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

 

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