• 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


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    Saturday, March 28, 2015

    Mysteries of the Bible: Jesus

    Last night saw what appears to be Channel 5's Easter religious offering the first in an supposedly four-part series called Mysteries of the Bible. I say "supposedly" because despite it being claimed in numerous places that this was the first episode of four, I've not managed to find anywhere that gives any details away about the final three instalments.

    The plot thickens still further as it turns out that this episode was actually a re-edited version of a 2014 National Geographic documentary The Jesus Mysteries (currently available on YouTube). Indeed the game is rather given away by the repeated use of the (above) title card from the National Geographic programme using the original title rather than Channel 5's re-brand.

    This version of the documentary is rather shorter as well. Whereas the original ran for 2 hours with adverts (or 90 minutes without) this cut barely makes it to the hour mark with the adverts, leaving just 45 minutes of actual content. Whereas the original version looked at seven mysteries, here there were only five (nativity, childhood, miracles, Mary and crucifixion, leaving out segments on St. Peter and the veil of St. Veronica).

    Overall it's a strange mix. The producers chose a good group of scholars for their talking heads - Bart Ehrman, Helen Bond, Mark Goodacre, Shimon Gibson, Larry Hurtado and Kate Cooper amongst several others and use them quite well. Apparently all the interviews were conducted at an SBL conference which reflects the kind of economising that is reflected in other parts of the film, although not always with such good results.

    For example, an awful lot of "green-screening" has been used to make this production and so much of it is so poorly executed that it's not only painfully obvious but rather tiresome by the end. Likewise there are several special effects, but the filmmakers' enthusiasm for them does not match the quality of their execution. Too many of the effects used are akin to the kind of filters you get in cheap video and photo editing packages that no-one uses except teenagers trying to impress their friends on Facebook.

    Content-wise, though, four fifths of it is pretty good. It's not exactly new or ground-breaking, but it's well put across and there were a few points with which I was unfamiliar. But that good work is rather let down by the section which examines the theory that Jesus, as a boy, travelled to Cornwall. It's such a bonkers theory that even those consultants who feature in this section are still fairly dismissive barring the one Cornwall local who has a corresponding book to sell. The others, presumably, will no doubt be cursing their tact. In the end even the narrator can't quite muster enough enthusiasm to give things any credibility. You wonder why the filmmakers included the segment at all and even more baffling is why Channel 5 left this part in at the expense of the sections on Peter and Veronica.

    In contrast the strongest section is the one on Jesus' miracles which gives particular emphasis to the social implications of Jesus' healings. The film stresses not only that Jesus' actions included those who had previously been excluded, but also that it was in breaking these taboos that got Jesus into such a lot of trouble.

    So whilst it is rather marred by the "Jesus tours England" section, it has some surprising merits as well and many of the audience will feel that, on balance, it was just about worth their time to watch it.



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