• 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


    Friday, November 30, 2007

    The Passion Without Subtitles

    In preparation for yesterday's podcast on The Passion of the Christ I watched the film again. Although I've watched many bits and pieces of the film recently, I think this was actually the first time that I'd watched it all the way through since it came out on DVD.

    Remembering that, prior to the film's release, Gibson wanted to release it without subtitles (before church leaders apparently convinced him otherwise) I've long thought it would be interesting to watch the film in this way.1 Would it be able to "transcend the language barriers with... visual storytelling"?2

    So I did it, and I think the answer to Gibson's question is that it depends on how well you know the story. I know the story very well, in fact I even know his version of the story very well, so I certainly had a good general idea about what was going on. But I was also aware that there was greater depth in the dialogue that I was missing out on. Indeed for anyone who was totally unfamiliar with the story the question may well arise as to why this prisoner is of particular significance. Sure he's treated brutally, but if he's ultimately going to die what makes this story special?What was good about the exercise was that it did enable me to watch the visuals more closely instead of trying to quickly read the words as soon as they flashed up and then have a look around. It enables you to enjoy the lighting, the atmosphere, the detail and the camera angles a great deal more. In other words it brings out the film's strengths.

    At the same time, however, it also highlighted some of the film's weaknesses. In particular the frequent use of slow motion soon became tedious. It takes you right out of the moment and reminds you that this is only a film. "Look here's another camera effect", and so on.

    The other thing that removing the subtitles did was enable me to focus more on the languages. I did a year of Latin at school (and hated it. How many 12 year old boys wouldn't?) so I'm vaguely familiar with that, but know nothing of Aramaic other than "Eloi, Eloi lama sabbacthani". Without the words being translated through subtitles the differences between how the two languages sound was much more apparent. Of course, many have pointed out that it's likely that conversations between the Romans and the Jews would have taken place in Greek, which would have changed things somewhat, but it was still interesting to be able to tell which language was being spoken when.Three further observations: firstly I don't recall noticing before that the shot of Satan screaming after Jesus dies takes place on the top of Golgotha. In fact this is the same camera angle (the God shot) and camera movement (pan back / zoom out) that we see when Jesus dies, only now none of the human characters are on the set, and everything is shot using a red filter. This also suggests that this is God's view on things.

    Secondly, I was involved in a conversation a while back at Arts and Faith about the way the cross seems to levitate when the Roman soldiers turn it over to hammer the end of the nail round. I'd missed this on my initial viewings, but in watching again this week it was clear that the cross does indeed appear to levitate. Not only does it not slam into the ground (and this, remember, is a film where everything slams relentlessly into everything else all of the time) but also when the cross first begins to be tipped Mary Magdalene looks horrified, but then her reaction changes to a mix of relief and confusion. It's a strange moment in the film, and not one that is often discussed.

    Finally, Peter's denial occurs in the actual room where Jesus is tried and amongst a frenzied crowd. This serves to make his fear at this point a little more understandable.

    1 - "Mel Gibson's Passion", Holly McClure - New York Daily News, January 26, 2003 - Now available at crosswalk.
    2 - "Mel Gibson's Passion", Holly McClure - New York Daily News, January 26, 2003 - Now available at crosswalk.


    Thursday, November 29, 2007

    Podcast: The Passion of the Christ

    Why do these things always take until the last minute? Having tried to do everything well in advance, I've had a 'mare this month. The computer's been playing up, I've been absolutely exhausted everytime I sat down to re-watch the film and so on, but I've finally posted this month's Jesus Films Podcast. This month it's on The Passion of the Christ (my review).

    There are twelve other talks in this particular podcast.

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    Tuesday, November 27, 2007

    Sigl's 13th Disciple (13. Jünger)
    Jesus and his Evil Twin

    In what can only be an attempt to top the craziness of The Aquarian Gospel, German filmmaker Robert Sigl is planning to make a film about Jesus and his evil twin. The film will be produced by fieber.film who have this to say about it on their website:
    Der 13. Jünger (The 13th disciple)
    Are you sure you are ready for India?
    a film by Robert Sigl (director of Laurin, Lexx-The Dark Zone, School`s out, Island of Fear)

    Genre: Horror/Adventure
    Status: Script available, Financing, Shooting Autumn 2008 in India in english Language
    I've only had a brief search of the internet, but there are already quite a few pieces about this out there. A number of them are from India where filming is due to begin next year. The Hindu notes that the project is already a decade old, and like the Daijiworld Media Network repeats the filmmakers claims that the film is fictional and therefore not meant to be offensive.

    There's a also a piece from Reuters which describes the film's plot thus:
    It's a fantasy-adventure film and takes place completely in present-day India... The story traces the journey of two German archaeologists looking for evidence that Jesus visited India.

