John Martin – Inventor of the Blockbuster Movie?

I mentioned in my review of John Martin – Apocalypse that I wanted to explore his influence on Hollywood in general and certain film-makers in particular. He definitely influenced D.W. Griffith and Cecil B deMille as well as contemporary film-makers like George Lucas and Peter Jackson.

I am not the first person to notice this. The Laing Gallery in Newcastle held an exhibition on this theme a couple of Years ago and The Bleeding Pencil blogged about it a couple of months ago.

An early example:

In the very early years of cinema DW Griffith more or less invented the Blockbuster Action movie with his films “Birth of a Nation” and “Intolerance”. The set designs for “Intolerance” clearly show John Martin’s influence. Compare the print of Martin’s painting “Belshazzar’s Feast with Griffith’s set design for a Babylonian scene in Intolerance.

(As always click on an illustration to see a larger version)

I remember reading somewhere that Griffith owned a good selection of Martin’s prints and did use them as source material for some of his sets. Unfortunately even in the age of Google I can’t find a reference.

Moving on to more recent events in the history of the cinema:

The scene in Star Wars I “The Phantom Menace” * where Anakin Skywalker is before the Jedi Council has clear echoes of John Martins “Paradise Lost” print entitled “Satan in Council.

There are many other examples that I could have chosen, but these two do as well as any to illustrate the hypothesis. Anyone who has seen Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy can see how Martins work influenced him.

Two of Martin’s paintings “The Bard” and “Manfred on the Jungfrau” seem, to me at least, to have strongly influenced Jackson’s vision of Rivendell.

The Bard
The Bard
Manfred on the Jungfrau
Manfred on the Jungfrau

Now compare these with a still taken from the trailer of “The Hobbit”.

Rivendell (Still from the Hobbit)
Rivendell (Still from the Hobbit)

Also recall the scene inside Mount Doom shortly after Gollum fell to his death, taking the ring with him and Frodo and Sam made their escape across the rapidly collapsing bridge.

The influence of another “Paradise Lost” print “Bridge over Chaos” is obvious – to me at least.

Almost every disaster movie ever made borrows its images to a greater or lesser extent from “The Great Day of His Wrath” with its vision of whole cities being cast into the flaming abyss. Take this still/advertising poster for “2012”.

Just to back up my reasoning The Tate made a short Sci-Fi/Disaster Movie influenced video to promote the show.

Disclaimer: I am not endorsing a film that stole £8.50 of my money and about two hours of my life under the false pretences that it had something to do with “The Empire Strikes Back”


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