• 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


    Thursday, August 03, 2017

    A.D. (2015) - Part 2

    This is part 2 of a series of posts covering A.D. episode by episode & are initial impressions not a review. You can read them all here.
    As I noted in my initial post in this series A.D. doesn't rush straight into the book of Acts in the manner that I, at least, expected. This episode, for example, is the second in a series of only ten, and yet we've still not got into Acts yet - this episode ends with the Ascension. Whilst I imagine the filmmakers had hoped for further series, A.D. - The Bible Continues didn't; NBC cancelled it July 2015 and talk of a new channel which would carry content such as this has not (yet?) emerged. So for now the series looks to be left high and dry in Acts 11.

    This episode is particularly strange in this respect. There's a great deal of weight put on the episode in Matthew 28 with the soldiers at the tomb and an early example of attempting to "control the narrative". Guards are dragged to and forth, examined and cross-examined, beaten and eventually murdered whilst Pilate and Caiaphas scheme. It all becomes a bit tiresome, with the only point of interest the way that Pilate gradually turns from the noble and indecisive-but-thoughtful leader of episode 1 to the throat-slitting, blood-thirsty tyrant he becomes here. Caiaphas eventually becomes appalled by the man he is doing business with, although it will be interesting to see how this turns out when Saul arrives on the scene.

    Meanwhile though Jesus is still around making resurrection appearances. It's strange that some of plays second fiddle to the film's zealous attempts to hammer home Matthew's apologetic concerning the guarding of the tomb, to the extent that it skips over Luke's story of Jesus' appearance on the road to Emmaus. This has proved popular with other filmmakers and has led to some interesting interpretations.

    That said we do get John's story of the appearance on the shores of Galilee. This was the episode's high point for me. The beach that Jesus appears on is busy relative to how it's portrayed in the handful of other films that include this episode, where it is often deserted other than Jesus and the disciples. Given the time of day I think the approach here is a bit more likely and whilst it loses something of the intimacy of a meeting alone, I think it emphasises Jesus being someone who was out among the individual people and like the relatively natural way in which it's portrayed.

    If that's the best scene, it's equally clear which the worst scene and for the same kind of reason. The Ascension is something that is relatively rare, at least as something that is visualised rather than something that happens almost off screen. Relatively few films have portrayed this, though notable depictions include Pathé's Life and Passion of Jesus Christ (1907), where Jesus is hoisted up to painted, hardboard clouds; the Jesus film (1979) where we get Jesus's point of view as the crowd disappears below him; Dayasagar/ Karunamayudu (1978) where Jesus becomes a massive figure against the night sky; and the flashing light disappearance trick of The Miracle Maker (2000). Here it's poorly executed CGI, which will only get worse as the film ages, and took me right out of the film. It's typical of these two series use of special effects - rather than doing something simple their budget could stretch to, they went for something spectacular that it couldn't.

    That said I'm kind of relieved to see the back of this episode's Jesus. Despite hanging around for two episodes the filmmakers haven't given him much to do, other than occasionally turning up smiling. Their interest mainly seems to lie in the fact that he is still around rather than in the person himself. It's not helped by the aesthetics. Whilst the dark-haired Jesus here is better than the blond from the original The Bible (2013) series, his look is far too bearded-Chippendale for my tastes. There's an attempt to roughen him up a little round the edges, but he's all oiled muscles, perfect teeth and shampoo-advert hair.

    However it's not just the visuals that are problematic, some of the dialogue in this episode is particularly poor. "Stay in the water like the eel you are" is one of the finer examples of bizarre phrases that feels neither historical nor modern day. In the opposite corner - dialogue that is meant to sound profound, but is actually pretty empty - was this: "We found nothing...and everything."

    In the next episode I'm hoping we get as far as Pentecost, either way I guess Peter will be the main character.  This is definitely a good thing as Adam Levy's performance so far has stood out in comparison to many of the others, and whilst this should be welcomed as a positive thing, it doesn't look too good if a humble fisherman is outshining the son of God incarnate.



    • At 2:44 pm, August 07, 2017, Anonymous Anonymous said…

      Perhaps, to a point, Zeffirelli was right at ignoring to screen ,,supernatural'' scenes like Transfiguration or Temptation; as the technology evolves, such renderings can only become cliché, especially since we speak of a 1 century AD.

      Philip Rasmus

    • At 7:17 am, August 14, 2017, Blogger Peter T Chattaway said…

      Re: "This episode, for example, is the second in a series of only ten, and yet we've still not got into Acts yet - this episode ends with the Ascension."

      Actually, most of what we know about the Ascension comes from Acts 1, not Luke 24. So on a certain level it is fair to say that Episode 2 gets us into Acts -- just barely, but still.


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