Recently Hollywood billionaire movie director, screenwriter, and producer Steven Spielberg spoke during a panel discussion with his equally credentialed friend George Lucas. This panel discussion took place at the School for Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California. Among other things, they spoke about the future direction of the movie industry.
Even though both of these Hollywood magnates share responsibility for letting the “special effects” genie out of the bottle in Hollywood movies, they now share a growing concern that future movies, at least those shown in popular theaters, will be driven by techno-glitz, by cinematic bling, rather than substance. “First, technology should never be in the driver’s seat, because the narrative is always the most important thing, they said,” according to a recent report given at NBR.com (http://nbr.com/2013/06/13/steven-spielberg-film-industry-implosion-lies-ahead/). In the same context Spielberg prophesies,
There is going to be a day when the experience is going to be the price of admission, . . . . What I fear about that day coming is that the experience will trump the story or the ability to compel people through a narrative. And it’s going to be more of a ride, a theme park, than it is going to be a story, and that’s what I hope doesn’t happen.
Although not an avid movie viewer myself, when reading about these concerns I could not help seeing some parallels between Spielberg’s apprehensions about the future of Hollywood and its movies and the tragically flawed history of the interpretation of the book of Revelation. But, after all, has the content of this last book of the Bible been so poorly interpreted? Yes, it has, and not only in my judgment but also in the judgment of those who specialize in surveying the history of the interpretation of Revelation. It seems to me that the most injurious interpretations have come from those who are especially adept at marginalizing the story of Revelation for the sake of what is often regarded as the spectacular in it. There is no question that Revelation contains the spectacular, the sensational, the sensory, and the provocative. Undoubtedly there are many literary “special effects” in Revelation: fantastic symbols, a use of numerology that challenges even the best interpreters, compelling avatars, e.g., sensual prostitute and sadistic beast, based upon OT allusions, and a use of color unparalleled elsewhere in Scripture, to name a few.
Nevertheless, none of these “special effects” is the point of John’s prophecies. For many interpreters, however, these fascinating aspects of Revelation are, to use Spielberg’s language, “the experience[s]” so sought after by humans rather than “the story” of the text. Certainly students of Revelation can better understand John’s prophecies if they immerse themselves in the sights and sounds accompanying John’s prophetic text. But even this immersive experience should primarily be encountered as a means to comprehending the story of Revelation –– a drama culminating in the coming of the new heavens and new earth –– and not as an end in themselves.
Some congregations or individuals seem to merely want to frolic in the iconography or numerology of Revelation or be drawn into the book’s phantasmagory and all the while leaving their hearts and souls untouched by John’s prophetic messages. It is these “special effects” interpreters who want Revelation “to be more of a ride, a theme park” than to be about John’s story, namely the dangers of assimilation (looking inwardly) or God’s condemnation and judgment of nations (looking outwardly) that deviate egregiously from God’s paths of justice. It is these who are most likely doomed to miss what the Spirit says to those who have ears to hear.