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    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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    Sunday, December 22, 2019

    Greatest Heroes of the Bible: Sodom and Gomorrah

    In my review of the previous episode of this series I noted how so many of its instalments tend to shape the narrative into the same essential plot. God's hero is the leader of a small but devoted band of Hebrews who face conflict with the ruling powers of a nearby settlement, whose wicked ways ultimately cause their destruction as God steps in during the final moments.

    If ever a story was set-up to adhere to this formula it was the story of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19). Yet surprisingly, the screenwriters display a certain reluctance to take the most straightforward approach to their task. Part of this is because they combine the story of Lot's clashes with the townspeople with the other main story about him in Genesis, that of his capture by the four kings led by Kedorlaomer (Gen 14). This version has the king of Sodom factoring into his dealings with Lot the threat from this alliance, and the potential for Abraham to intervene on their behalf. Sadly the king's political machinations start to feel a little bit like those from The Phantom Menace (1999).

    Eventually, however, Sodom is visited by the two angels, and Lot's unease with the morality of the city is revealed to be more than just a hunch. Interestingly, though, any mention of the Sodomites attempting to rape the angels is omitted. The sin of Sodom is - as with the other cities in the series to fall foul of God's judgement - more about extortion, exploitation and slavery than about sex. I'm not quite sure whether this is due to a desire to avoid the homophobia that has blighted several key adaptations of this story, or simply because angel rape was deemed an unsuitable topic for an early evening*, mainstream TV series at to make of this.

    The special effects team attempts to go all out here, but leaves the budget too thinly spread. When the angels step into defend Lot from a rather threadbare mob they repel them using rays emanating from their hands, both unnecessary and ineffective. There's no sight of the burning sulphur raining down on the city from on high, instead we're treated to number of different shots of buildings (models?) crumbling and falling apart, with the occasional fork of lightning. Finally Lot's wife turns to look back and is turned to stone in a slow wipe-dissolve revealing a statue which is less a pillar of salt and more like a tomb in a 15th century church, only not nearly as beautifully rendered. The blame placed on Lot's wife never really plays well in adaptations of this story, but here's it's already been preceded by a scene where Lot clearly considers his wife's attempts to integrate with the locals a step too far, and so comes off even worse. All in all not a great version of this story which is, after all, one of the most frequently covered stories in the Hebrew Bible.

    *Incidentally, I came across a scathing review of the first clutch of episodes to air in the New York Times archive which includes describing the scripts as "atrocious, veering between the plastic vernacular and the mock portentous" and ends insisting that the names of creators Charles E. Sellier Jr. and James L. Conway "ought not to be lost to the history of schlock".



    • At 4:08 pm, December 31, 2019, Anonymous Anonymous said…

      "When the angels step into defend Lot from a rather threadbare mob they repel them using rays emanating from their hands, both unnecessary and ineffective."

      Still beats the ninja angels of the Bible miniseries though. :-)

    • At 8:52 am, January 24, 2020, Blogger Matt Page said…

      Yes, agreed. They are terrible!



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