Bryan Alexander, USA TODAY
USA TODAY - The Word keeps spreading.
Mark Burnett and wife Roma Downey, executive producers of the hit TV miniseries The Bible, have adapted the five episodes dealing with the life of Jesus Christ for a major theatrical release, to be called Son of God.
The section has been edited down to two hours, 15 minutes and will be released Feb. 28, the weekend before the Christian observance of Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent.
"We believe firmly this is God's plan. There's no other explanation for it," Burnett says. "This is not even some little limited independent release. This is a major motion picture release."
The release date is just over 10 years after Mel Gibson released The Passion of the Christ, which earned $370 million in 2004.
"It's really thrilling. It's been quite a journey of love," adds Downey, the Touched by an Angel actress who plays Mary in Son of God. "I don't know if we could have dared to dream that we would have ended up with our story on the screen in this way. All roads have led to this."
The Bible was the first scripted series from Burnett, the hitmaker behind TV reality shows such as Survivor, The Apprentice and the The Voice. The miniseries covered Genesis to Revelation, with five hours devoted to the Old Testament and five to the New Testament.
Burnett says the seeds for a movie were planted while watching Portuguese star Diogo Morgado as Jesus Christ during shooting in Morocco in 2012 (he even shot extra scenes which have been added to the film). But the serious dreaming started after The Bible was a huge hit for the History channel, drawing 13.1 million viewers for its March premiere and receiving three Emmy nominations.
The series was such a success that Burnett and Downey are working on a follow-up, A.D.: Beyond the Bible, for NBC.
20th Century Fox distributed The Bible on DVD/Blu-ray, which shot to the top of the charts with more than 1 million units sold. Burnett, who stayed with Fox to distribute Son of God despite competing studio offers, says the film format is simply another way to bring people together.
"With television, you are watching it at home," he says. "This is a movie experience - it's shared, communal, like church. It's in keeping with the story."
Burnett and Downey, parishioners at Our Lady of Malibu Catholic Church, say they want to reach out to a wide audience despite the varied Christian denominations. They consulted a range of religious leaders, including Rick Warren, Joel Osteen and Catholic Cardinal Donald Wuerl from Washington, D.C., in an effort to bridge the faiths in the storytelling.
"There is far more that unites us than divides," Downey says. "We really have felt that we are uniquely positioned to create an artistic experience that allows people to come together."