• 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


    Wednesday, July 19, 2017

    A.D. (2015) - Part 1

    This is the first in a series of posts covering A.D. episode by episode with fairly unvarnished comments rather than a more crafted review.

    Roma Downey and Mark Burnett's A.D. Kingdom and Empire (or A.D. The Bible Continues if you live in North America) is the sequel to 2013's The Bible and 2014's Son of God, and a remake of the 1985 series A.D. so it's kind of surprising that the events it depicts start on Maundy Thursday before even Jesus has died. There's a new actor playing Jesus (as opposed to The Son of God's Diego Morgado), this time it's the turn of the darker Juan Pablo Di Pace, though some of the original actors do survive to the new series. There are a couple of other notable casting decisions as well. Joanne Whalley (Scandal, The Borgias) plays Pilate's wife, whilst Vincent Reagan, who played King Mattaniah in 1998's Jeremiah plays Pontius Pilate.

    Part 1, then, covers the kind of material that usually belongs to the end of Jesus films. starting with Jesus' trial at the house of Caiaphas and ending, with the empty tomb, so there's plenty of scope for comparison with other productions. From a historical-ish point of view, Jesus is crucified with nails through his hands, in contrast to the recent trend in favour of archaeological findings suggesting the nails went through the wrists. We don't get to see whether Jesus carries the whole cross or just the cross beam, though a later shot of the cross itself suggests the carpentry is too elaborate for the latter and it nails its colours to the mast on th eissue of whether or not Jesus was crucified on the day of Passover. Furthermore, the key Roman soldier, who claims responsibility for actually killing Jesus, turns out to be called Cornellius who, presumably, is going to pop up in a later episode.

    That clarifying shot of the cross is from a rather odd scene of Caiaphas visiting the now empty and deserted cross, and surmising that he "bled like a man" before ordering it to be broken up, which suggests he is able to order Roman soldiers about? Either way, this assertive view of Caiaphas ia fairly prevalent. Pilate is reticent about killing Jesus whereas Caiaphas and the crowd are insistent Caiaphas is far too cosy with Pilate, and the account of the soldiers being posted at the tomb is exaggerated. In one later scene he paces around Pilate's office, whilst the prefect lounges passively in his chair.

    And from an anti-Semitism point of view its a bit troublesome. There's a large crowd calling for Jesus death and this is not just at Pilatre's house, there is also a large baying crowd at Caiaphas' house. That said much of this is offset by showing Caiaphas' home life' his wife and kids, and by the way Joseph of Arimathea is shown as in Caiaphas' inner circle.

    "He was killed for the repeated blasphemy of claiming to be the Messiah", which again isn't really true. Jesus did tell the woman in John 4 that he was the Messiah, and he praised Peter for calling him that, without actually affirming the claim. He clearly thought of himself as special and acted in ways consistent with being the messiah but by the point of his trial he certainly hasn't been "repeatedly claiming" he is the messiah. And if, when pushed to answer if he is "the Christ", he affirms it, this is not really consistent with "repeatedly claiming" his messiaship.

    Of course that's something of a nit-pick, however it's typical of the way this episode (and I guess we'll see about the series in general) features characters speaking with the hindsight, interpretation and overconfidence of some modern evangelical preachers. Their comments are neither a strictly accurate refelction of what is in the gospel, nor the kinds of things these characters would have ever said. They're anachronistic, modern, western Christian refelctions on the gospels, not the things themselves.

    Case in point, here, everyone seems very sure Jesus prophecied that he would rise from the dead. Mary recalls Jesus' "prophecy" that "on the third day he promises  to rise from death" which is a stretch both theologically and indeed grammatically. Jesus may have made such claims, but none of his followers seem to grasp what he's saying. It therefore even less likely that Caiaphas would have heard and so interpreted these claims, but this is what we find in Matthew's gospel, (27:62-66), but I've long found this passage and its conclusion (28: 11-15) kind of hokey, but I guess many of you wouldn't see it that way. If so you'll be pleased because this is pretty much how A.D. plays it, Caiaphas anticipates that the disciples are going to try and raise the tomb after three days' and so pushes for a full Roman guard. This feels kinda hokey to me to, but I guess, on this point, I can't legitimately criticise it for being fairly faithful to the text, at least in this instance.

    One of the consistent tendencies which I criticised The Bible for was this bombastic exaggeration - scenes dialled up to 11, making scenes far more dramatic and over the top than they are in in the original and so here the earthquake accompanying Jesus' death causes huge destruction, outing even DeMille's version of this scene in the shade, with numerous fatalities. The shot (above) from inside the holy of holies as the curtain is torn in two is interesting, however, in spite of being a bit much. To an even greater extent, the resurrection scene really outdoes itself, with a flaming commet that turns into a armour clad angel, some hearty singing and a tomb that glows from the inside. This also gives some context to those large crowds calling for Jesus' death, whilst the filmmakers should be wise as to how their film portrays Jewish culpability, their choice of these large crowds is primarily driven by making every, single, aspect of their film scaled up and and over the top.



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