    The researchers, who are twins themselves, find that Jesus had an evil twin brother who is reincarnated in the present as the scheming head of a religious sect.
    Budget is believed to be about 5 million euros, and the cast will consist largely of Indian actors.


    Monday, November 26, 2007

    DVD Release for Exodus
    Plus a Few Additional Thoughts

    A week after its TV première, Penny Woolcock's Exodus has been released on DVD. TV DVDs do have a fairly swift turnaround these days and, I suppose, for one off programmes such as this it must make the most of the marketing opportunities, especially with Christmas just around the corner.

    When I first heard about this film being released onto DVD I had hoped it would contain some of the other films that had been made as part of the Margate Exodus project, and it looks like my wish has been granted. The main one I was hoping for was The Waste Man documentary - a 24 minute film looking at the making of and burning of Antony Gormley’s Waste Man sculpture that appears in the film. It aired on Channel 4 on 2nd Dec. last year. Curiously though it showed much earlier than the actual Exodus film.

    The other main feature, at least according to the official website's Latest News is that it will also feature a "Making of" documentary. I've not had a copy of the actual DVD so I can't comment much further, but the print of the film on the screener DVD that was sent out is probably the same one that will appear on the retail DVD, and it was pretty good.Now a couple of additional thoughts on the actual film. Firstly, (spoilers) the way the film handles the supernatural is quite interesting. At first it appears that the film will affirm the supernatural. Moses hears a voice during the burning of Jethro's funeral pyre telling him to lead his people to freedom. At around the same time we see the first of several "visions" that are experienced by Dada - a street child who appears to be mute. However, as the film progresses the voice that Moses hears fails to return, leaving Moses himself to choose his own horrific tactics.

    Yet Dada's vision's continue. He has four in total: Golden light bathe Moses as he showers; Jethro re-awakening while the residents of Dreamland pick through the ashes of his pyre; one I can't quite remember (to be added in later!); and Moses parting the Red Sea. However, as these visions continue it gradually becomes clear that these visions do not appear to be flashes of the supernatural but only the solvent induced hallucinations of a lost and disturbed child.In other words the only incident in the film that suggests the presence of God in the film (other than, perhaps, divine providence in Moses mother placing her son at the feet of Pharaoh's wife) is the voice Moses hears, which is, of course, open to a vast number of interpretations. It also suggests that the original Moses also only heard God, at best, vaguely, and perhaps not at all.

    The other minor point I wished to make was one regarding casting. Claire Ashitey-Smith appears here as Moses's wife Zipporah. Of course her biggest role to date was as the pregnant Kee in last year's Children of Men (my review). That film had been released after this one was made, but it's an interesting choice nevertheless as both roles are effectively re-contextualised biblical mothers.

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    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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    Wednesday, November 21, 2007

    Reviews for Exodus

    Most of the reviews for Penny Woolcock's Exodus ran in yesterday's major papers so here's a quick round up.

    The Daily Telegraph was fairly positive noting that "if the set-up led you to expect a neat, liberal parable of the oppressed versus The Man, then you’d have been wrong. Last night’s drama proved far more complicated and interesting than that."

    There's nothing in The Independent, but the other two broadsheets seem less impressed. The Guardian Preview article was fairly positive
    Woolcock's production doesn't always work, but it's nevertheless compelling. It's also quite beautiful, with even a dilapidated fairground possessing a grim splendour. And like the most powerful speculative fiction ...it's all about here and now.
    ...but the final review took the opposite position:
    It was clearly a well-intentioned production, but desperately uninvolving. Perhaps because of the limitations of the non-professional parts of the cast...You would need a classful of infant Oliviers to give lines like "My mummy cried every day, then she stuck needles in her arm" any pathos. As it was, you needed, as the man said, a heart of stone not to laugh.
    Likewise The Times said "good on the 600 Margate residents who had a whale of a time making community theatre this summer. But bad luck on us that it was filmed and filled two long hours on Channel 4 last night".

    There's also a Channel 4 microsite for the film which includes a photo gallery and some further information.

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    Tuesday, November 20, 2007

    BBC to Broadcast Liverpool Nativity

    Hot on the heels of Monday's Margate Exodus and 2006's Manchester Passion comes news from the BBC that they are to broadcast The Liverpool Nativity on Sunday 16 December.

    Like the Manchester Passion, The Liverpool Nativity will put the story in a contemporary context and accompany it with songs from the city's pop legacy. The program will also use the story to examine issues of immigration and asylum. Over 300 actors and 150 technical crew will used and the hope is that the production will act as a springboard for Liverpool's year as European Capital of Culture 2008.

    Cast confirmed so far include Geoffrey Hughes (Gabriel), Cathy Tyson (Herodia), Paul Barber (a landlord), Andrew Schofield (a shepherd) and Jennifer Ellison (an angel). Mary and Joseph will be played by Jodie McNee and Kenny Thompson.

