One Night With the King {The Call of Destiny} (Movie Review)

 

This costume is awfully heavy
This costume is awfully heavy
Quick! I need more eyeliner!
Quick! I need more eyeliner!

Plot Summary

The story of Esther is a Cinderella story of the ancient world.  Ordered by the king to audition to be his new queen, the young Hadassah, a devout Jewess, is reluctant to go.  Her uncle Mordecai encourages her to go in the Lord’s strength, but to conceal her Jewish identity for her safety.  Forced to undergo a year of beauty treatments before seeing the king, Esther forms a bond with the eunuch in charge of the process, who quickly discovers that she is different from the other girls.  But little does Esther know that she is about to be swept up into a bigger plan to save her people—a plan that only Yahweh could orchestrate.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

In the era of Fox Faith, money was certainly spent on some aspects of production, such as camera work and video quality.  The audio quality is also passable, and the soundtrack is slightly intriguing.  However, there are many other negative production elements that detract from this, such as weird special effects.  While time is obviously spent on the sets, locations, and props, there is an air of great extravagance in every part of this production.  Everything is taken to an ornate extreme; over-decoration clutters the sets.  This is a unique problem as they spent their money in the wrong ways.  As for the editing, it is also overdone in an attempt to be very dramatic.  Some scenes are replayed over and over again from different angles, just for dramatic flair.  Many scenes drag on too long, trying to drive a theatrical point home.  As will be covered next, time is spent in all the wrong ways.  While the funds were obviously present to make this a great production, they were grossly misappropriated.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

For starters, narration is used far too much to fill the gaps of this plot that the writers did not feel like filling with substantial content.  As previously mentioned, some portions of the storyline are rushed while others have too much time spent on them.  The historical account of Esther is altered in some ways for the convenience of the plot, even though the two-hour runtime proves they have no time constraints.  Instead, the writers crowd out real content with embellishment and the frivolous pursuit of meaningless subplots.  Trivial asides that have nothing to do with the original story are given far too much screen time.  Though there is some positive to find here in the complexity of the storyline, it is far too complex to the point that it cannot be easily understood.  Petty and unimportant events are portrayed as extremely dramatic as the writers squeeze forced drama out of everything.  The dialogue is empty and confusing, thus creating bland and mindless characters.  This is such a disappointment because the resources were here to make a truly great movie, but they were greatly squandered.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

We are all for casting unknowns, but with the money this team had to spend, couldn’t they have found a more professional cast?  The acting is very empty and it seems like no coaching is present.  Some lines are over-pronounced and over-enunciated, while others are mumbled.  Emotions are not believable but instead are over-dramatized.  But the money was spent on other things, of course, such as over-the-top makeup jobs.  Most of the main characters have a different extravagant costume for every scene.  The one positive to note here is that at least the cast is mixed-race rather than all British, but that’s about it.

Conclusion

Branded as a Biblical epic, One Night With the King had the tools available to it to be truly great.  Had the money been spent properly, we could be placing this film on the Hall of Fame.  Had the complex plot been honed better and the historical elements been properly handled and portrayed, we would be applauding this effort rather than denouncing it.  The lesson that can be learned from this experience is that it’s not the money you have, it’s how you spend it.  Just throwing money at a production doesn’t cut it.  It takes true talent to spend money wisely and know when to stop.  Yet frugality was not a word in this creative team’s vocabulary.  Next time, stop trying to impress us with shining objects and focus on substance.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

 

Apostle Peter and the Last Supper (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Captured by the Romans, the Apostle Peter is held for questioning and possible execution.  As he awaits his earthly fate, his mind wanders back to the early days, when he followed Jesus on earth.  As he is interrogated by a young and inquisitive soldier, Peter recounts his experiences with Jesus, including the painful moment when he disowned his Lord.  Tormented by evil spirits, Peter wrestles with his past as he tries to convert the man in front of him.  In the end, each man has his own battle to fight and they must decide which side they will choose.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

If you endeavor to create a Bible film, please, please, please invest in good sets and props.  Apostle Peter and the Last Supper suffers from the affliction of having only three or four sets, so it fills in everything else with very obviously cheap CGI.  They’re not even good sets at that.  The one good thing here is that at least the video quality is clear and the audio quality is find most of the time.  The camera work is commendable, but the soundtrack is not.  There are too many bizarre special effects that seem out of place and isolate the viewer.  Finally, the editing is blasé and seems to only focus on the sensational parts, as will be discussed next.  In all, Bible productions seem to always fall into a poor category all to themselves, and this one is no exception.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

While it is commendable to include spiritual themes in a Biblical film, the ones included in this one are only sensational and sometimes downright creepy.  The smallest things are overly dramatized—as usual with anything David A. R. White touches, nothing can be subtle, all must be obvious.  Dialogue is very pedestrian and theologically scripted; it doesn’t feel like real people are talking.  When dealing with the Biblical narrative, it is obviously out of order for some reason, probably for convenience.  Jesus is portrayed in a very odd way, like He’s constantly obsessed with reading everybody’s minds.  The plot being split between the past and the present does not allow for good character development in any form.  Basically, the only positive aspect of this plot is the interesting idea of incorporating the spiritual battle, even though it is pulled off very poorly.  Essentially, this plot is The Encounter with Peter—some slight potential but too much sensationalism and mediocrity.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

Time and again, we have seen Biblical movie casts with an inordinate number of British actors and actresses and Apostle Peter is no exception.  What is it about Bible films that cause creators to believe that Biblical characters are very white and British?  Accents aside, the acting is mostly dramatic and sensational, like the rest of the film.  Bruce Marchiano, in his typical role, seems creepier than usual.  Line delivery is very theatrical rather than conversational.  Emotions are not believable.  However, the acting is not bad enough to warrant zero points.  Overall, everything about this film is just a mess.

