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Friday, November 5, 1999 Published at 18:05 GMT

Omega breaks Hollywood code

Hollywood heart-throb Casper Van Dien stars in The Omega Code

By BBC News Online Entertainment Correspondent Tom Brook

An action movie backed by conservative Christians in America has become so successful that its distribution is now being expanded to additional cinemas.

The Omega Code, which stars Michael York and Hollywood heart-throb Casper Van Dien, could become the most successful movie ever financed by Christian fundamentalists.

Michael York plays an evil media mogul turned politician determined to take over the world by using prophecies from a so-called Bible Code programme.

The plot is based on the premise that there is a mathematical equation that can be used to decipher hidden truths in biblical text.

[ image: Michael York's character has plans for world domination]
Michael York's character has plans for world domination
York says "it's such a multi-layered story, there's much more going on than meets the eye".

That is an understatement, because The Omega Code may resemble a secular Hollywood action thriller, but it is designed to re-affirm faith in the Bible and save souls.

The film shows that there is a relationship between Biblical prophesies and developments in the world today.

Hal Lindsey, who served as a Biblical prophesy consultant on the film, says he believes that The Omega Code will "open people up to the Gospel as few events ever have."

The film, financed by the Trinity Broadcast Network, America's largest Christian broadcaster, caught Hollywood off guard when it suddenly appeared in its first week of release in the coveted list of Top 10 grossing movies.

[ image: The film has benefited form Blair Witch style marketing]
The film has benefited form Blair Witch style marketing
It managed to do so well because of a stealth marketing campaign that resembled the strategy that lay behind the promotion of the Blair Witch Project.

The Omega Code campaign made use of the Internet and grass roots activism, relying heavily on church volunteers and the power of the pulpit.

Ministers in the Bible Belt even urged their parishioners to see the film, in some instances buying tickets for them.

Many of those who worked behind the scenes on the film are committed Christians who hope they have crafted a Hollywood entertainment that is more than just escapist fantasy.

For instance, stunt man Eddie Matthews is a Christian who has also worked on Harrison Ford and Arnold Schwarzenegger action films.

He sees The Omega Code as "a good film, a good story that secular audiences can see and say 'there was something about it, that touched me'. "

[ image: Former Dynasty star Catherine Oxenberg also features in the biblical thriller]
Former Dynasty star Catherine Oxenberg also features in the biblical thriller
Hollywood is impressed by The Omega Code's performance, but industry experts will be monitoring its box office closely in the next few days to see if the film can find an audience in the secular world.

So far the thriller has done well in the Bible belt states, but in the next two weeks the picture will open up in the Northeast which will serve as a crucial test of its strength among non-Christian audiences.

Whether or not it has cross-over appeal, The Omega Code has already proved that there is a huge Christian audience hungry for Biblically inspired movies that are packaged as a slick Hollywood product.

The conservative Christians who have flocked to see this movie are suspicious of pop culture, particularly Hollywood films.

But Omega Code director Matt Crouch believes that conservative Christians now realise "there is nothing inherently evil with any medium, from the Internet to radio to television to feature motion pictures".

[ image: Casper Van Dien: Wowing the Christian audience]
Casper Van Dien: Wowing the Christian audience
The backers are hoping the market for inspirational Hollywood style films will now grow to support an expanding Christian movie industry.

Not everyone is happy that a film catering to Christians is doing so well. Some critics feel the movie could become another powerful vehicle to advance the politics of the Christian right.

Crouch steers clear of controversy by saying that all they've done is create "an entertaining Hollywood project" with a "basis founded on Biblical truth" - nothing more.

However, he admits: "Jesus went and preached where the people were. We're taking a positive message, a Biblically sound-message and we're putting it into the theatres."

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