Esther [1999] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When King Xerxes banished his wife, Queen Vashti, for refusing to obey him, he called all the young women of the Persian kingdom to come and audition to be his new queen.  Among them was Esther, a Jewess, whose cousin Mordecai instructed her to hide her ethnic identity from the royal leaders.  Little did either of them know that she had been raised up by God for such a time to save His people from certain destruction.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Though this film was made before the 2000s, Affirm Films demonstrated even in 1999 that they were committed to professional production quality.  Video quality and camera work are good in this film, even if lighting is sometimes inconsistent.  Audio quality is average, and the soundtrack leaves something to be desired.  The biggest win for this production is the professional and historically authentic sets, locations, and props which demonstrate care for accuracy.  The editing is fine but it could use a little improvement.  Overall, this is a respectable production and shows why Affirm is where they are today.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

This rendition of the story of Esther was likely the first of its kind in the modern era, later to be follow by For Such a Time As This, One Night With the King, and the deplorable Book of Esther.  In this 1999 version, care is also given to an accurate retelling of the story, even if it is a little too literal.  This is the only film we’ve seen that portrays Xerxes very well and likely accurate to the historical figure.  At least this story shies away from the silly ‘love story’ trope that modern film writers try to force into the account.  However, the characters in this version still don’t seem like real people as they are too dramatic and boring at the same time.  There are a lot of dead sequences and not enough substantial dialogue.  Overall, this was a nice try, but not good enough.

Acting Quality (1 point)

This cast, though semi-professional, is overly theatrical and too practiced.  Though costuming is culturally authentic, the casting is not always this way.  Emotions are also forced and feel manufactured, like this is some sort of Bible play.  Yet not all is bad here and this rounds out an acceptable effort.

Conclusion

A lot of time and money was likely spent on sets and costumes in this film, much like its later relation, One Night With the King.  However, what both of these films forget is substance.  Though Esther is better at adhering to the true historical account, it is still not presented in an interesting way that will engage audiences.  Biblical film makers can learn from this to not abandon accuracy but still develop the characters like they’re real people, not lofty ‘heroes’ that have no connection to us today.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

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Paul the Apostle {St. Paul} [2000] (Movie Review)

Creepy Paul…….

Plot Summary

Saul of Tarsus was a ruthless man bent on destroying the church of Jesus Christ, until he had an unforgettable encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus.  From there, his life was never the same as he became Paul and effectively switched sides and became zealous for sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Though many were still skeptical of him, God was with him all of his life and used him to turn the world upside down.  His work as an Apostle of Jesus Christ is still affecting the world today.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

It’s clear that there was money behind this film—you don’t get the opportunity to make a more than two hour film every day.  For the most part, this production is average, with okay camera work and historically authentic sets and locations.  However, some of the video quality is blurry and some of the lighting in outside scenes is poor.  There is also an unusual use of weird special effects throughout, including an annoying use of negative video quality in an attempt to be dramatic.  We also are provided with unnecessary location subtitles as a crutch for bad editing.  With a such a large idea, editing is key, as it is in any epic.  Yet the editing of this film is totally off and allows the plot to focus on all the wrong things.  In short, a lot of wasted money was thrown at this production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Paul the Apostle gets caught up in the all-too-common trap of Bible films: using a movie named after a well-known Biblical character to focus on all kinds of useless side issues and peripheral characters.  It’s fine to make a movie about a character or group of characters who shadowed a well-known Biblical figure, but don’t pretend like the movie is actually about that figure.  Though there is a substantial amount of content in this film about Paul, this movie is not about Paul’s life, but about things that happened around Paul during random parts of his life.  It’s not like Paul has a small story—there is tons of content about him that would make an awesome movie.  Yet we are left with half-measures and allusions to what could have been.  As extra-Biblical events take up the time of this story, pointless time jumps are taken and tons of off-screen content is alluded to.  Dialogue is designed to move the plot along and only crafts characters who seem lofty and inaccessible rather than like real people.  Alas, what could have been with this very important and engaging historical account.

Acting Quality (0 points)

Once again, another Bible movie commits the cardinal sin of casting: British people trying to portray Middle Eastern people.  Thus, there is a lack of cultural authenticity that is not helped by the partially unrealistic costuming, the creepy makeup jobs, and the obviously fake beards.  This is not to mention the overly theatrical, dramatic, and breathy delivery of lines and emotions.  Unfortunately, there is not much good to mention here.

Conclusion

So you have over two hours of runtime and virtually only a third of your content actually pertains to the Biblical historical account of the Apostle Paul.  Very few film makers have the luxury of having this much time on their hands to craft a movie, yet this team decided to waste it on tons of non-Biblical and quasi-historical content, complete with large time jumps and completely unnecessary characters.  Besides this, the characters don’t even feel like realistic or authentic Jewish people, which is not helped by the fact that they are played by British people.  It’s no wonder so many people are weary of films that have the “Bible” stamp on them.  We eagerly await the day when Biblical movies are honest about what they are depicting and create historically realistic and culturally authentic portrayals of people in the Scriptures.

 

Final Rating: 1 out of 10 points

 

Miracles from Heaven (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Anna Beam is diagnosed with a rare digestive disorder, her parents, especially her mother, are thrown for a loop.  They question their faith as they are swept up in the chaos of medical treatments and tests.  In the face of adversity, the Beam family must pull together and dig deep to discover what they truly believe, because a miracle from heaven could be just around the corner.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

With top level production budgeting and resources, Miracles from Heaven is clearly a high quality production.  Everything looks great—camera work, video quality, sets, props, and locations.  Audio quality is professional, but the soundtrack is standard.  The only flaw to point out here is some lazy editing—there are a lot of montages and footage scenes that seem to pad the runtime.  But otherwise, this is the kind of production that should be the norm in Christian film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

It’s undeniable that this true story touched the Beam family in more ways we can imagine, and it’s always great to portray real life on the big screen.  This is obviously an amazing story, but we can’t help but feel that it could have been portrayed in a better way.  For one, though these are real people in the story, they don’t feel real, which is probably due to the fact that time speeds by in this plot.  There’s obviously a lot of ground to cover, but the pace of the storyline leaves little room for meaningful dialogue or character development.  This is a collection of snapshots—good snapshots, mind you—but snippets nonetheless.  In the end, many will find this movie enjoyable, but we just would have liked to get to know the characters a little better.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

This is clearly a professional and quality cast, as lines are mostly delivered well.  The main drawback to raise here are some over the top emotional deliveries.  But otherwise, each character is cast well and each cast member delivers professionally.

Conclusion

Stories like the Beam family’s story are powerful and deserve recognition in Christian entertainment.  They are meaningful and can be very powerful for those who watch.  Movies like Miracles from Heaven will have a lot of impact with a lot of audiences.  However, we would have liked to see the characters of this movie deepened so that its impact would have been maximized.  But as it is, many people will enjoy this film and it’s certainly something worth watching.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points