Conclusion

Oh, what we would pay somebody for a worthwhile Bible film.  Stories from Scripture need to be properly and accurately portrayed and presented on the big screen.  Such films should have a historical bent rather than an otherworldly feel.  Spiritual elements are great to include, but do them correctly, not in a way that turns people off.  Unfortunately, the majority of Biblical films on the market misconstrues the historical truths and spiritual realities of the Word of God, thus contributing only negative content to the field.  Who will stand up and turn the tide?

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

 

A.D.: The Bible Continues (Series Review)

Plot Summary

After the death of Christ, His followers were lost and confused.  But following His miraculous Resurrection from the dead, He appeared to them and gave them new strength to carry out a new task: taking His gospel to all people.  After receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, His apostles and other followers stopped at nothing to tell everyone of what they had witnessed in and through Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah.  Though opposition came at them from every side, the cause of Christ did not fail but only gained more followers.  Even as Christian persecution became a global event, even the ‘worst’ of sinners came to follow the Resurrected Savior.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Following closely on the heels of mixed results of The Bible Epic Miniseries, A.D.: The Bible Continues uses similar production elements, yet improves upon them.  The surroundings are still gritty and realistic, allowing the audience to see that the events after the crucifixion of Christ were very real.  The camera work is exquisite—many things indicate that money was well spent in A.D.  The musical score is engaging and the special effects are used responsibly.  Really the only production complaint to raise is some slightly inconsistent editing—were more unnecessary parts cut and more essential parts amplified, production would have been perfect.  But there is still much to be proud of here; Mark Burnett and company definitely learned from past production mistakes and proved that they can do better in A.D.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

In contrast to the breakneck pace of The Bible, A.D. elects to follow a slower pace.  Since this is not an exclusively Biblical series, historical context is responsibly explored—it actually aids and enhances the Biblical narrative.  The political elements are intriguing—some of these characters are better than others—yet this portion of the series tends to eat up too much of the runtime.  Some screen time should have been taken away from certain political characters, such as Caiaphas’ unrealistic wife, and given to Biblical characters with more potential.  Yet there is still much to enjoy in the Biblical plot lines.  The events of Acts are portrayed very well; A.D. actually accomplishes the goal of bringing a part of the Bible to life.  Historical truths are introduced in slightly unexpected ways without compromising authenticity.  While the early Christians could have been developed better, they are pretty good as they are.  There are also peripheral characters that are intriguing, yet tend to get squeezed out of the picture.  Were it not for a good deal of wasted time, the overall plot of A.D. would probably have been perfect.  It is a pretty good example of what a Biblical-historical series should be and can serve as a blueprint for the future.

Acting Quality (2 points)

While British actors and actresses are still employed, A.D. does something revolutionary: cast diversity in first century Judea.  Some may consider African characters in this narrative to be inaccurate, and while there should still be more Middle Eastern characters, there is really no historical precedence to deny this.  In other areas, emotional expression and line delivery is fairly believable, allowing the audience to connect with the Biblical and historical characters as real people.  Overall, were it not for overuse of British actors and actresses, this portion could also have been perfect.

Continuity Quality (3 points)

The arc of A.D. is particularly epic.  The driving purpose behind the series is very clear.  There are multiple exciting character arcs that were just coming to full completion right before the series was cancelled.  But cancellation is not necessarily the fault of the writers, since we sincerely believe they were doing the best they could do.  Overall, the short time we were able to enjoy A.D. was well spent when it came to continuity, arcs, and driving purpose.

Conclusion

It’s a real shame that A.D. was cancelled, because it had nowhere to go but up.  It was progressing at an epic pace, had so many positive elements, adapted a historical approach to the days after Christ’s earthly ministry, and was ten times better than The Bible Epic Miniseries.  It had so much explosive potential, but it was cut off at the knees.  One factor that potentially led to the cancellation was trying to please too many people.  Perhaps if fewer edgy elements were employed and more family-engaging elements were used, then the show might have survived on Christian audiences.  But that may not have been enough.  Even still, A.D. was a key step in engaging even the Christian population in being more interested in the historical nature of the Bible.  There needs to be more of a bubble-up approach to these types of series, and independent means, such as on-demand series, may need to be used in order to make series like A.D. successful, since national broadcast ratings are often too fickle to sustain new concepts.  Future ideas for Bible series need to build off of the positive elements and the strong points of A.D. and to improve on its mistakes.  Such a series would be a thing to behold and something worth getting behind.

 

Final Rating: 9.5 out of 14 points

 

The Bible Epic Miniseries: New Testament (Series Review)

Plot Summary

After being exiled and invaded time and again, the nation of Israel longed for the long-awaited Messiah Who would save them from their troubles.  Yet when the Messiah appeared, few even acknowledged His coming and some tried to thwart His birth.  As Jesus grew, He began His earthly ministry, choosing His followers from the least expected places.  Even still, many ignored His deity and others tried to undermine His work.  But He loved every person equally and demonstrated His power through miracles and authoritative teaching.  In the end, Jesus gave Himself up, taking on the sins of the world and dying with them so that the price would be paid for all who would accept it.  After raising from the dead, Jesus instilled new hope in His followers and commanded them to take the message to the ends of the earth.  Today, we still feel the effects of His earthly ministry as we have the great privilege to take part in His continuing work.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

