, including New York Times bestsellers such as his biographies of major league pitchers Orel Hershiser and Nolan Ryan. He assisted Billy Graham with the evangelist’s memoir, “Just As I Am,” also a Times bestseller. ” Jenkins also is chairman of the board of trustees of the Moody Bible Institute and owner of the Christian Writers Guild.

Jenkins was featured in a 2004 “Newsweek” cover story with LaHaye as “The New Prophets of Revelation.”

Behind ‘Left Behind”

The movie’s script was written by John Patus and Stony Lake Entertainment CEO Paul Lalonde, who is also the co-founder of Cloud Ten Pictures ‒ the company that produced a “Left Behind” trilogy more than a decade ago. The first film series was based on the first two books and starred Kirk Cameron as the gutsy reporter, Buck Williams.

The first trilogy, also written by Lalonde and Patus, made $4.2 million in theaters in 2001. The two films that followed were released only on video. Not happy with the movies’ reach and the way the series was handled, LaHaye sued Cloud Ten over movie rights, which ended in a settlement in 2008.

Today, Cloud Ten maintains the movie rights.

Even though Lalonde and LaHaye didn’t see eye-to-eye, both shared the desire to see the movies gain widespread appeal. Lalonde was determined to increase the movies’ scope.

“I’ve spent 24 years producing Christian-themed TV, films and documentaries that were made specifically for a Christian audience,” Lalonde told the Christian Post. “Preaching to the choir so to speak. 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.”

LaHaye doesn’t like the new film.

“It’s probably the worst script I’ve ever read, [a]nd I’ve read scores of them,” LaHaye said in a statement to the Christian Post. “The plot line is nothing like the book. The only thing they retain are the names of the people, and maybe places. There is no redemptive value to this movie; it’s got a lot of intrigue.”

Here’s a rundown of what moviegoers can expect to see next year.

“An airborne Boeing 747 is headed to London when, without any warning, passengers mysteriously disappear from their seats,” reads a synopsis by The Film Catalogue. “Terror and chaos slowly spread not only through the plane but also worldwide as unusual events continue to unfold. For those who have been left behind, the apocalypse has just begun.”

With suspenseful action dominating the film, it makes perfect sense that veteran stunt coordinator Vic Armstrong was chosen to direct the new “Left Behind.” He started designing death-defying scenes and shocking action sequences after his career as a stunt double for Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones in 1981′s “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and for Christopher Reeve in “Superman” in 1978 and “Superman II” in 1980.

Lights, camera, casting

Featuring action star Cage as airline pilot Rayford Steele, Chad Michael Murray (“A Cinderella Story”) as reporter Buck Williams and Ashley Tisdale (“High School Musical”) as Rayford’s free-spirited daughter, Chloe Steele, “Left Behind” has plenty of secular appeal.

Jenkins’ take on the film’s casting?

“I like it,” he said. “It’ll be noisy, if nothing else.”

The Christian novelist particularly sees the genius behind choosing Cage, who won an Academy Award for best actor in 1995 for his role in “Leaving Las Vegas.”

“Cage is controversial, but there is little doubt of his talent and pedigree,” said Jenkins. “Attaching a bankable name like that can be only good news for a picture.”

Jenkins compared Rayford Steele’s character in his book with that of the role to be played by Cage in the movie.

“Though the story is different from the books, his character seemed to be accurately described,” asserted Jenkins about the 49-year-old nephew of director Francis Ford Coppola.

Cage’s 53 movies have grossed more than $2.2 billion, with 2007′s “National Treasure: Book of Secrets” being his biggest draw at $250 million.

The Colorado-based Jenkins also believes the Arclight Films production from Stoney Lake Entertainment does a good job keeping Murray’s and Tisdale’s scripts true to Buck and Chloe’s characters from the novel.

Besides believing that the new “Left Behind” movie will invigorate new discussions about the End Times and eternity, Jenkins also foresees it reigniting debates about the Bible that he believes all Christians should embrace with a Christ-like approach.

“I know a renewal of the discussion will bring out the crazy extremists from both sides: those who think some American politician is the antichrist and those who think all believers are wackos,” concluded Jenkins. “All we can do is lovingly answer every question.”

 

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