    The Daily Telegraph are doing their utmost to stir up some controversy on it, wheeling out the vice-president of some obscure society to condemn it before it's even started, and listing the seedier previous roles that some of the cast have had. A more balanced report from a Christian angle can be read at Ekklesia, and both the recent press release,and an updated version of the original are also worth a read.

    Liverpool Nativity will be broadcast at 8pm on BBC Three on Sunday 16th December 2007.

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    Guardian on The Aquarian Gospel

    The Guardian has picked up on the Aquarian Gospel story I covered in September, and they seem to have unearthed a good deal more about it.
    "The Bible devotes just seven words to the most formative years of Yeshua's life saying: 'The boy grew in wisdom and stature'. The [film] will follow Christ's journey to the east where he encounters other traditions, and discovers the principles that are the bedrock of all the world's great religions," said Drew Heriot, the film's director, whose credits include the cult hit The Secret.

    The film, which is due for release in 2009, sets out to be a fantasy action adventure account of Jesus's life with the three wise men as his mentors. Although the producers say the film will feature a "young and beautiful" princess, it is not clear whether Jesus is to have a love interest.
    There are a few other themes coming through that the Variety piece suggested on such as ideas of meditation, loyalty to untouchables, Jesus's teachings having roots in Indian traditions, and so on. The piece also quotes Fida Hassnain, former director of archaeology at the University of Srinagar as mentioning that a tomb of Issa is still venerated in Srinagar, and claiming that there is archaeology to back up the film's unusual premise. "I have seen the scrolls which show Buddhist monks talking about Jesus's visits. There are also coins from that period which show Yuzu or have the legend Issa on them, referring to Jesus from that period.

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    Monday, November 19, 2007

    Exodus (2007)
    a.k.a. The Margate Exodus

    Tonight (19th November 2007) Channel 4. 10pm
    2007 has been a busy years for Moses films. The summer found David Wain's bawdy examination of the Ten Commandments in The Ten. Then, last month, Christian Slater voiced a CGI Moses in Promenade Pictures' The Ten Commandments. Now it's the turn of a British film to take a look at this subject matter in Penny Woolcock's Exodus - a modernised take on the Moses story set in Margate on the south-east coast of England.

    In this version of the story, the people of Israel are replaced by a group of immigrants and homeless people who are being incarcerated in a huge camp on the site of the "Dreamland" fun park. But as the police squads come in the night, one woman manages to escape just long enough to leave her baby with one of those who will remain outside.

    The outsider happens to be Batya Mann, the wife of the politician who formed the idea of this incarceration camp, Pharaoh Mann. Thus Moses is brought up the son of this Pharaoh, and the real story of his birth remains a secret.

    All that changes, however, when years later, Moses takes a trip into Dreamland, and kills a security guard. He's rescued by Aaron and Zipporah, but they reveal his true identity, and, as Moses is safe from prosecution inside the camp he decides to stay. Moses eventually marries Zipporah, and starts work for her father Jethro giving an education to the street children.There's always a danger when setting a well known story in a modern context that the parallels won't come off, or that the whole thing ends up feeling a bit contrived. Here, however, the various elements hold together fairly well. The idea of the "undesirables" of society being caged in seems a little far fetched until a reporter mentions the concentration camps of the last century, and it suddenly becomes apparent that these things are not as unlikely as they may have seemed.

    That said, a lot hangs on the relationship between Pharaoh and his wife. It's established right at the start that she is opposed to his politics, but as the film unfolds we discover that in spite of this there is a strong mutual love between them. In order to maintain this they have both had to lie to themselves - Batya that she will be able to change her husband's appalling politics, and Pharaoh that his beloved son is not related to the people he has so cold-heartedly locked up.

    The believability of this relationship is largely down to impressive performances by Ger Ryan (Stardust and Bernard Hill (Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers). It's no so much the way they deliver their lines as the way they carry themselves. Both are subtle and understated performances, and it's to the credit of Hill, particularly, that he is able to add some humanity to a truly monstrous character.What's fascinating about Exodus, however, is the way that we see the process happening in reverse in Pharaoh's adopted son. Initially, Moses seems to have followed in his mother's footsteps. He's compassionate, and troubled by the camp, smuggling books into it via his maid. But once Jethro is killed by a "Pest control" gunman he decides to start an uprising which becomes increasingly violent. He may be on the other side of the ideological fence to the man who brought him up, but he clearly has Pharaoh's ability to ignore the cries of his victims whilst in pursuit of his goal.

    Moses plan to liberate those inside the camp is by unleashing a series of attacks that function as the 10 plagues. Initially he uses his love of micro-biology to poison the sea with a red algae. This is followed by spreading devastating computer viruses, and contaminating food, and so on.

    The use of these plagues will be the largest determining factor in how people respond to the film. Some will argue that these modern plagues do not offer a fair comparison. After all, those in the Bible were the work of God whereas these are solely the work of Moses and his comrades. At the other end of the spectrum will be those who, for some time, have been troubled by the carnage wrought on the Egyptian people by the plagues and the death of the first born, and are pleased to see a film that gives voice to their concerns.

