• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as preparation for a future work on Straub/Huillet's Moses und Aron and a few bits and pieces on biblical studies.

    Matt Page


    Tuesday, September 25, 2007

    Testament: The Bible in Animation: Daniel

    My church is looking at Daniel next term so I thought I'd make a couple of posts about portrayals of Daniel in film. There have actually only been a handful - and the most significant is the version that is part of the Testament: The Bible in Animation series (1996).

    The series used different animation styles for each episode, here, as with the Creation and Flood episode, they animators used oil paint on glass. This creates an unusual effect, which is certainly very unlike anything most children are used to. That said the Testament series has always set it's sights on a wider audience than just children, hence why this production stands out from the whole host of cartoon about Daniel in the Lions' Den.

    Its use here is interesting as Daniel narrative is told as a story within a story. A mother tells her son the tale of Daniel as a way of giving him hope. This contrasts with most of the series where the stories are usually experienced first hand. So the washy animation reflects the fact that the story is presented less concretely than some of the other stories. It also leads to a rather gruesome appearance to some of the less child friendly moments in the story. The non-realistic animation makes these shots more permissible, yet paradoxically more disturbing at the same time.

    Watching the "Testament" series over ten years after it was first made, it becomes apparent that many of the actors who were involved have subsequently risen to greater prominence. In this case it's Bill Nighy who now has a great deal of Hollywood experience behind him. He plays Belshazzar, who, bizarrely, begins the Daniel sequence as an intrigued friend of Daniel's.

    Episodes from the Book of Daniel included in the film are as follows:
    [extra-biblical episode - intro]
    Jerusalem Captured - (Dan 1:)
    Daniel and his Friends Train - (Dan 1:3-21)
    The King Dreams - (Dan 2:1-30)
    Nebuchadnezzar's 2nd Dream - (Dan 4:10b-27)
    The King's Dream Fulfilled - (Dan 4:28-35)
    The Writing on the Wall - (Dan 5:1-31)
    [extra-biblical episode - Start of Darius's Reign]
    Daniel and the Lions' Den - (Dan 6:1-28)
    [extra-biblical episode - conclusion]
    I found the character rather hard to relate to. I'd always thought of Daniel as humble but steadfast whereas here he often comes across as obstinate. By contrast, King Darius is shown as fairly weak, although that is largely as a result of the biblical material.

    The most notable omission in this film is the jump from chapter 2 to chapter four. The script is able to do this because of Nebuchadnezzar's two dreams. Strangely it is the first, and most popular of these - the dream of the statue with feet of clay - which is omitted. The script starts off with the events of chapter 2 with Nebuchadnezzar having a dream that he wants his Magi to tell him as well as interpret. But when Daniel correctly declares and interprets the dream it has become the one from Daniel 4 (where Nebuchadnezzar dreams of a tree). It's an innovative way of editing the story, although as a result it pushes Daniel's friends into the wings even more.

    In addition to this, there are a number of deviations from the Biblical accounts. Firstly, Daniels faces a common enemy throughout the film in the form of the Chief Magus. Secondly, when Daniel's friends refuse to eat the meat provided they make do with little more than water, rather than vegetables and water as the Bible claims.

    The other deviation are fairly minor: as Nebuchadnezzar goes mad there is no voice from heaven; Daniel is present when the hand writes on the wall, and Daniel prays that those who set him up in chapter 6 are saved. But this is acceptable artistic licence in the whole.

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