The story of Jesus’ life has been recounted so many times by so many people that even non-believers and diehard atheists know its pitstops as fluently as their multiplication tables. Every time a non-Christian enters a movie about Christ, he or she expects to learn something new about the man, the god, and ultimately the religion. Why else would one go to see a religious movie? I am sure that if I went to see a serious movie about the prophet Muhammad, or about Siddhārtha Gautama, I’d want to leave the cinema with a deeper understanding and respect for the religions that I perhaps know not enough about.
So we have Son Of God, a biblical movie by Christopher Spencer that’s adapted from a television miniseries called The Bible. This I believe; the movie has the charisma and quality of a television series. The sweeping panoramas of an ancient Jerusalem are the kind you’d find on the History Channel’s latest documentary about ancient people in ancient cities. The visual effects people have even tried to cover up their failings by softening the focus of these extreme wide shots, as if blurriness is a remedy for underachieving.
This movie does not inspire. It does not enlighten. It does not entertain. I am a Catholic, so I grew up studying these stories and believing in them wholeheartedly. Throughout my lifetime I have seen great adaptations of them — from Robert Powell’s epic version that chronicles Jesus’ life from birth to death and then beyond, to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s rock musical Jesus Christ Superstar — so I know, based on education and judgement, which versions to cherish and which to put aside. After seeing Son Of God, I am convinced that even a newcomer to Christianity would put it aside and seek out a different Christian film.
I recommend The Passion Of The Christ.
What we have here is not a story, but a collection of events incidentally placed one after the other to make up the idea of a story. Each scene progresses as if the audience knows what to expect and need only wait for the right moment to expect it. This is more true in the earlier parts of the film, before Jesus’ arrest. You can tick the events off: Jesus recruits Peter (Darwin Shaw); Jesus delivers the sermon on the mount and preaches the Beatitudes; Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead and feeds a crowd of thousands with only five loaves and two fish; Jesus walks on water during a stormy night out at sea and is disappointed that Peter’s faith is permeable; Jesus rescues a sinner from being stoned to death; and so on. Maybe it is because I know the stories from my childhood, but I found myself anticipating scenes as soon as they began. Where this movie will be truly horrifying is when non-believers anticipate the scenes just as readily.
The casting is misguided. In Mel Gibson’s The Passion Of The Christ, Jesus and all his apostles and opposers looked Hebrew. Maybe they had their noses touched up, or their skin darkened slightly. They looked perfect for the part, and they acted perfect for the part. And then they spoke in Aramaic, a dead language specifically revived and reconstructed for the film. The world was finite and definitive. And we believed every second of it.
In Son Of God, most of the characters look like GQ centrefold models. Jesus is played by Portuguese actor Diogo Morgado, who used to be a model. He is too handsome for Jesus, too handsome to play a man who held no credence in appearances. Spencer does a fine job retaining the brutality of Jesus’ crucifixion — where the majority of Jesus’ face and body is drenched in blood — but in the early moments we get the feeling that Morgado wants to look like Jesus, not be like him. He is the clean-cut poster boy for all the images of Christ you’ve come to know. I’d also like to point out to the filmmakers that plastic surgery and Botox had not yet been invented during the time of Jesus. So the fact that his mother (Roma Downey) clearly has had some reconstruction work done to her unnaturally smooth face is a cause for concern.
Does Christ really need another story told about him? Especially one that’s assembled from parts of a miniseries that itself opened to lukewarm reviews? What was wrong with Jesus Of Nazareth? For Christians this movie might mean something. They might go in and see something they have never seen before. But I worry for the non-Christians who go in to this film with the hope that they will learn something truly inspiring about Christianity. They won’t. What they will learn instead is that there are better movies about God out there, and reaching out for them might be considered a charitable act.
Best Moment | Nope.
Worst Moment | Eve looking like a naked supermodel. Yeah, Adam was just that lucky.