For the most part, money is once again well spent when it comes to production in The Bible New Testament episodes.  Sets and locations are mostly authentic and costuming is historically realistic.  The surroundings are overall a plus, setting new standards for Bible entertainment.  The camera work is excellent in all aspects.  The musical score is pretty good, but there are some unnecessary sound effects throughout.  CGI is overused to cut corners.  But the biggest detractor of this series’ production is the editing.  This aspect does not improve in the New Testament, and is actually worse since less time is covered.  Even when the show finally sticks with the same cast of characters and surroundings, the editing is just as choppy as before.  Mark Burnett and company put on a good show on the surface, but this series’ beauty is only skin deep.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

The final six episodes of The Bible are painful to watch.  As previously discussed in Son of God, there are many glaring errors.  The characters are lofty and inaccessible—dialogue is wasted and seems robotic.  Huge creative license is taken to the point of inserting useless historical events in order to fill time.  Rather than develop the characters, sensationalism and violence eat away at the runtime.  Jesus is portrayed as a lofty zen master who disturbingly becomes surprised when things happen or when he ‘sees’ something that’s going to happen.  The disciples are like cardboard cutouts, even beyond the scope of Jesus’ earthly ministry.  I’m all for highlighting the role of women in Jesus’ earthly ministry, but Mary Magdalene is given far too much screen time, stealing lines from the disciples and defying historic events.  We don’t even get to hear or see her backstory—she just appears as some kind of repeater for Jesus.  Other historical inaccuracies crop up as well, including altered versions of Biblical accounts.  As mentioned in Son of God, this entire series was written for a few well-crafted scenes, including the calling of Levi\Matthew, the adulterous woman being brought to Jesus, and the torture\crucifixion sequence that holds elements very similar to that of The Passion of the Christ.  The final episode is perhaps the most painful as viewers are strapped in for a maddening ride through the rest of the New Testament, hopping from one high point to another in a matter of minutes.  To reiterate, with less historical scope to cover in the same amount of time as the Old Testament, the New Testament episodes should have been better—they were actually worse.  It all makes for a disappointing end to a series that otherwise had a great idea.

Acting Quality (1 point)

The acting quality also significantly diminishes in the New Testament, while keeping up with previous errors, such as the cardinal sin of Bible entertainment once again—the overuse of British and Caucasian actors and actresses.  Line delivery is lazy throughout the New Testament and real emotions are either nonexistent or over the top.  Actors and actresses are given more screen time in the New Testament, but it doesn’t help.  Coaching was definitely needed.

Continuity Quality (1.5 points)

The overall continuity of the New Testament is slightly more seamless than the Old Testament, but it still fails to deliver a driving purpose to the audience.  Overarching first century Judaic themes exist, such as the anticipation of the Messiah, the Roman oppression, and the religious system, but there is little else noticeable.  What is missing is the connection of Jesus to prophecy and Old Testament events, and the theme of forgiveness of sins only through Him.  Jesus is portrayed more as a community organizer disrupting a religious system than the Son of God.

Conclusion

As The Bible came to a close, a lot of things were left undone.  Millions of Americans watched this series, and we can’t help but feel that they were cheated of knowing what the real Bible truly contains.  Besides the gritty feel of the series, there is little that can cause viewers to feel connected to the characters and the struggles they went through.  If there ever was a time that Americans (including those who claim the name of Christ) needed to know what is actually in the Bible and how real it actually is, it is now.  The Bible promised to do this, but it did not deliver.  It’s no wonder that co-producer Roma Downey said afterward that they weren’t concerned with historical accuracy as much as they were concerned with making an emotional connection.  Yet in this ill-advised quest, true emotional connection was never made because viewers are still left wondering if they can ever be like those seemingly inaccessible characters from Bible times.  The people of the Bible were just like the people of today, yet Burnett and Downey portrayed them otherwise.  In doing so, their mission failed.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 14 points

 

The Bible Epic Miniseries: Old Testament (Series Review)

Plot Summary

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  He created everything, including humans.  But humans sinned against him and rejected His plan for them over and over again.  Yet despite human rebellion, God still had a plan to redeem mankind, and this plan was to be fulfilled through the nation of Israel, the descendants of Abraham.  But when the Israelites continued to disobey Him, He punished them and sent them into exile and captivity.  Nevertheless, God’s plan for humanity marched forward as those who loved Him awaited the coming of His promised Messiah, the One Who would save them all.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Production is definitely the strongest point of The Bible.  With a strong budget, almost everything was left on the field—almost.  Camera work is excellent, including the video quality.  The sound quality is great and the musical score is compelling.  Everything about this miniseries was intended to be epic and dramatic, and production-wise, this is mostly accomplished.  Yet there are still concerns.  Special effects are overused and CGI usage is too obvious.  The editing is the biggest error that plagues this series.  From the beginning, Mark Burnett and company likely bit off more than they could chew.  Some episodes are edited within themselves better than others, but most of them are far too choppy for anyone to truly grasp what needs to be grasped.  As a ‘season’, the Old Testament is a roller coaster of plot and character confusion, as will be discussed next.  In short, big money requires big results, and things just did not measure up in the Old Testament.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

The Bible began with a great idea: telling a wide audience the main message of the Bible.  However, the message is lost somewhere among magnified violence, historical inaccuracies, ninja angels, inaccessible characters, hasty dialogue, and a long, winding labyrinth of time than attempts to span thousands of years in just six hours of television time.  The audience is tossed from one high point to the next without being able to appreciate the characters or even understand what actually happened in the Bible.  Just as one character is introduced, they are dispensed as time races forward to another popular story.  Narration and location titles attempt to bridge gaps of time, but it just comes off as lazy.  As previously mentioned, the characters look like real people, but they don’t act or talk like it.  Dialogue is swept along in a maddening tide of events and excessive violence.  The only positives that can be brought up here are the central concept of the series—bringing the Bible to life—and the fact that Biblical events are portrayed as real historical events, not interesting and fluffy ideas from kid’s books.  Yet plenty of historical license was taken with the plot in order to make it suit runtime.  Throughout the series, meaningful spiritual messages are stripped away and replaced with humanistic ideas that seem to indicate that stuff just happened without any real working of God.  In the end, in trying to do everything, not much was actually accomplished.  Cramming more than half of the Bible into roughly six hours was never a good idea.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

As usual, The Bible commits the cardinal sin of Bible entertainment: British actors and actresses.  A few here and there is one thing—it’s hard to have a fully authentic cast—but when nearly every character is so obviously Caucasian, it gets silly.  For the most part, the acting is pretty good.  Some actors and actresses are better than others, and frankly, some of them barely get a chance to do anything.  But overall, the acting can’t be considered as anything more than average.