    There will be still others, however, who find watching this film is a genuinely disturbing experience, as, for perhaps the first time they see the story of the Exodus from the point of view of those on the losing side. The Exodus story has long held a cherished place in Liberation Theology, but it's rare that people consider the lot of the ordinary Egyptians, ruled by a tyrant, and blighted by plagues and the death of their children because of his stubbornness.

    Unfortunately, having pulled off this brilliant expose, the film flounders, seemingly unable to suggest a way forward. It's clearly not in favour of incarcerating any group of people en masse, but it's unable to give them the ability to rise above the morals of their oppressors. It's perhaps the starkest of warnings about the current course of this country's politicians on the issue of immigration, as if it's saying that if competition continues to mount over who can be toughest on immigration, then look what might happen. The problem is that this ultimately depicts those seeking asylum in an eerily similar light to the way they are portrayed by far right politicians.

    So whilst Exodus delivers strongly in it's re-contextualisation of the Moses story, it's arguably less successful in creating meaningful dialogue about immigration.

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    Saturday, November 17, 2007

    The Future of NT Gateway:Jesus in Film

    Mark Goodacre has been discussing for some time the future of New Testament Gateway, and he's just posted a lengthy part 2.

    In it he happens to mention his Celluloid Jesus pages which I have been an admirer of for a long, long time. Thankfully it appears that these pages are not to be retired. Here's what Mark actually says about it all:
    One other major part of the site needs a major overhaul, the Jesus in Film pages. This is something of a speciality niche, but it is a very popular section of the site, so it needs a major update rather than retirement. I will be asking for help on this section, and may even consider loosing it off from the main site and giving it its own lease of life.
    I'm glad he's taken this decision - as he points out these pages are very popular. Even without regular updates they still appear quite a way above this site if you search for "Jesus films" on Google. It'll be great when they have been updated. I'll keep readers posted as, and when, there's more news.

    Speaking of NT Gateway, Mark also has an interesting series of posts on the major agreements between Matthew and Luke against Mark.

    Friday, November 16, 2007

    Golem, l'esprit de l'exil
    (Golem, the Spirit of Exile)

    One of the reasons I first started this blog was to have somewhere to write down a few notes on a Bible film after I had seen it. One of the things I've found over the years is that by writing about a film I come to understand it more. But somewhere along the line, I've ended up only writing reviews, or scene guides, in other words things that are a bit more polished. This, in turn, means that I end delaying writing certain pieces until I forget about them and they never get written

    So I've decided to return to my roots for this one. The main reason for doing this is that Golem, l'esprit de l'exil is such a complex film that it's hard to really "get it" on a first viewing, particularly given the paucity of commentary and analysis on it. I may return, on further reflection, to write a more thought-out review, (particularly once I've had a chance to watch the interviews that are included amongst the DVD's extra features), but if not then at least I've documented my thoughts in some form.

    The story of Golem is not,from the Bible of course. It's based on later Jewish texts which describe an "animated being created entirely from inanimate matter".1 A wealth of stories have sprung up around these texts, involving appearances to Rabbis, defending the Jewish people from anti-Semitic attacks, and so on. The stories of these dumb, shadow beings, and the themes associated with them can be seen at work in more recent artistic pieces. The monster in Shelley's "Frankenstein" is clearly in this tradition. Other examples are Gustav Meyrink's 1915 novel Der Golem which inspired a series of silent movies, (such as the 1920 film The Golem) and Julien Duvivier's "Le Golem" (1936). Today "Golem" evokes "Lord of the Rings", which has clearly been influenced by these traditions.Having said all that there is also a strong biblical element to this film. This functions on two levels: narrative and text. The film's narrative is essentially a modernisation of the story of Ruth. Naomi and Elimelech are migrants in gentile France and their two sons are romantically involved with two gentile women. Elimelech's death is followed swiftly by his sons "being killed in a hate crime", leaving the three women alone.2 One returns to her parents, the other, Ruth, stays with Naomi, and the pair return to Israel. There Ruth meets and marries Boaz and eventually bears him a son.

    On a textual level there are, of course, a number of passages from the Book of Ruth. However, the script also quotes numerous chunks of scripture from various places in the Old Testament: Genesis, Ecclesiastes and the prophets. All of this is interwoven with modern day additions which give the biblical quotations a more staid feel whilst simultaneously underlining their importance.One of the most interesting things about this film is how it uses it's French context. As noted above, this is a gentile, and furthermore secular, setting, and there's a sense in which the characters of Naomi, Elimelech and their two sons always seem out of somewhat out of place. This is perhaps underscored most forcefully when the Orpah figure returns to her parents home. But it also has the effect of putting us (well, westerners) on the side of the original story's Moabites, rather than on the side of the original stories Israelites (as The Story of Ruth does by choosing a non-US actress to play Ruth).

