The Bible / What works and what doesn’t in the ambitious mini-series

It’s common these days for each new episode of a TV series to begin with a montage that sums up all the relevant plot points from previous episodes. So it was only natural that, when the History Channel aired its five-part mini-series The Bible over the month of March, all but one of the episodes began with narrator Keith David intoning, in his deep baritone voice, “Previously, on The Bible…”

All of the show’s strengths and weaknesses are captured in that one phrase. Produced by Mark Burnett (a TV mogul best known for unscripted “reality” shows like Survivor and The Apprentice) and his wife Roma Downey (who once starred in Touched by an Angel), the mini-series rushes through the whole Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, in ten hours — though it’s more like seven, once you bracket off the commercial breaks — and it zips through the stories so quickly that you barely notice when they are compressed even further in those opening sequences. But the mini-series also makes a point of emphasizing the continuity between Bible stories in a way that is quite rare among Bible films, and in a way that sometimes allows individual stories to shed light profitably on others.

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Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (dir. Peter Jackson, 2012)

Ever since Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of the Lord of the Rings trilogy made nearly three billion dollars worldwide — and earned seventeen Oscars between the three films, to boot — it has been a given that someone, somewhere would make a prequel based on the book that introduced the world to Hobbits in the first place.

But there were certain obvious questions hanging over the inevitable follow-up.

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Kevin Miller questions the existence of hell in Hellbound?

Kevin Miller is no stranger to controversy. The Abbotsford-based writer, who has worked on a number of documentaries (as well as an independent feature or two), butted heads with atheists and evolutionary scientists four years ago as one of the cowriters of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, a locally produced film starring Ben Stein that advocated a form of creationism known as “intelligent design”.

Expelled was celebrated by many figures on the right, but some of Miller’s subsequent films have fallen on very different points of the political and religious spectrums. With God on Our Side, for example, tackled Christian Zionism, and now Miller’s directorial debut, Hellbound? — which opens locally on Friday (October 12) — questions whether or not belief in hell is really all that necessary, even for Christians.

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Review: The Last Exorcism (dir. Daniel Stamm, 2010)

THE BEST movies about demonic possession have always tried to ground themselves in a certain kind of realism. The Exorcist cast real-life doctors and priests as fictitious doctors and priests, while The Exorcism of Emily Rose was loosely inspired by a real-life court case.

So it was probably inevitable that someone would make a movie like The Last Exorcism, using the same pseudo-documentary techniques that have made films like Cloverfield, Paranormal Activity and The Blair Witch Project so down-to-earth despite their otherworldly premises.

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Review: Munyurangabo (dir. Lee Isaac Chung, 2007)

IF YOU are reading this paper while it’s still hot off the presses, then here’s a tip: get to the VanCity Theatre as fast as you can and catch Munyurangabo, a stirring independent film, made in Rwanda, that is playing at that theatre for a few days until November 30.

If you miss the film’s Vancouver premiere, don’t worry; the film, which has been making its way around the festival circuit for the past two and a half years, also came out on DVD several weeks ago. So, one way or another, you should be able to find a copy.

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Review: Inglourious Basterds (dir. Quentin Tarantino, 2009)

Seventeen years after he burst onto the scene with the talky, violent crime flick Reservoir Dogs, the films of Quentin Tarantino continue to generate intense debate, even in theological circles.

Just the other day, I heard a prominent Christian professor assert that the hit men played by John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction make evil look attractive, and that those two characters remain “sociopaths” right to the end of the movie.

Many other Christians, however, have argued that Fiction does reflect a moral sensibility of some sort: the Jackson character abandons his criminal ways in the end, after he experiences something he believes to have been a “miracle,” while the Travolta character, who remains a criminal, is eventually killed with his own gun.

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