Onward, Christian filmmakers

"The Omega Code" takes evangelical America by storm.

Published October 22, 1999 10:00AM (EDT)

When Hollywood executives opened the trades Monday to check the previous
weekend's box-office sales, they must have scratched their heads in confusion:
In the No. 10 slot, with sales of $2.4 million, was a film they had
never heard of.

"The Omega Code," an independent religious thriller with no name actors and no sex, came in right behind "The Sixth Sense" and "Blue Streak" and had the highest per-screen average, $7,745, of any movie that week. The film, an end-of-the-world suspense story based on the book of Revelation, opened last week in only 300 theaters -- mostly smaller markets such as Oklahoma City, Okla., and Jacksonville, Fla. But thanks to a massive grass-roots effort aimed at the nation's 75 million evangelical Christians, the small film stumped the secular competition.

Though "The Omega Code" has nowhere near the buzz of the other recent indie hit, "The Blair
Witch Project,"
both films used similar word-of-mouth marketing strategies. While
"Blair Witch" was promoted on the Web, "Omega" compensated for its modest $7.5
million budget by enlisting 2,000 volunteers to spread the word to churchgoers
around the country. ("The Omega Code"
Web site
proved useful too, receiving 500,000 hits in its first week alone.)

The film was also
heavily promoted by the Trinity Broadcasting Network, the largest Christian TV network
in the country. (Not coincidentally, the film's producer, Matt Crouch, is the son of TBN's president, Paul Crouch.) The network alerted churches about the film, and in turn churches bought up blocks of tickets -- some by the thousands.

The film, rated PG because it contains some violence, was written by
Steve Blinn, a 28-year-old Evangelical Christian screenwriter who lives in Southern California. Writing a nonviolent script about Armageddon wasn't easy. "The book of
Revelation is an extremely violent book," Blinn said. "It's hard to do it any
justice without falling into that."

The film's plot revolves around Dr. Gillen Lane (Casper Van Dien), a Tony
Robbins-like motivational speaker who, along with the seemingly benign European
Union Chairman Stone Alexander (Michael York), is trying to secure a world peace agreement.
Meanwhile, a secret code of the Bible falls into the wrong hands, putting the
world's future at stake.

Despite its aspirations, some reviewers have found the film less than revelatory.
"'The Omega Code' is a garbled mess of clichis and one-note characters,"
wrote Frank Gabrenya in the Columbus Dispatch. "It has little excitement."

Nevertheless, Providence Entertainment, the film's distributor, is planning to expand
the film to 400 theaters on Halloween weekend.
Providence does not plan to open the film in large metropolitan areas such as
New York, San Francisco and Chicago.

"We wanted to wake Hollywood up to the fact that there is a whole group of
people out there who want to see this kind of movie," says Blinn. "I spoke to a
Christian man who had seen it, and he said, 'Finally, I went to a film where I
didn't have my defenses up the whole time.'"

Perhaps the success of "The Omega Code" will persuade other filmmakers to try
their hand at more spiritual fare. Or maybe its popularity has less to do with its religious themes than with the nation's millennial obsession. (Hal Lindsey, author of "The Late Great Planet
Earth" and an expert on the book of Revelation, is listed as the film's
"prophesy consultant.") While there are several scenes in the film where
scripture is quoted verbatim, Blinn hopes it will appeal to audiences just
looking for a good story. "I hope people will enjoy the film because it deals
with the end-time issues," said Blinn, who has already written a treatment for an
"Omega" sequel. "We tried to keep it appealing to a regular, secular audience."

By Lori Leibovich

Lori Leibovich is a contributing editor at Salon and the former editor of the Life section.

MORE FROM Lori Leibovich

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