    Whilst, on the one hand, being companions, there's a tension in the original story between Naomi, who is eager to return to her home land, and Ruth who is actually leaving her home land in order to stay with Naomi. This aspect is brought out superbly by what is perhaps my favourite shot in the film. Naomi and Ruth are seated on the back of an open truck, sights from urban France passing in the background. There's a deliberately unrealistic feel here which combines with the slightly meditative soundtrack to give the scene a feeling of detachment. But whereas Naomi sits out in front and looks forward to what's ahead, Ruth looks behind her with a certain sadness.

    Screen Shot to follow

    It's relatively unusual that films based on the Bible contain much nudity, perhaps because this might alienate some of the potential audience for such films. As Golem clearly isn't on a quest for ratings it's a little more free to experiment in this regard. So all three couples are shown in some sort of frank love scene, which as Peter Chattaway points out gives extra poignancy to the scenes following their deaths. Their depth of relationship has been heavily underscored prior to the tragedy.3

    There's also an unusual nude scene between Naomi and Ruth. This could also be interpreted as a love scene, especially as Song of Songs is quoted at the time, but there's little indication, at least from the acting that this is the case. Some scholars have speculated that Ruth 1:14's use of the word translated clave (traditionally used to indicate marriage e.g. Gen 2:24) suggests this, but personally I'm unconvinced. The book does indicate a strong attachment between these women, and the intimacy and tenderness of this scene, whilst clearly beyond the realms of the text, does bring that home.

    It's perhaps stating the obvious to say that this film also has a great deal to say about migration. Many consider the canonical purpose of the Book of Ruth to be to counter anti-gentile feeling during / following Ezra's reforms. Here Gitai is clearly keen to highlight the dangers migrants to the west - Elimelech is killed in a (preventable) industrial accident; his sons are "murdered" because of their nationality, and you get the impression that the police are not taking the case particularly seriously; Naomi is evicted and is told that she cannot bury her family in France, and thus, is effectively deported.

    I'll end with a quote from Gitai himself:
    "The Book of Ruth is based on a documentary story: a family in Bethlehem suffers from the famine there and goes to Moab, the "new country of exile". But the biblical writer takes this event and transforms it into fictional material. And this then becomes eventually even more than fiction: it becomes a sanctified myth. We, in turn, place the biblical story in the present and work with those ambiguities, but we strip away some of the sanctification, keeping the mythological echoes but placing them in the here and now. The issue of creation is the general framework of the film and, inside this framework, there is a permanent back and forth movement to the issue of exile. Through the Golem, I tried to deal with some of my own questions regarding the cinematic language. In Golem, the Spirit of Exile, the central spine of the story is the theme of being uprooted, which links the whole trilogy".4

    1 - "Golem" from Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golem
    2 - Peter Chattaway - "Passion disturbing, inspiring and challenging" - http://www.canadianchristianity.com/cgi-bin/bc.cgi?bc/bccn/0304/22passion
    3 - Peter Chattaway - OnFilm message board - http://groups.yahoo.com/group/onfilm/message/4404
    4 - Amos Gitai, in Yann Lardeau, "Les Films d'Amos Gitai", (unpublished)

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    Wednesday, November 14, 2007

    Evan Almighty UK DVD Release

    Film © 2007 Universal Studios. All Rights Reserved.
    Evan Almighty gets its UK DVD release on Monday, in what seems to be a slightly different version of the disc from that which was released last month in the US and elsewhere. I say that because my friend Peter Chattaway had his name included on the North American DVD for attending the promotional "junket" earlier in the year. This DVD doesn't have that feature at least.

    It does, however, have a very generous number of extra features, including several mini-documentaries. Indeed given the film's poor performance at the box office, and the wealth of extras already supplied in this release, it's hard to imagine a special edition of this film coming out any time soon. The full list of features is as follows:
    Deleted Scenes
    The Ark-itects of Noah's Ark
    Becoming Noah
    Steve Carrell Unscripted
    Animals on Set Two by Two
    The Almighty Green Set
    It's Easy Being Green
    Acts of Random Kindness
    A Flood of Visual Effects
    Casting Call Serengeti
    Film © 2007 Universal Studios. All Rights Reserved.
    For me, the best extras are always those that lead you to appreciate the film more, and there are at least 3 features here that tick that box, (although from a technical point of view more than anything). "The Ark-itects of Noah's ark" talks about the feat of reproducing Noah's ark for real, which is one of the film's most impressive feats alongside the use of animals. Evan used more animals than any other film in movie history, and so it's hardly surprising that it gets its own feature entitled "Animals on set two by two".

    The other more technical features discuss issues around Carell's make-up ("Becoming Noah"), and the CGI effects ("A flood of visual Effects"). I always find CGI docs interesting, but feel geeky afterwards for enjoying them as if they're some kind of guilty pleasure.

