One of the most legendary and popular books in Christian history soon will have a big-screen, live-action adaptation.
Heavenquest: A Pilgrim’s Progress is scheduled for release in 2018 and will feature what director Matt Bilen calls a “prequel” to John Bunyan’s 1678 fictional classic “The Pilgrim’s Progress,” which has been translated into 200 languages and is sometimes called the first English novel. The goal is for Heavenquest to be the first of several films based on the book.
The book tells the story of a man named Christian as he makes his ways from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City and is aided along the way by multiple characters, including Evangelist. Heavenquest recounts the backstory of Evangelist.
“We decided to do more of a prequel story, because we don’t just want to make one movie,” Bilen told the Christian News Journal. “We wanted to build a world like you see in Narnia or The Lord of the Rings – an epic world. In the book, Evangelist is the wise old sage. We went back and told Evangelist’s story as if he were a 30-year-old man and how he became that guy.”
In Heavenquest, Evangelist starts off as a “pretty wicked guy” but eventually finds his way, Bilen said.
The movie is being made on a budget of under $1 million – pennies by Hollywood standards – although Bilen says it will be anything but “cheesy.” To make up for the lack of money, Bilen and the crew focused on finding “beautiful locations” accompanied by solid cinematography and a “really good cast,” he said. They then used visual effects to help “build the world.”
Bilen said he realizes that Christian action movies have a bad name.
“I didn’t want to do one of these cheesy, bad visual effects, bad music, bad acting films,” he said. “I had no interest in doing that.”
The cast includes actors and actresses who may not be famous in the United States but are respected in their home counties: South Korea’s In- Pyo Cha and Ricky Kim, Mexico’s Karyme Lozano, and Australia’s Peta Sergeant. Among the Americans actors is Alan Powell (The Song and lead singer of the Christian group Anthem Lights). Bilen hopes the international cast will give the movie an international appeal.
“When you’re making a fantasy film, sometimes the dialogue can come across as really cheesy and really clunky,” Bilen said. “I feel like the performances in this movie are really, really solid.”
It is being released by King Street Pictures, which according to its website “develops and produces faith-based and faith-inspired genre films of uncompromising artistry, sensibility and craft.”
“I felt from the beginning that this had to be a beautiful movie to be taken seriously not just by the faith-based audience but the non-faith-based audience, too,” Bilen said. “We spent a lot of time to make sure that will happen.”
— by Michael Foust
Foust has covered the film industry for more than a decade. Visit his website, MichaelFoust.com