Continuity Quality (1 point)

The Old Testament already has a continuous theme and driving purpose, yet this was not adapted in the miniseries.  Each episode seems largely isolated from the others, like the events before Christ were just unconnected and random.  However, there is some mention of continuity, such as the nation of Israel and promise of the Messiah, that saves this section from being zero.  But we expect much more than this from a historical narrative that is already laid out.

Conclusion

The Bible is just another prime example of what could have been.  The money was there, but with such funding and a spot on a national network comes compromise, unfortunately.  However, one good thing does come out of this miniseries: it hopefully shows someone that the Bible is real and gritty, not a collection of nice stories that happened a long time ago.  Burnett definitely set the standard for realism in Bible entertainment.  Hopefully there is now no turning back from this point.  The Bible was a cultural phenomenon for a time, but it is hard to discern what its true legacy will be.  Had a more meaningful message been adapted, lasting good could have been accomplished.  Yet it is left as a below average series that could have been better.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 14 points

 

The Passion of the Christ (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

In this landmark Biblical epic, the suffering of Christ is depicted on the big screen.  Beginning in the Garden of Gethsemane, continuing to the various trials and through brutal torture, the final hours of Jesus are shown as He struggles up the Via Delarosa to the final reckoning at the Place of the Skull.  Complete with flashbacks to Jesus’ previous ministry and windows into the spiritual battle surrounding the crucifixion, The Passion of the Christ was a game-changer in Christian-based film that opened up a whole new world by refusing to fall into the trap of cute and clean Bible movies.  The real passion of Jesus Christ was horrible and wonderful, and something that we as Christians should never take for granted.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

As a professional and talented director and screenwriter, Mel Gibson puts his gift to a greater good in The Passion.  The camera work is epic, including great angles and clear video quality.  Sound quality is exquisite and the sets and locations are diversely realistic.  Of course, the main element of the production—the gore—may seem excessive to some and may frighten young children, but it is necessary to show Christ’s suffering in this way because any other way would minimize His sacrifice for us.  First century Judea was violent and Jesus’ persecution was intensely awful, and The Passion captures this unfortunate reality.  Finally, the musical score greatly enhances the film.  In short, while Mel Gibson is not an exclusively Christian director by any means, he has shown Christians how to make a great production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

All Christians are familiar with the basic Biblical account of Jesus in the Garden, before the Sanhedrin, before Herod and Pilate, and on the cross.  But before this movie, we believe that many western Christians did not fully appreciate the depth of Christ’s suffering.  Some may consider The Passion to embellish and sensationalize the torture, but we believe otherwise.  A majority of this film is violent and gory, but for good reason.  The purpose of Christ’s suffering is clearly communicated.  The Biblical characters are realistic and are enhanced by flashbacks.  From the beginning to the end, The Passion highlights an important and too-often forgotten aspect to every Biblical narrative: the spiritual battle that takes place away from human eyes.  Jesus’ interactions with Satan are epic and make this movie all that it is.  Of course, there are slightly too many unnecessary elements to this plot, including unusual personal beliefs of Gibson, overly sensationalized subplots, and a slight deification of Mary.  These keep it from being all that it could be.  But nevertheless, the plot, though it covers a short period of time, is very deep and profound.

Acting Quality (3 points)

The decision to use Aramaic and Latin instead of modern English was a success.  Though some of the actors and actresses are American, most are actually Middle Eastern and Jewish, which is a huge step.  The cast is obviously coached well and perform well, though most of them are not blockbuster actors and actresses.  Emotional delivery makes this movie what it is.  In short, this cast proves that ‘big names’ aren’t always needed to make a great film.

Conclusion

The Passion of the Christ was an early indicator of Christian audiences’ hunger for quality Christian films.  Some churches were criticized for publicizing a ‘secular’ film, but Mel Gibson simply did something no one else would do—he shattered Bible movie stereotypes by crafting a gritty and terribly realistic screenplay on the ultimate act of love and suffering in human history.  As mostly sheltered Christians who sometimes take for granted the gross realities in the Bible, we all need to be reminded of how real and painful Jesus’ crucifixion was, lest we forget how monumental His sacrifice for us was.  It’s only a shame that The Passion was not a perfect film, yet it still lands on the Hall of Fame as one to be remembered and one that made a difference for Christian film forever.

 

Final Rating: 8.5 out of 10 points

 

The Ark {Noah’s Ark} [2015] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

In another overly British production loosely based on Biblical events, Noah and his family are depicted as an angry, dysfunctional unit fighting to survive on their agricultural incomes in a world full of atheists and hedonists.  They’re also the only white people around.  Noah, the unquestioned but mostly aloof patriarch, is told by an angel that a flood is going to sweep across the planet and destroy everything.  Therefore, he needs to build a boat for him and his family—and a whole bunch of other random people—to be saved.  Also, there’s apparently no call for any animals to board the ark at all.  Despite opposition from his family and the people ‘in town’, Noah and his wife build the massive lifeboat almost singlehandedly before scrambling around and getting on the ark just as the flood waters rise.  Good thing they were able to fit about thirty people and no animals on that giant vessel before the hurricanes overtook the planet.