    The other features fall into two categories, those tied into the film's messages, and those that are just cast / crew enjoying themselves. This was certainly a "message movie", which aimed to challenge its audience to live more sustainably, and to engage in Acts of Random Kindness. There are two features on the first issue ("The Almighty Green Set", "It's Easy Being Green"), and one on the second ("Acts of Random Kindness"), which sometimes feels a little preachy and other times seems a bit token. For example, will the world really be saved by putting a quarter in a parking meter if someone's car has run out of credit?Film © 2007 Universal Studios. All Rights Reserved.
    In-jokes by cast and crew rarely make good extras, and this DVD is no exception. Whilst "Casting Call Serengeti" raises the occasional smile, "Steve Carrell Unscripted" is poor. In fact generally these extras supply ample evidence that Carrell is far more amusing when scripted than not.

    In terms of the movie itself (my review is here), the quality seems pretty good - although I'm no expert. The above image is the bitmap from my screen grab software so you can see for yourselves (click on it to see the full size image). Overall it's a decent release of this film, and, as there is unlikely to be a special edition in the near future, those planning to buy the DVD should probably go right ahead rather than wait for another, even more extensive version.

    Anyone interested in this DVD might also want to know that Peter Chattaway has also recorded an unofficial, downloadable, audio commentary for the film as well. There's also a new trailer available.

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    Tuesday, November 13, 2007

    November Faith and Film Blog-a-thon

    Somehow this entirely passed me by, but a Faith and Film Blog-a-thon ran last week and I totally missed it. And the worst thing is that there are no excuses as it was announced as far back as September!

    There are over 40 entries. I must admit I had no idea that there were quite so many Faith and Film blogs out there, particularly given that many of the ones I read regularly didn't even participate. I wonder if this is going to run regularly, in a similar vein to the Biblical Studies Carnivals, if so I'll have to enter something for future blog-a-thons.

    Two Bible film related posts are Joe's Movie Corner on The Prince of Egypt, and The Listening Ear's thoughts on Monty Python's Life of Brian.

    By the way I also discovered that RC, the host for this blog-a-thon, also wrote out a lengthy quote from one of my favourite 3 films Cool Hand Luke.

    Monday, November 12, 2007

    The Ten Commandments (2007)
    Scene Guide

    I've been meaning to post this ever since I wrote my review of Promenade Pictures'The Ten Commandments (2007), so here it is. Readers may be interested to compare it with the Scene Guides for a couple of other Moses films, last year's live action TV mini series The Ten Commandments (part 1 and part 2), 1996's mini series Moses (part 1 and part 2). I've been meaning to post scene guides for Moses the Lawgiver (1975) since July, but have never quite got around to it. Anyway, on to the scene guide for this film.
    Israel enslaved - (Ex 1:8-14)
    Moses on the Nile - (Ex 1:22-2:10)
    [extra-biblical episode - Opening credits]
    [extra-biblical episode - Moses and Ramsees play]
    Moses kills the Egyptian - (Ex 2:11-12)
    Moses sent away - (Ex 2:15a)
    Moses and Jethro's daughters - (Ex 2:15b-22)
    Burning Bush - (Ex 3:1-4:17)
    Moses returns to Egypt - (Ex 4:27- 2:23)
    Moses's first appearance before Pharaoh - (Ex 5:1-10; 7:8-13)
    Bricks without Straw - (Ex 5:11-21)
    Moses appeals to God - (Ex 5:22-6:9)
    Water to Blood - (Ex 7:14-25)
    Lice - (Ex 8:16-19)
    Frogs - (Ex 8:1-15)
    Flies - (Ex 8:20-32)
    Murrain - (Ex 9:1-7)
    Sores - (Ex 9:8-12)
    Hail - (Ex 9:13-35)
    Locusts - (Ex 10:1-20)
    Darkness - (Ex 10:21-23)
    Pharaoh appeals to Moses - (Ex 10:24-29)
    Passover - (Ex 12:1-28)
    Death of First Born - (Ex 12:29-30)
    The Exodus - (Ex 12:31-39)
    Pilars of cloud and fire - (Ex 13:20-14:4)
    Pharaoh changes his mind - (Ex 14:5-14)
    Parting of the Red Sea - (Ex 14:15-31)
    Song of Moses - (Ex 15)
    Water from Rock - (Ex 17:1-7)
    Manna and Quails - (Ex 16:1-15)
    Aaron and Miriam question Moses - (Num 12:1-8)
    Moses on Sinai - (Ex 19:1-6)
    Golden Calf - (Ex 32:1-6)
    Ten Commandments - (Ex 20:1-17, 34:29)
    Golden Calf - (Ex 32:15-)
    Building Tabernacle - (Ex 36:1-38)
    God changes his mind - (Ex 32:7-14, Num 14:10-35)
    Death of Miriam - (Num 20:1)
    Death of Aaron - (Num 20:22-29)
    Moses tells joshua about his death - (Num 27:12-23)
    Final Speech - (Deut 1:1-8)
    Death of Moses - (Deut 34:1-12)
    A quick look at that confirms one of the points I made about this in my review: this film crams an awful lot of the biblical material into it's 90 minute run time. A quick comparison with those other scene guides - which were for 3 hour productions - confirms this. There's obviously many more episodes that could have been included (battle against the Amonites, Jethro's visit, other rebellions etc.), but this is as complete a telling of the full Moses story as any other, yet in a fraction of the time.

