The Nativity Story [2006] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

The timeless tale of the birth of Jesus Christ, the Messiah and Savior of the world, has been told time and again, but rarely told from the correct historical perspective.  Mary, Joseph, and their families were real people with real struggles as they lived as poor people under the cruel dictatorship of Rome.  Elizabeth and Zechariah were a real couple who struggled with a real problem of not being able to have children.  The shepherds were also real people, living on the outskirts of society and shunned by the importantly religious.  Herod Agrippa was paranoid power mongrel who held his small locus of control in a firm grasp.  Yet his perceived power was no match for the divine plan of Yahweh.  The Magi were real truth-seekers who wanted to know the true meaning of the celestial anomaly they followed.  The lives of these characters all intersected in an epic moment in history when God stepped into the world He created in the form of an infant at the unlikeliest time and revealed Himself to the unlikeliest of people.  This story is not just for the holidays, but for every day, to remind us not only of God’s redemptive plan for humanity, but also to remind us that God works in ways we cannot even comprehend.

Production Quality (3 points)

Just as Jesus was born into obscurity, this film was created in obscurity and unfortunately still remains largely obscure in Christian circles.  But there is no reason for this.  Starting off, the camera work is superb in Nativity Story, as is the video quality.  The sound quality is above par, and the musical score enhances the viewing experience.  There is CGI used, but it is used properly.  The editing is excellent.  The surroundings and locations are authentic to first-century Judea, making for a realistically gritty experience.  This film joins an elite group of Biblical films as the only ones to capture the gritty reality of ‘Bible times’.  In short, there is nothing negative about this film’s production—it has every element needed to be perfect.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

As previously mentioned, this is not your children’s Bible nativity story.  Life was hard for Joseph and Mary, and the political climate was tumultuous.  Violence was a weekly occurrence and finances were very scarce.  Nativity Story correctly depicts all of these historical elements.  Joseph, Mary, Zechariah, Elizabeth, their families, Herod, the Magi, the shepherds, and everyone else are all very authentic characters that are accessible.  Too many times, Biblical films depict characters as lofty and otherworldly, but this group of characters is your everyday working poor or political elite.  The dialogue is outside the norm of Bible movies, but it pays off.  There are unique psychological\spiritual elements throughout that make this movie stand apart from other Christmas stories.  The one tiny complaint that keeps this film from being perfect is the fact that it slightly bends historical fact to make certain plot elements fit together.  However, this is still a masterful piece of screenwriting.  It captures the epic feel that this story needs to have and translates it in a way that all audiences will enjoy.

Acting Quality (3 points)

Nativity Story, in keeping with its usual themes, also schools Bible filmmakers in how to cast a film that is supposed to depict Middle Eastern characters.  Not a single British accent is heard among this cast, as each actor and actress is exquisitely placed into a superbly appropriate role.  The costuming is extremely realistic, thankfully forsaking those horrid church play robes.  Emotions are felt and lines are delivered excellently.  We really cannot stop saying good things about every part of this film: it is a force to be reckoned with.

Conclusion

Nativity Story earns an x-factor point for being generally awesome and for portraying an important concept in a great way.  It stands apart in a dismal holiday genre and owns the Biblical genre like a boss.  It shows not only what a Bible film should look like but also what the world Jesus was born into looked like.  It brings the real historical nature of the Nativity into your living room and presents it in a way that makes you want more rather than to reach for the remote.  Instead of watching those ridiculous ‘traditional’ films every holiday season, watch this one.

Final Rating: 9.5 out of 10 points

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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

 

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

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