• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as current film releases with spiritual significance, and a few bits and pieces on the Bible.

    Saturday, November 24, 2007

    The Fourth King

    The Fourth King was released on DVD on Monday which has given me the chance to see this short film for the first time. Strictly speaking, of course, it's not really a Bible film, lying more in the tradition of films such as Ben Hur and The Robe where Jesus makes a cameo appearance. Yet, as with those other films, the fictional element to the story does not annul the biblical themes which lie at its core.

    The Fourth King is a fresh take on the old legend about a royal astrologer who also sees the star of Bethlehem and sets out to pay homage to the newborn king, but is repeatedly delayed en route. The story has been filmed at least twice before. 30 years ago Romano Scarpa directed another animated version of the story, and 1997 saw the release of the live-action Il Quarto Re featuring Billy Dee Williams as Gaspar.In this version of the tale, King Mazzel rules a kingdom so small that it really only consists of him and his royal camel, Chamberlain. When the star appears they set off for their pre-arranged rendezvous with the other three kings. On their way, however, they encounter various people in need of their help - a stranded little girl, a lost tribe, a dying plant and some enslaved children. But each time they help those in need they fall further behind the other kings and it becomes even more unlikely that they will fulfil their quest.

    Fourth King is the work of Alexandra Schatz Filmproduktion, Kickback Media and Slugger Film AB making it a cross-European project (one site lists it as a English / German / French / Swedish / Swiss-German collaboration!). Directed by Ted Sieger and Michael Ekbladh from John Chambers' script, it's told entirely by narration (the UK version features Kevin Whatley).One of the film's biggest strengths is the quality of the animation. The figures are quirky and charming, and the world they populate is both stylish and distinctive. The animators know when to bend the rules to give the story a touch of magic. At the same time there's a simplicity to everything that befits the humility which lies at the core of the film's message. Equally impressive is Martin Brandqvist's subtle yet crucial score.

    The UK version also owes a debt to Kevin Whatley's relaxed narration. The story is told through the eyes of Chamberlain the camel, and Whatley does well bringing out the gentle humour whilst conveying a sense of significance at the same time. It's unclear whether puns such as the one about "oasis jokes" translate for all language versions of the film, but they are certainly an added bonus for English-speaking audiences.Without wishing to spoil the film's ending, it's fair to say that it provides a fitting climax to all that has gone before suggesting that whilst Mazzel and Chamberlain's path may not have given them the fame of the other kings, they did choose correctly. As such this heart-warming little film is likely to remain a Christmas family favourite for many in the years to come.

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    4 Comments:

    • At 5:47 am, November 24, 2007, Blogger Peter T Chattaway said…

      Sounds very similar to a Henry van Dyke story that was produced for television at least three times -- twice as The Other Wise Man (1957, starring Richard Kiley and Alexander Scourby, both of whom went on to be involved in word-for-word adaptations of Bible books; and 1960, starring Francis X. Bushman, who played the villain in the silent version of Ben-Hur), and once as The Fourth Wise Man (1985, starring Martin Sheen, Alan Arkin, Ralph Bellamy and James Farentino -- the Peter of Franco Zeffirelli's Jesus of Nazareth! -- as the voice of Jesus).

       
    • At 6:17 pm, November 28, 2007, Anonymous Edmund said…

      I bought a copy of "Il Quarto re" in Rome last month (no subtitles), thinking it was a version/adaptation of the Henry van Dyke short story -- it wasn't. It was about a beekeeper (played by Raoul Bova) who helped the Magi follow the Star. It was rather OK. Bova's character, think, was patterned after Disney's Aladdin/Prince Ali. Anyway, I haven't seen this animated version yet. I'm getting the DVD -- I like the stills (they're like book illustrations).

       
    • At 2:20 pm, December 04, 2007, Blogger Matt Page said…

      Thanks for your comments. I've not seen any of these films, or spent a great deal of time researching other films with similar content (I wonder how many Russian films there are that cover the Babooshka / Babushka legend for example). I might check Campbell and Pitts if I remember.

      Matt

       
    • At 2:21 pm, December 04, 2007, Blogger Matt Page said…

      Oh, and I meant to say that the film has subsequently been made into an animated book.

      Matt

       

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