    That said it's interesting how this film handles much of the material in a similar vein to DeMille's take on The Ten Commandments. (He made two versions in 1923 and then the Charlton Heston version in 1956. It's the latter one that is dominant in the public imagination, largely because it imports the best aspects - to DeMille's mind at least - from the first film, and expands on them.) So, for example, both the Ten Commandments scene and the Golden calf incident, are handled as DeMille handles them; Moses goes up a mountain, receives the tablets bearing the commandments, and returns to find rebellion in the camp, the punishment for which is wandering in the desert for 40 years.

    Biblically speaking, however, the Ten Commandments are given to all the people whilst Moses is at the foot of the mountain (although he has made several treks up and down the mountain by this point), and he then goes to spend time with God. When he discovers the people's unfaithfulness, the punishment is death to those who refuse to repent. It's not until the survivors refuse to trust Joshua and Caleb, as opposed to the other 10 spies, that the people are sentences to wander in the desert until they die. It perhaps not surprising that an animated film aimed at kids edits the material in this way, but the reliance on DeMille is striking. Another example is Moses' banishment after killing the Egyptian. I wonder to what extent the script writers were aware of this as they wrote?This is one of the only films about Moses that deals with each of the ten plagues in turn. The sequence in Exodus does become rather repetitive and so usually film-makers focus on the reaction to one or two before seguing their way through the rest of them, or just omitting / combining some of the ones in the middle before returning to the plague of death at the end. This one gives time to each of them.

    One thing I did notice, however, is that it moves the plague of lice to number 2 (rather than number 3). It's an incredibly minor point, of course, but that only peaks my curiosity. Why was this change made? (That's not an objection, by the way, it just strikes me as strange).There were also a few little visual things I wanted to add in her. Firstly, it's interesting how this film makes the giving of the Ten Commandments even more spectacular. In the DeMille films there are pyrotechnics as fire from heaven carves the words into stone.This film goes way beyond, as the two tablets are caught up into the sky in a whoosh of stars, and are gradually lowered in front of Moses. It's one of the film's most original moments, and, sadly, its worst.

    As I mentioned in my review, there are, however, some nice visual moments. I was reminded of the God shot during the parting of the Red Sea, which, again, is otherwise very DeMille. There's also a shot during the manna and quails episode of one of the older men, whose naked chest bears the scars of his time as a slave, and lends extra poignancy to the rose-tinted nostalgia that the people are expressing for Egypt and it's food.

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    Friday, November 09, 2007

    Catching up on Correspondance

    Photo by Dave Palmater, used under a Creative Commons Licence

    Thanks to everyone who has either left a comment, or emailed me in the last 6-7 weeks, and sorry that I've not replied sooner. Things have been really hectic, what going on holiday, trying to buy a house and going for new jobs, and I've got totally behind.

    I think I've now replied to all the the comments that have been left, so if you've left one since the middle of September you might want to check back to see if I've replied. I'll hopefully reply all the emails shortly.

    Please do keep your emails and comments coming. They are hugely appreciated, and hopefully once I'm back on top of them again, normal service will resume.

    Wednesday, November 07, 2007

    Atonement Review Up

    I don't usually plug my reviews of non-Bible films here, but my review of Joe Wright's Atonement has been a long time in coming, and, unless I find the time to go to the cinema a whole lot more than I have done recently, then there's a good chance that this will end up as my film of the year.


    Tuesday, November 06, 2007

    The Passion: Cast Update
    Graham, Nesbitt, Oyelowo and Wilton

    See all posts on this film
    Just been checking Wikipedia's article on The Passion and they had the names of some additional members of the cast, that I'd not heard previously. That in turn led me to look at the IMDb page for the film which now includes a quite lengthy cast list.

    Perhaps the most well known member of the cast is James Nesbitt (Cold Feet, Millions pictured below) who will play Pontius Pilate. Back in July I mentioned that producer Nigel Stafford-Clark had taken the novel approach of using well known actors to play characters such as Pilate that would have been well known in their own time. That said I've not been able to find out who (if anyone) is playing Caiaphas, and it would appear that the previously unknown Mary the Mother of Jesus is being played by TV stalwart Penelope Wilton.The name I'm most excited by is Stephen Graham (This is England, Gangs of New York, pictured top) as Barabbas. Graham's performance in This is England was one of the best pieces of acting I've ever seen, and if he's able to bring to Barabbas the pent up anger he has so ably demonstrated in the past, then it will make his scenes something to behold.