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

If you haven’t figured it out yet, we didn’t particularly like this film.  But we will begin with this film’s one positive quality—most of the characters seem authentic most of the time, such as actually getting dirty and muffed up.  But otherwise, there is nothing good to say.  There are too many modern nuances and costumes.  The camera work is just okay—there are too many outside shots ruined by poor angles that catch too much sunlight.  A majority of the time, dialogue is indiscernible due to unusually loud and annoying background music.  The editing is terrible, with tons of wasted time and useless scenes, which we will see more of next.  In short, The Ark isn’t even partially redeemed by professional production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (-2.5 points)

There’s plenty of real content in the Scriptural narrative on Noah that can be expounded on, yet this creative team chose to ad lib and transpose modern family struggles on top of the story.  Noah’s relationship with God is replaced with odd conversations with an angel.  If Noah’s family isn’t shown eating that mysterious pizza from The Bible miniseries, then they’re having childish skirmishes and fistfights with each other.  Noah’s fictional fourth son has a very large role, including his nightly illicit activities.  As a character, Noah is inaccessible and lofty, a typical Bible character error.  Abstract philosophical discussions that fit in more in modern Great Britain replace meaningful dialogue.  If someone wants to complain about ethnocentrism in modern Western film, look no further than Bible films.  In short, The Ark barely attempts to stay true to the historical truth.  While some Bible movies commit small inaccuracy errors, this one uses the characters and invents a primitive soap opera transposed on top of a natural disaster plotline.

Acting Quality (-1 points)

Did we mention these actors are British?  They’re British.  Not only that, but it seems to suggest that the white characters, primarily only Noah’s family, are the ‘good’ characters, while the multicultural characters are the ‘bad’ ones.  The truth is, we can’t really be sure what ethnicity any of these people actually were—likely nothing like what we have today—but the least that could have been done was at least attempt to use primarily Middle Eastern actors and actresses.  As it is, the cast that has been assembled here is overly dramatic.  Women are portrayed as mostly silent kitchen helpers.  In short, there is no end to this movie’s problems.

Conclusion

Unfortunately, it cannot be effectively said that Christian-led Bible films are better than mainstream Bible films.  The truth is that truly watchable Scripture-based films are very few and far between.  People need to know that the Bible isn’t just a bunch of silly mostly-untrue narratives.  Movies like The Ark only contribute to this cultural storyline, and perhaps purposely so.  But Christian film makers have nothing to say about this unless they are going to make meaningful, accurate, and professional Bible-based movies that can overshadow movies like this one with better overall quality.  The world is waiting.

 

Final Rating: -3 out of 10 points

Son of God [2014] (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

The life of Jesus Christ is timeless.  This rendition is centered around the unity of the Bible, the role of John son of Zebedee, and the political power struggles that existed during Jesus’ three year earthly ministry.  Son of God seeks to concisely portray this three year ministry from start to finish in a way that brings emotional connection from the audience.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

For starters, Son of God looks professional on the surface.  The video quality is good and the camera work is above average.  Action scenes are filmed fairly well.  Sets, locations, costumes, and props are pretty authentic, which is something many Bible movies bungle.  The musical score is commendable, but there is also an overuse of loud sound effects.  Sometimes the first century surroundings seem authentic, but other times, they do not.  For instance, too many locations exist in CGI format, including Herod’s Temple.  Some characters are able to get dirty, but others remain untouched by grime no matter what.  Another big issue here is the severely choppy editing.  The story does not flow well at all and there are too many location and sky footage scenes.  It is too obvious that this film was cut from a television miniseries.  In short, the production is above average, but not good enough.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

As previously mentioned, the storyline is hard to follow.  It seems like this film is a collection of Jesus highlights, with no real common thread or day to day life elements, just hopping from one familiar story to the next.  The characters cannot be connected with—they are just random people saying rehearsed lines.  The Jesus character is very inaccessible and seems lofty and aloof.  What is more disturbing is that, at times, Jesus seems obviously surprised that certain things are occurring.  There are multiple glaring Biblical inaccuracies that are more obvious than the usual Bible entertainment blunders.  Scriptural narratives are chopped up, edited, rushed, and forced together in order to suit this movie’s runtime.  On the bright side, there are some very engaging scenes that do bring the Bible to life, but it seems like the entire movie\miniseries was written for these few scenes.  In summary, it is a great idea to make a movie about the life of Jesus, but this is not how to do it.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

Son of God is very poorly cast.  Why do Bible characters have to always be played by British actors and actresses?  A majority of the characters in the Gospels were Middle Eastern and\or perhaps African.  Each actor and actress has been forced into a role that does not work for them and their culturally incorrect accents are distracting.  On the surface, they seem professional, but a lot of their lines are very forced.  No emotion is present.  Therefore, a low score is awarded.

Conclusion

In the beginning, The Bible miniseries and Son of God seemed to have good ideas and good intentions.  But the longer they went on, the more confusing and muddled they became.  In trying to play off of sensationalism and emotion, Son of God loses the original message and forgets what the Bible and what Jesus’ first coming was all about.  You will not find theological truths or realism in this film.  As Roma Downey once put it, they were not going for Biblical accuracy, but for emotional connection.  It looks like they succeeded, but at what cost?

