So why did my mom, my brother, and I venture into the 20-degree weather after dark, rush down to my granny’s house and put up with her yapping smelly dog, Baby, who insists on sitting on our laps for two hours? We’d heard the news that the History Channel had a new theologically-orthodox Bible series. And it was scored by the awesome Hans Zimmer. We don’t have cable, so it was time for a pilgrimage. Was it worthwhile?
Let’s face it, the Bible’s been done so many times that there’s not much you can do to make sand look different. Everybody expects bearded men, rough robes, camels, and miracles. The History Channel’s 5-part, 10-hour The Bible series is no exception. When it comes to design, though the special effects are better than most Bible movies, there several moments where I was thinking, I’ve Seen This Before.
But let’s be fair – part of the problem is that everyone has seen this before. It’s an enormous challenge to cover a book that’s 1000+ pages which is as familiar as the night sky. It’s made even harder by the fact that you have no main characters; everyone gets their bit and moves on. The only thing connecting the narrative is God and the surroundings. That said, each part was made memorable. The story of creation and the ark are intercut, with Noah narrating the tale of the Fall in a strong Scottish brogue (this, I love).
Skip ahead to Abraham, and the story slips into a real narrative. Josephine Butler and Gary Oliver, as Sarah and Abraham respectively, are both strong actors. Abraham’s longing for a son is tangible, and Sarah’s jealousy of Hagar is both vengeful and sad. There are other things going on: the Lot storyline, with the salvation and subsequent destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Jesus makes a pre-incarnate cameo, and two ninja-Jedi angels kick butt. But the real carrying emotion of the story lies with Abraham, and the climax is the very dramatic scene on what will be called the temple mount. Isaac’s acting is a bit too stiff and British, but Abraham shines.
Next up is Exodus. William Houston, known to me as Constable Clark in the Sherlock Holmes movies and John Boucher in the BBC’s North and South, makes a dynamic Moses. Overall, the story has a less cinematic and smooth feel than the animated Prince of Egypt movie (to which I can’t help comparing,) but Moses’s emotion carries the narrative, much like Abraham. Still, I feel like he could have been fleshed out more. It seems like each character is given one great hope or emotion, Abraham – love for his son, Ramses – hatred for Moses. While I understand that the producers are devoted to sticking strictly to the Bible, a little character rounding is surely not theologically unsound. From Exodus we can guess that Moses had a stammer or at the very least, serious lack of eloquence. That would’ve been interesting.
|William Houston as Moses|
I love the Old Testament. I know these stories inside and out. While I work I listen to Logos Bible Study’s great podcasts that reveal the fascinating historical, dramatic, and geographical details that flesh out these stories. Nuance is really the secret to the Old Testament. Unfortunately, The Bible doesn’t have time for nuance; they have to hit the major points and move on. I have a nagging feeling that it would've worked better if they'd chosen one of these stories (cough, cough, David - my favorite), and made a series.
However, I hope that in the next few episodes this will improve. They had a lot of very epic (and previously filmed) material to cram into one episode, and these are some of the most familiar stories in the Bible. As we get into some slightly less straightforward stories – David, Samson, and Jeremiah, for instance – there’ll be some room for drama, humor, and character development. I hope. Oh, and then Jesus gets a whole two episodes to himself, which ought to be good.
It was, in fact, very orthodox, and despite my hankering for a little extra drama, it stuck to the Good Book (refreshing, from Hollywood) and didn't speculate (fun though that would've been).
Overall, 3.5 stars out of 5.