    Also fairly well known is David Oyelowo in the role of Joseph of Arimathea, a revelation that emerged from an interview with the Daily Telegraph. There are a couple of other newspaper articles which (very briefly) mention the appearance of these actors in this production. The Guardian has an interview with Penelope Wilton, and both the Belfast Telegraph and the Manchester Evening News have pieces on James Nesbitt.

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    Monday, November 05, 2007

    NBC to Modernise King David
    Working Title Kings

    I'm a bit pushed for time today, but just got time to post this one up. According to Variety, NBC are producing a modern re-telling of the story of King David, with the working title Kings.

    As Peter Chattaway notes, NBC are owned by the same company who owns Universal studios who have themselves got J. Michael Straczynski to write the script for a new David film which may, or may not be the one which Ralph Winter is producing.

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    Friday, November 02, 2007

    Ark (Poland 2007)

    Last month I tried to compile a list of films about Noah, which quickly became monstrous, so I never got around to completing the list and posting it up (although I might do one day). One of the films on the 'list' that did catch my eye was the polish film The Ark by Grzegorz Jonkajtys and Marcin Kobylecki. Here's the official website's synopsis:
    An unknown virus has destroyed almost the entire human population.

    Oblivious to the true nature of the disease, the only remaining survivors escape to the sea. In great ships they set off in search of uninhabited land. So begins the exodus, led by one man...
    It just so happens that it's due to play in Vancouver on the 7th November, or at least so claims Ron Reed who has the following blurb taken from the lucky cinema's mail out:
    The Ark: inspiration, experimentation and production
    with Grzegorz Jonkajtys, Director & Lead Animator and Marcin Kobylecki, Producer
    Nov 7, 7:30 - Tickets are $15 in advance, $20/$15 non-members/members at the door.

    Please join us for this special evening with the creators of The Ark, this year’s winner of the Best of Show from SIGGRAPH’s Electronic Theater program. The presenters will talk about their inspiration, concept development and creative influences, then go into a breakdown of production on this 8 minute film that combines 3D computer graphics with practical sets.

    Grzegorz Jonkajtys
    Animation Artist, Director. Graduated from the Faculty of Graphic Arts at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. He received an honourable mention from the dean of the Academy. His debut short animated film entitled Mantis (2001) gained widespread acclaim winning numerous prizes at Polish as well as international film festivals. For many years now he has been working in an American company, CafeFX. It specializes in special effects for big Hollywood productions. He took part in creating special effects to such films as The League of Gentlemen, Gothika, Hellboy, Sin City or (sic.) Pan's Labyrinth. At the moment Grzegorz Jonkajtys has completed work on his second animated film entitled Ark.

    Marcin Kobylecki
    Executive Producer at Platige Image the biggest CG animation and special effects studio in Poland. He is the Executive Producer of the short films The Cathedral, Fallen Art.

    If you would like to pick up your online order early, the Vancity Theatre box office will be open for will call Fri Nov 2 - Mon Nov 5, 7:15pm-8:30pm.
    Amongst the features available from the official website are two trailers and a gallery.

    There are also numerous articles on the pair behind this in various animation journals such as FX Guide and the CG Society of Digital Artists.

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    Biblical Studies Carnival XXIII

    Photo by Tim Parkinson, used under a Creative Commons Licence

    John Hobbins of has posted the 23rd Biblical Studies Carnival over at his Ancient Hebrew Poetry site. It's caused a bit of a stir by being fairly opinionated (in the very best sense of the word). It's nice to have something where the editor makes known his point of view. Mind you, I can say that as, thankfully, this blog wasn't one of those that came in for criticism!

    He's also added a related post - Biblical Studies Carnival XXIII: What I Left out the First Time - which highlights some of the articles that have been posted on blogs not working from within a Christian framework. It's a great idea, and it will be interesting to see if anyone follows it up.

    James M. Darlack is the man with a hard act to follow. For more details about these Carnivals, visit the Biblical Studies Carnival Homepage.


    Thursday, November 01, 2007

    Podcast: The King of Kings (1927)

    After a late night session early this morning, I've finally managed to upload the latest Jesus film podcast. This month I'm talking about Cecil B. DeMille's The King of Kings from 1927.

    So far, there have been twelve talks in this particular podcast. It's not too late to download the other eleven:Jesus of Nazareth, Il Vangelo Secondo Matteo, The Greatest Story Ever Told, Jesus of Montreal, Jesus Christ Superstar, The Miracle Maker, Il Messia, King of Kings, Last Temptation of Christ, Life and Passion of Jesus Christ and Jesus (1999).

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