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

The Book of Ruth: A Journey of Faith (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

A grieving widow at risk of losing more family members, Naomi is confused and disillusioned to her Jewish faith as she resides in a pagan country.  When her two sons die, Naomi makes up her mind to return to her homeland in disgrace.  One daughter-in-law, Orpah, turns away and goes back to her idols, but Naomi’s other daughter-in-law, Ruth, insists on going to the land of Israel with her mother-in-law to further adapt the Jewish faith and to take care of Naomi.  Together, they are uncertain of the path ahead of them but they forge forward, clinging to some hope that Yahweh will look upon them with favor.

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

Besides clear video quality, there is nothing positive to mention regarding The Book of Ruth’s production.  This film commits every cardinal sin of Bible movies: cheap sets and locations, ridiculous costuming and props, inconsistent sound quality, and choppy editing.  To top things off, a lot of scenes are overshadowed by annoying background music, making it hard to focus on what’s actually going on in the story.  Sometimes the music even covers up dialogue.  There is really little to make this movie worth watching.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

The story of Ruth can and should be adapted to film, but this particular adaptation is just C-grade.  Beginning with Oded telling the story to a young David, this tale portrays Biblical characters in an unrealistic light.  It is usually difficult to understand what the characters are supposed to be doing in this movie, whether they are staring at flowers or rubbing random pieces of wood together.  It doesn’t even seem like this plot was meant to be a movie, more like a church play, as we have often mentioned in the past regarding PureFlix Scriptural storylines.  Any potentially good dialogue is eclipsed by odd monologues about Moabite gods and inventive cultural customs.  As previously mentioned, a lot of the dialogue and plot is covered up by loud background music.  In short, there is very little ability to comprehend the actual Biblical message here.

Acting Quality (0 points)

In this film, the actors and actresses stand awkwardly and recite overly practiced lines.  No believable emotion is exhibited and line delivery is amateurishly theatrical.  The casting was poorly executed, as they are too modern in look and not coached at all.  There is too much makeup and manicures, like middle class Americans wrapped in cheap church play costumes.  Once again, we could find nothing positive here.

Conclusion

The Book of Ruth is one of those movies we wish never existed.  When a Biblical adaptation is this bad, it makes us severely embarrassed for both Christians and unbelievers alike who thought this movie would be good, only to later find that it was a DVD that should have been quietly forgotten about and later donated to the local thrift store.  A word of advice to those who are contemplating a Bible movie: learn from the mistakes of movies like The Book of Ruth and never, ever repeat them.  The Christian movie world cannot afford any more movies like this one.

 

Final Rating: .5 out of 10 points

Risen [2016] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Clavius is a Roman tribune who has seen everything in battle and thinks he has encountered every type of first century person possible.  He is hardened by violence and gore and shows little emotion anymore.  Battle-wearied from dealing with zealots in the wild Roman province of Judea, the last thing Clavius wants to do is perform an extra task for Pontius Pilate, governor of Judea.  The task: make sure a Jewish rabbi named Yeshua dies so that His following disperses and things calm down in the area in time for the Emperor Tiberius’ arrival to the province.  Clavius expects his task to be open and shut, but what he finds instead is an experience that could change his life forever, as he encounters the mysterious followers of the even more mysterious Yeshua.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

So many times, bad production quality derails movies with great ideas, especially Bible movies.  Too many Bible movies give off a church play quality, but Risen takes this concept and obliterates it.  The sets, locations, props, and costuming are exquisitely authentic, which is often the first hurdle to clear for a first century narrative.  Next, it actually contains action scenes—very well crafted action scenes.  The first century surroundings are highly believable and gritty.  The video quality and sound quality are flawless.  The camera work positively enhances the film, including poignant camera angles.  A lot of Christian movies in general have a poor or vanilla musical score, but Risen uses music to bring the movie to life.  In summary, the production quality of Risen lives up to the marketing and delivers a movie to be proud of.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

The journey of Clavius is very linear and straightforward—if you know the Biblical narrative, you will not find any plot twists here.  However, plot twists are likely not the purpose of this movie.  Though the investigation is somewhat simplistic, the gospel message is very clear and is presented in a realistic way that can be accessed by all.  The characters are extremely authentic and the dialogue is witty.  Another common error in Biblical films is portraying Scriptural characters as inaccessible and ethereal; Risen does not fall into this trap.  Its characters alone make this plot stand alone from others in its genre.  The Peter character is likely the best portrayal to date.  Jesus’ adaptation is also very accessible for audiences everywhere.  Subtle humor is inserted into the plot that is appropriate for the historical time period and makes for a well-rounded viewing.  The only caveats to raise here are a minor plot hole, a time-filling action sequence, and the somewhat vague conclusions to the Roman political subplot.  But this small issues aside, Risen is a unique and creative take on Biblical and historical narratives, with accurate elements integrated throughout.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

The cast of Risen is obviously professional and very well coached.  Each actor and actress becomes and embodies their character excellently.  The line delivery is masterful and the emotions are felt.  The only negative element here is that Risen does fall into a common Bible movie trap by casting quite a few British actors.  The only thing that keeps Risen from being completely authentic is the presence of more obviously European actors than obviously Middle Eastern actors.  Otherwise, there are no acting or casting errors.

Conclusion

Risen receives half of an x-factor point for having a dynamic underlying worldview that drives the movie.  For once, this is a film that a Christian could take an unbeliever to in order to expose them to a clearly communicated and well packaged gospel message without being ashamed of low quality.  The problems with Risen are very minor and will not be enough to keep widespread audiences from seeing and enjoying this film.  A movie in the vein of Risen has been long overdue on the Christian scene and we at Box Office Revolution heartily anticipate more like it in the near future.

