What do you ask someone about when you haven’t liked anything they’ve produced before and really didn’t like the movie you were asked to interview them about? That’s a question I have had to ask myself a number of times since I started this job and it doesn’t get any easier. I have a huge respect for the art of filmmaking. So, when it is butchered for the sake of creating an expensive highlight reel about your deity, I get a little perturbed. Still, the unwritten rules state that I can’t complain about the film in interviews and I respect that. I also don’t want to offend the filmmakers on their press junkets. They are usually pretty nice people and it is important that we act civil.
This is why I love the fact that the studios also let me review the films that I do interviews for (I interviews Mark Burnett and Roma Downey when this came out). This allows me to share with you their respectful interview and also gives me the opportunity to call to question their statements in my review of the film. I don’t usually do much of this (don’t think it’s relevant), but in this case I found it quite important to help draw out a glaring problem with this film. So, I will begin this review with a rebuttal of producers Roma Downey/Mark Burnett’s comment that this film “humanizes” Jesus Christ and should “appeal to non-Christians or children unfamiliar with this story”.
I find this claim to be decidedly untrue and find the people that made this film incapable of even knowing the answer to a question like this. I mean, how would a Billy Graham loving Evangelical Christian know what appeals to non-Christians? Well, they would know it by knowing anything about creating films or television shows that are good. The producing team that put this together would know no such thing. Hell, Mark Burnett’s reality TV garbage is one of the reasons so many like myself stopped watching television for such a long time. Shows like Survivor and Sarah Palin’s Alaska represent the very bottom of the barrel when it comes to art.
Another thing that would help you understand the other side would be to get someone that is not religious to be a producing partner, writer, or any part of the creative process. Someone in that position might have been able to tell them that Jesus can’t just be a figure head in a series of scenes that highlight parts of his biblical story. He has to have a character arc. He has to be relatable as a human being by having human conflict. I don’t mean by running into obstacles. There is no way to make a movie about anything without obstacles. I’m talking about having to struggle with important decisions that shape the person he will eventually become. This is a biopic of what many believe to be the greatest man to ever live and he never goes through anything that changes who he is.
In the bible, there is a small section on Jesus as a child. This is the most interesting part of the whole thing to me because involves Jesus figuring out who he is and having to decide whether or not he wants to be the one that will share God’s message with the world. He also is being raised by a mother and father who are poor. Social status is a large part of his existence and understanding of the world around him. This is all ripe for dramatic expansion and interpretation, but it is completely left out of this film. One minute, he is born and the next he is walking out of the mountains to a random guy in a harbor. Those who have read the Bible will have some idea of the context of this scene, but anyone else is just going to find it odd.
A simple bit of context to his mission or having Jesus look through the crowd and watch Peter for a minute with an interest would possibly have worked. This is where this movie fails dramatically and in turn fails to be accessible to anyone that is not converted. The whole thing just plays like the greatest hits of Jesus Christ’s short journey. As an audience, we plod from one important Jesus speech to the next until it finally gets to Jerusalem and becomes a movie (about an hour into the 2 hour and 15 minute flick).
It is only in this section where the film works as a narrative and it works quite well for about 30 minutes. There is some good dialogue revolving around the Jewish council, Judas, Pontius Pilot, and Jesus’s impact on Passover. I would like to have had a little bit more context when it comes to the Jewish laws and an understanding of their prophecy for the messiah, but it still worked well enough to feel like a decent political thriller. Sadly, that part only lasts a short while and then it is on to the 30 minute crucifixion.
I don’t understand why every director seems to think the crucifixion scene needs to be filled to the brim with slow motion and Jesus falling like 5 times (in slow motion). It is enough to make a headache turn into an explosion of pain. That’s exactly what it did to me. I swear, I left a few minutes into the crucifixion to get water, use the restroom, run water over my face, etc, and when I got back Jesus was still carrying the cross. The whole thing just felt like it went on forever and since I didn’t know anybody around him very well (or Jesus for that matter) it was hard to be emotional about any of it. Mostly, I just wanted it to be over.
Still, there are some things that are worth mentioning in a positive light. Diogo Morgado does a really good job of conveying Jesus’s virtues through his speechified performance. Hans Zimmer and Lorne Balfe give a nice depth to the soundtrack (Zimmer is always amazing). Then, there is the costumes and sets. They are all uniformly well done. Yet, for every good thing there is a bad. The special effects are horrid, the narrations are weak, the performances are mostly poor, and everyone is underwritten.
I especially disliked the writing when it came to Jesus’s mother. Roma Downey cast herself in this role (for clearly selfish reasons) and she could not be more wrong. Although, it wouldn’t matter much who played Mary in this movie. She is so underwritten that we don’t even see her until he arrives for Passover. There is no context to their relationship and no history to their lives. We are just suppose to care because she is his mother and that is never enough for any movie. It’s like hearing someone died on the news. You care because it is a sad thing, but not because you are emotionally involved in their outcomes.
In the end, this whole thing was just a bad idea and should have felt that way from the start. Just shooting some extra footage to add to a short part of your big miniseries on the Bible is always going to be a bad idea. There is a reason why scripts are rewritten many times and so much time is spent developing these epic films. In order for something like this to work, you have to have a tight script. You have to make your lead character relatable. You have to have the budget for the special effects. This has none of that, but Hollywood gets a few biblical do overs this year. If you are interested in biblical stories done right then check out ‘Noah’ instead.
Available in stores now.
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