• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as current film releases with spiritual significance, and a few bits and pieces on the Bible.

    Thursday, May 24, 2018

    Judas (2004)


    This review was originally posted on 7th April 2005, and I've been meaning to post it here ever since they deleted all my reviews a few years back. As someone emailed me this week asking about it I thought perhaps now was a good time to do so. I've not revised the text of what I wrote so please don't judge me on it too harshly. And if you enjoy reading it please consider a donation to web.archive.org as without them, you wouldn't be reading it. For another, similarly old, take on this film try Jugu Abraham's review

    It’s funny how you don’t get any Jesus films for a while and then three come along all at once. *Last year's The Passion of the Christ (my review) was preceded by the Visual Bible’s word for word rendition of The Gospel of John. Once The Passion proved to be the surprise hit of the year, US TV network ABC was quick to dust off it’s film Judas, (which had sat unloved on their shelves for a couple of years), and screen it shortly afterwards. It’s quite a surprise, then, to find it released for rent, in the UK – few American TV shows have made it so far.

    Thematically, Judas is similar to Jesus Christ, Superstar, even if its considerably more orthodox in its theology. As the title would suggest, it’s mainly focused on Judas, and how he ended up becoming one of history’s most reviled villains. Interestingly, whereas most Jesus films, except perhaps The Passion, try to whitewash Judas, this film presents a more complex character. It’s true that he ends up becoming a political pawn in a first century Roman-Jewish power struggle, but the character’s manipulative tendencies, uncompromising stance and social awkwardness are clearly shown as factors in his downfall. Yet unlike most other Jesus films, there is a glimmer of hope that Judas finds last minute salvation.

    In comparison to Judas, the flaws of which largely aid the intended portrayal, the depiction of Jesus falls well short. It is unfortunate that Jonathan Scarfe, who plays Jesus, has a similar face and expression to Matthew Lillard’s irritating reality TV D-lister in high school drama She’s All That, but even so, a casting director chose that face nevertheless. What is Scarfe’s fault is that he plays Jesus as a whiny spoilt child who is still to grow up. The turning of the tables in the temple, unusually included at the start (preferring John’s chronology to the Synoptics), is portrayed as a temper tantrum. The "get behind me Satan" incident is shown similarly. Whilst there are few other so direct examples, the "it’s not fair" look and the "if you don’t do what I say I’m going to tell my dad" glare are never far away. Whilst not as bad as Glen Carter’s disastrous, pouting, Jesus in the 1999 filmed for video version of Jesus Christ, Superstar, it runs a close second. If Jesus really was like that, Judas must have had the patience of a saint to put up with him as long as he did. I would have shopped him long before, and spent my 30 pieces of silver on a grandstand seat.

    It is a shame that that Jesus’s role is portrayed so woefully. Judas’ emphasis on Jesus as a miracle worker would otherwise have been a welcome relief to the scores of versions which have focused only on the ‘great teacher’ while marginalising the signs and wonders which the gospels suggest were the key to Jesus’s popularity.

    Like its protagonist, Judas is certainly not all bad. The sets and costumes are fairly impressive, even if you get the impression that this was the only pocket of the Roman Empire where dentistry was flourishing. And the modernising of the dialogue is a worthy effort, even if it fails a few times.

    However, such a weak portrayal of Jesus will undermine any story he features in. Jesus is such a crucial figure in human history that we are only aware of characters such as Judas because of how they impacted his life. So whichever executive consigned this to an early ABC grave prior to its unexpected resurrection as a shameless cash-in was probably right. Leave this at Blockbuster and go watch, the Jesus mini-series, The Gospel of John or Jesus Christ Superstar live on stage instead.


    *Like I said above, this was originally written in 2005, so I left the chronology in to reflect the era it was from.

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