 

Final Rating: 8 out of 10 points

The Book of Daniel [2013] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Taken from their cherished hometown Jerusalem as young men, Daniel and his three friends must learn to navigate their new culture, Babylon, without compromising their Jewish faith.  Even when it appears as though all hope is lost, Yahweh continues to give Daniel and his friends opportunities to influence their own captors for the better.  As Daniel’s life progressed, he was given more and more chances to influence world politics by simply serving and obeying Yahweh.  The life of Daniel is one that can be modeled by Christians of all generations and cultures.

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

Unfortunately, The Book of Daniel falls into the infamous Biblical film traps when it comes to production.  The sets and costuming scream church play and demonstrate a severely limited budget combined with lack of attention to historical authenticity.  There are no outside sequences, except for one, that are not replaced with extremely obvious CGI.  There are also some annoying special effects.  For what it’s worth, the camera work is not horrible and the editing is passable, even though the story is very choppy.  In summary, PureFlix Bible productions leave much to be desired.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

It is commendable to cover all the stories in the Biblical book of Daniel in one movie and to transpose it with Daniel’s God-given influence over historical monarchs.  But in this pursuit, the viewer gets lost in a very disjointed storyline.  There is simply too much content and not enough character development.  We at Box Office Revolution continually wonder why Biblical characters always have to be portrayed in the movies as inhuman and lofty—they were regular people!  The dialogue of The Book of Daniel also reminds one of a poorly written church play, very robotic.  The bottom line is that while there was a mountain of potential to be found in this sort of plot, it was never unearthed.  We are only left with a pathetic attempt.

Acting Quality (1 point)

While the acting is not glaringly bad, it is overly theatrical and overly practiced.  There are little to no emotions expressed.  Again, it gives off the impression that Bible characters were not real people, but like talking wax figures.  We believe that if these actors had been afforded better lines and better coaching, something more could have materialized.  But alas, we are once again left wondering what could have been.

Conclusion

Bible movies need to be made, but not like this.  So many audiences need to know what is in the Bible, but films like The Book of Daniel only serve to further turn people off, making them think that the Scriptures are boring and full of inaccessible characters we can’t relate to and fantastical events that will never happen again.  The truth is, nothing could be more of a lie.  The Bible has many historical and realistic narratives full of flawed and believable characters that need to be depicted on the big screen properly.  We look forward to the day when this will happen.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

The Book of Esther (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Following the banishment of Queen Vashti from the royalty of Medo-Persia, King Xerses, lonely and confused, takes the advice of his closest advisors and decrees that all the young women be brought to him, given beauty treatments, and then displayed before him so that he can choose a new queen from among them.  Among them is a Jewish girl, Hadassah, who had been admonished by her cousin Mordecai to hide her cultural identity from those in the palace.  Against all odds, she is chosen to succeed Queen Vashti, just as the wicked advisor Haman is plotting to destroy the Jewish people from the face of the earth.  Queen Esther must decide that she must live up to the calling God has put in front of her in order to save an entire race from extinction.

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

The Book of Esther commits every Biblical movie error in every category, beginning with production.  The sets and costuming are very cheap, like this is a children’s church play.  It would be one thing if PureFlix did not have the funding to put on a better production, but this is not the case.  The camera work and video quality are passable, but the sound quality is very inconsistent.  There is really nothing to comment on regarding the editing, either good or bad.  In short, the first rule of Bible movies is to create a realistic and high quality setting, including backgrounds, sets, props, and costumes.  The Book of Esther does none of this.

Plot and Storyline Quality (-1 points)

The story of Esther is overused in movies, probably because it is easy to replicate and the plot suits most audiences.  But this film is not even a good adaptation—it misrepresents Biblical and historical events and includes unnecessary parts.  It seems like the viewer is being insulted and being treated like a child in a bad Sunday school class.  The film contains ridiculous over the top characters, more so than usual for a Bible film.  The dialogue is overly dramatic, like most Scripture screenplays.  There are also creepy undertones and insinuations regarding Haman and his eunuch.  A lot of content takes place off screen and this plot generally has no real potential and is even offensive is some ways, thus warranting negative points.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

As a whole, line delivery is horrible and emotion is absent.  The acting is either absurd or too theatrical.  The only exception is some small acting potential from Joel Smallbone and Jen Lilley, as their talents seem to be wasted on this nonsense.  Otherwise, there is unfortunately nothing positive to say.

Conclusion

Needless to say, The Book of Esther is another ruined Bible movie.  The audience will learn nothing worthwhile from it except that they probably don’t want to watch anymore films based on Scripture.  This movie is the embodiment of why Box Office Revolution feels the need to speak out for quality Christian films and against low quality ones.  It feels like PureFlix isn’t even trying when they make movies like this, which further warrants a very low score.

 

Final Rating: 0 out of 10 points

Seasons of Gray: A Modern Day Joseph Story (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Brady Gray was always the favorite son of his hardened father, much to the dislike of his jealous brothers.  Not only that, but Brady always had a special gift of knowing what is going to happen in certain people’s futures, based on dreams they have.  However, his brothers grow tired of his special treatment one day and finally decide to do something about—force him to leave the family ranch and tell their father that Brady died.  With nowhere else to go, Brady hitches a ride with an unlikely friend who takes him in and gets him a job at a prestigious business.  However, Brady’s life continues to take unexpected negative turns one after another.  Through the adversity, he is forced to truly look at what he believes about God and about life.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

For a first time independent film, Seasons of Gray is quite good.  The camera and sound quality are both clear.  The camera angles are above average.  The sets and costuming have a slight indie-ish feel to them, but they are actually quite good considering the circumstances.  A lot of time and effort were obviously put into this movie to make the production good.  There are some minor editing concerns, but otherwise, this film is proof that first-time independent Christian films do not have to be low quality.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

Adapting a Biblical narrative to a modern setting is not a bad idea, but it is also not the most creative idea.  However, for a freshman movie, it may be one of the better options.  This particular adaption is done well, but Box Office Revolution would have preferred it if the Biblical adaptation had been kept secret until later in the film.  Nonetheless, the plot is still above average.  The characters needed more time spent on them, yet the dialogue is passable.  Enough thought was put into this plot for it to be professional.  One other caveat to raise is the movie’s rushed and anti-climactic end.  But in the end, Seasons of Gray has a well-crafted plot that makes for an enjoyable movie.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Andrew Cheney is solid in his leading role, as he usually is.  The supporting cast puts on above-average performances, but we cannot shake the feeling that there is more they could have done.  The core cast is coached well and deliver emotions well, but they are not quite to the dynamic level yet.  Some of the background actors seem inexperienced.  Granted, this is an excellent start and far more commendable than many performances.

