The Ascension of Christ in film: literalism, symbolism, etc.

Today is the Feast of the Ascension, when Christians remember how Jesus was taken up into heaven 40 days after his Resurrection. It’s one of the stranger bits in the Gospels — both difficult to understand, given our modern cosmology, and difficult to pull off visually — and most of what we know about it actually comes from the Book of Acts. So it’s not too surprising that most films about Jesus have tended to skip this episode.

Nevertheless, a few films have depicted the Ascension, often by mixing it with elements from other stories in the gospels, and even those that don’t depict it have often made a point of ending on a note that suggests Jesus has transcended this life in some way that parallels the Ascension. Here are a few examples.

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The latest attempt to film all four gospels word-for-word

Every now and then, someone embarks on a quixotic quest to film the entire Bible, word for word. In the 1970s, the Genesis Project got as far as filming the books of Genesis and Luke, the latter of which was condensed into the Jesus film that is now distributed by Campus Crusade. More recently, there was the Visual Bible, which produced adaptations of Matthew and Acts in the 1990s and then, after a change of ownership, an adaptation of The Gospel of John in 2003.

Yesterday I came across what seems like a more modest project: an attempt to film all four gospels under the collective title the Lumo Project.

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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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History and tradition in movie depictions of the Cross.

Western Easter came and went last week, but the Eastern churches are currently only half-way through the Lenten season, so yesterday was, for us, the Sunday of the Veneration of the Precious Cross.

Thinking about this, I inevitably started thinking about Jesus movies, and I began to think about the fact that the recent mini-series The Bible has joined Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ in taking a step back from recent “historically accurate” depictions of the Crucifixion towards a more traditional sort of iconography.

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The Bible: fourth episode, first impressions

Alas, there was no Transfiguration in this episode. But there was quite a bit of other stuff that I found interesting, for better and for worse, so here again, as before, are my first impressions.

The pacing, redux. It says something about this show that, when it finally devotes an entire two-hour episode to a single protagonist, it still feels kind of rushed, like it’s over far too quickly and we haven’t had a chance to really get to know anyone.

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Could Moses have a cameo in the next Bible episode?

A thought suddenly occurred to me: If Jesus, a New Testament figure, can make two appearances, however obscured, in the Old Testament section of The Bible, is it possible that the cross-overs might go the other way? Could any Old Testament figures have a cameo or two in the New Testament section of the mini-series, which resumes this Sunday night?

It would be very easy to do this: All the mini-series would have to do is include the Transfiguration as part of its depiction of the life-story of Jesus. The Transfiguration, you may recall, is when three of Jesus’ closest apostles saw him talking to Moses and Elijah — and Moses has already played a significant role in this series.

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