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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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