For my money The Easter Experience series ups the stakes even further. It's very much made with the same kind of care, attention, evocative lighting and high quality cameras that are found in Rob Bell's Nooma videos, but since much of the footage is a recreation of 1st century Jerusalem, then there are all kinds of additional factors such as costumes, make up and sets that producers City on a Hill have managed to get right as well.
The Easter Experience is basically a 6 part DVD based small group course. The DVDs come with a resources CD, and a group leaders book, around which to structure the sessions. The core of each session however is the 20 minute film that explains the theme. The videos are fronted by Kyle Idleman, and whilst his voice plays throughout each film, the images change from shots of the action to shots of him sat on set as if he has entered Jesus' world. Some of the dialogue can also be heard in the recreated sections.
It's unfortunate that Idleman immediately reminds you of Rob Bell. The films exude the same quality and commitment to doing things right. Both Idelman and Bell are youngish leaders of big churches. They are both good-looking, fashionable and good in front of a camera. Their theology may differ, but it's hard to see The Easter Experience without thinking of Nooma even though the two projects are entirely different.
A more significant influence on these films would appear to be The Passion of the Christ. Certainly set design and lighting have been inspired by Gibson's film, and this is certainly not a DVD series that shies away from Jesus' suffering. Idelman's church is inerrantist so it's no surprise that those who had concerns over the portrayal of the Jewish race in The Passion will be a little uncomfortable with the occasional moment here.
The series works its way through the event leading up to Jesus' death and his resurrection. Part One - My Life has a Purpose - tackles Jesus washing the disciples' feet and contrasts it with the actions of Judas who is arranging to betray his master.(As an aside, Judas looks like the offspring of Colin Blakley and Peter Dinklage). Session Two - My Life Can Change - looks more at Peter's betrayal and (ultimately) his restoration. Three and Four - My Pain is Understood and My Life has a Plan - explore Jesus' suffering and crucifixion, partially through Mary's eyes in the latter episode. The fifth episode - I Have the Promise of Eternal Life - focuses on the repentant thief at Jesus' side. Idleman speculates here as to the thief's prior life, intending to ultimately enable the audience to relate to the character and make the link between him and them, and Jesus' forgiveness of both. Finally, as would be expected, the final session - My Hope is Secure - looks at what Jesus' resurrection means for us today.
Perhaps the series' biggest weakness however is the actor playing Jesus. Of course our opinions over portrayals of Jesus are highly subjective, but personally Shane Shooter's portrayal just didn't hit the mark. Sooter is also the film's director and I don't think is ability in front of a camera matches his talent behind it.
But overall this is a very good series of films, and perhaps the best DVD small group course I have ever come across. The theology is more conservative than my own, but its message is certainly communicated well and the images are beautifully shot. It might be pushing it to buy this in time to run a lent course this year, but it would be just as suitable for a Holy Week programme, or even small group seeker-friendly course at any time of the year. Trailers for each episode are available to view online.