Conclusion

In the end, we are more than happy to watch a movie like Seasons of Gray, since it stands out among a desert of mediocrity and poor quality.  Even though it was not all it could have been, it is still a film worth a round of applause.  The Stehlik team is definitely not a crew to ignore—we expect to see even greater things from them in the future.

 

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

The Final Inquiry (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Tito Valerio Tauro, a Roman tribune, has been called from his post in Germania by the emperor himself in order to investigate the mysterious events surrounding the death of a Jewish rabbi in Judea.  Tauro elects to enter the province in secret, along with his German captive-turned-right-hand-man.  He comes into contact with people unlike any he has seen before, including a Jewish girl named Tabitha, who challenges him to look beyond Roman power and to look to other things, like love.  Tauro faces off with Pontius Pilate and rabid Jewish religious leaders in route to discovering the answers he is looking for.  Little does he know that he will find them in the places he least expected.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

On the surface, The Final Inquiry does not seem like a bad movie.  The production quality is average—the camera work is pretty good.  The sound quality is all right, but the video tends to be low quality.  The costuming is realistic, a contrast to many Biblical and historical independent films.  However, the editing is not up to par—this could be due the confusing and varied amount of plot content.  Overall, the production of this film is good, but not good enough.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

There are many interesting ideas packed into this film’s plot.  The concept of a Roman official investigating the death of Jesus is not necessarily new, but there is nothing inherently wrong with it.  However, the creators tried to force too much content and too many characters into this narrative.  There are too many subplots—not all of them are completed in the end; some of them just fall away.  Due to the large amount of characters, they all become shallow.  Some of the Biblical characters are downright creepy.  Most of the dialogue is forced and contrived.  Some scenes, especially those at the end, are very unrealistic and leave the audience wondering what actually happened.  It seems like multiple writers wrote this movie since it cuts back and forth without warning and changes tone in arbitrary places.  It is as if this is several movies that have been forced to be one movie.  In short, there are plenty of potentially interesting ideas in The Final Inquiry, but they are not delivered properly.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

The acting is the strongest point of this movie, but that is not saying much.  The actors are not dynamic; they mostly avoid major mistakes.  Some of the acting has a cheesy air of ‘Biblical drama’, as if people in first-century Roman provinces could not talk normally.  Also, this movie commits the typical error of Bible movies by exchanging Middle Eastern actors for mostly white British actors.  In short, there are no real glaring errors here, but nothing game-changing either.

Conclusion

Having an interesting idea for a Biblical-historical movie is not enough—it must be followed through with.  Characters must be developed and the plot must be focused.  Tossing a collection of intriguing subplots together does not make a movie.  Where The Final Inquiry could have brought more interest to Biblical movies, it only causes more disillusionment and confusion.  Hopefully future film makers will learn from its mistakes.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

Amazing Love: The Story of Hosea (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

On a small youth group retreat, Pastor Stuart senses that something is amiss with the group of kids he is responsible for.  A new non-Christian girl is among them, and her presence is causing divisions among the Christian teens.  He decides to try to get through to them by telling them his creative and family-friendly rendering of the Biblical story of Hosea and his tenuous relationship with his wife Gomer.  Ultimately, each person must decide how they are going to respond and to show God’s unconditional love for all people.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

The Christiano Brothers and Kevin Downes usually know how to produce a movie so that it passes as above average.  Amazing Love is no exception.  There are few overt errors in this film’s production quality.  The camera work is simple but not detracting.  The video and sound quality are fine.  The editing is fine, considering there is just not much content here.  The biggest problems with production pertain to the limited and cheap looking sets.  Some of the Biblical props and costuming seem low quality.  Overall, Amazing Love is good enough to make viewers watch.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

The premise of Amazing Love is intriguing.  Youth group issues need to be discussed in movies.  Biblical narratives need to be explored.  One has to wonder if Hosea was the best choice, but Box Office Revolution believes it was handled tastefully, even if it is slightly unrealistic.  Due to the dual narrative, dialogue is simplistic and characters are shallow.  The fact that there are two stories in this movie show that there is just not enough content to make this a dynamic film.  But the creators did the best they could with what they had, and sometimes that is all we can ask.  There are some interesting twists that keep the attention.  This plot will make people think and it is better than a lot of Christian films.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

The actors seem either wooden or childish.  Some of the acting is good, but some is not.  The more experienced actors deliver their lines better than others.  Casting might have been an issue in this modestly budgeted production.  Overall, the acting is just average.

Conclusion

Everyone needs to know that God’s love is unconditional, especially teenagers from broken homes.  The story of Hosea reminds everyone that God loves even those we considered to be hopeless and unreachable.  For a simple family film, Amazing Love passes the test.  Audiences need to be informed of Bible stories that are not often focused on.  Unfortunately, there was a low ceiling for this movie and it hit it.  But in the end, this is definitely not a movie to be ashamed of.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points