Barabbas, Season 1 [2012] (Series Review)

Billy Zane to Portray Barabbas, Murderer Chosen Over Jesus, in ...

Plot Summary

Barabbas led a band of rebels against the occupying Roman government, but his criminal activity led him to have close contact with Jesus at His own trial. Barabbas was set free in exchange for Jesus, but afterward, he was faced with a series of choices. What would he ultimately decide?

Production Quality (2 points)

As a well-funded production, Barabbas has fine video quality and camera work. Its sets, locations, and props demonstrate great historical authenticity. Audio quality is passable despite a generic soundtrack. The biggest issues with this section is the poor editing, which is evidenced by quick cuts and abrupt transitions. Otherwise, this is likely the season’s best element.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Even though this miniseries contains a slightly interesting premise, it’s difficult to connect with the characters as they seem to just be pawns in the plot. Barabbas has some believable aspects to his personality, but all of the characters need a lot more work with more substantial dialogue and flashbacks in order to avoid their being very blank and generic. As usual, Jesus is portrayed in a very odd way, and the narrative is full of pronounced and forceful drama. Action and fighting scenes fill time and circumvent opportunities to establish reasons why the characters do what they do besides what the storyline wants them to do. This wasted time also causes important scenes to be quickly skipped through, which causes off-screen content to be referenced rather than shown. Some scenes go by really fast for the sake of hitting certain high points while others contain some oddly suggestive content that seems very out of place. Although there are too many characters as too many things are trying to be done at once and while the main character’s motivations don’t make much sense, the ending is actually unique. However, it takes forever to get there and lacks the proper build-up, which rounds out a section with slight potential yet plenty of problems.

Acting Quality (1 point)

In keeping with other offerings from the Trinity Broadcasting Network, the acting of Barabbas is only dramatic and theatrical. Many cast members come off as robotic, and most of the actresses seem like they’ve been coached (or even forced) to sound like they’re always out of breath. Much of the makeup work is unusual, and the cast isn’t always culturally authentic. Elsewhere, the injury acting is quite poor. Nonetheless, despite these obvious concerns, there are some positive moments of acting, and it tends to improve with time.

Continuity Quality (1 point)

Throughout this fairly short miniseries, it’s hard to keep up with the different timelines. Many things just happen with no warning, lead-up, or explanation. Also, the tone is constantly changing throughout the saga, which hampers continuity. As such, there’s often no real driving focus even though it’s named after a historical character. Nonetheless, much like other elements there is some slight potential in the series’s latter third, which is enough to save this section from a null score.

Conclusion

In the end, there’s unfortunately not much to work with in Barabbas. It had a lot going for it to be a unique take on a biblical narrative, but fell short in nearly every category. It could never decide what it wanted to be and thus isolated all potential audiences. Now, it’s simply been forgotten by much of the Christian realm and only serves as an example of how not to do it.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 14 points

Ben-Hur [2016] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Judah Ben-Hur was a prince of the Jews, and he was close with Messala, his adopted brother.  However, after Messala leaves to make a name for himself in the Roman army, their friendship was strained.  But disaster struck the Ben-Hur family when they were falsely accused of an assassination attempt against a Roman leader.  Messala refuses to acquit them and thus allows Judah Ben-Hur and his family to be taken captive by cruel Rome.  Years later, when given a second chance a life, Judah must decide how he is going to respond.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

The one thing you can say for Mark Burnett and Roma Downey is that they know what it takes to fund and create a top-notch production.  In this controversial remake, there are at least good on-set locations and realistic props.  Camera work is usually good in action and non-action scenes, but sometimes there is some dizzying and wild camera work.  Video quality is obviously clear and lighting is professional.  There are no audio errors, but the soundtrack sometimes does not fit the historical period.  Finally, the editing is quite poor as this previously three-and-a-half-hour film is shoved into a two-hour runtime.  But otherwise, this is the sort of production we need more of in Christian film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

When an original film is so iconic, there is little point in trying to remake it except to make money off of the name.  The original Ben-Hur was a ground-breaking classic for its time, which makes even more ridiculous the fact that this modern take on the story completely alters the original plot for no reason.  As Morgan Freeman tells you everything you need to know through narration, time rushes by at breakneck pace in an attempt to hit all the carbon-copy high point scenes of the original film.  Thus, as the film speeds along, there is no time to get to know the characters or connect with their struggles.  One minute they’re here, and the next minute they are there.  The presentation is so lazy and pandering that it’s laughable.  The writers do just enough to remind you of the old movie while at the same time turning the plot inside out for little reason.  The whole experience is overly dramatic and off-putting, thus making for a disappointing film.

Acting Quality (0 points)

As if changing the story wasn’t enough, Burnett and Downey had to drag a whole slew of BRITISH people to play Jewish and Roman characters again.  What would people have said if Morgan Freeman’s African character had been cast as a white British dude?  Besides cultural inconsistencies, the acting is simply too dramatic.  Though the costuming is historically realistic, it’s not enough to make up for the mistakes of this section.  This is another bust.

Conclusion

Burnett and Downey have perfected the model of lazily ripping off and ruining Biblical and historical plots in order to make money.  What they have not perfected is actually using the rare money and resources they are able to somehow acquire for their films for something good and effective.  They are one of the rare production teams that have the ability to actually make a respectable, well-marketed, and recognizable Christian movie, but they fail at it every time, even drawing criticism from mainstream outlets.  The question is, where do they go from here?

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points