There have been many worthy projects depicting the life of Jesus as told through the gospels. From the haunting moments of Mel Gibson's "The Passion Of The Christ" with it's narrow focus on the harrowing hours before Jesus death, through to Robert Powell's portrayal in the ITV series Jesus of Nazareth. If I am mentioning these it would, of course, be remiss to mention one of the most widely used evangelistic films of all time, "The Jesus Film". Now there is a new project bringing the life of Jesus onto the screen and their plans are a little different.
The plan is for 4 films to be released, one for each gospel with a dramatic narrative reading word-for-word of the book. The gospel of John is the first to be released, closely followed by the gospel of Luke. Each of the DVDs come with a choice of version between the King James and the more modern NIV. I have to say having been brought up with the King James I do enjoy it's poetic language, but for ease of understanding I opted to watch the film in the NIV version.
These films take the gospel word-for-word. The narrative on the John NIV version is read by David Harewood. While his name may not be familiar to you, his face almost certainly will be. He is currently working in the US as Hank Henshaw / J'onn J'onzz in the TV series of SuperGirl, he also recently appeared alongside Hugh Laurie in The Night Manager for the BBC as well as many other TV and film credits including Blood Diamond. His reading is well paced and nicely dramatic.I found it easy to follow and was comfortable listening to him give the narrative across the visuals and I am glad I chose this version. I have also listened to Brian Cox read the King James Version narrative. Like Harewood, he is a very high profile actor to engage with this project and he brings a gravitas to the reading, but this is no surprise for a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company! On balance, I found the NIV much easier to listen to and take in the text.
For me though it is the visuals that really sell this, as you would expect for a movie! The setting is stunning and the actors are able to express themselves despite never being heard, the narrative carries the weight of the story. I was surprised at first that they didn't have Jesus speak his words as dialogue, instead they have them speaking Aramaic. The sound of the actors themselves is often drowned out by the brilliant musical score that moves the viewer and of course the narrative. It became obvious through the film that they have filmed all the scenes from the 4 gospels and then pull the correct scenes together for John. This is a huge logistical task that has been accomplished well.
With stunning visuals and very moving music this is a great adaptation of the gospel of John. It clocks in at 160 minutes, however if you cannot watch the whole thing in one go, it is also divided in the DVD menu into 6 parts. As a critic I loved the look and feel of the whole film together. I was surprised there was no dove during Jesus baptism scene, despite being in the narrative and I didn't find the crucifixion particularly authentic. Having referred already to The Passion Of The Christ it is only right and proper to mention this. In this project they have possibly played down the human suffering. There is plenty of dried blood and a very tasteful way of showing the nails being hammered in, but it lacked authenticity. Jesus didn't look in agony on the cross - there was no struggle for breath and the crown of thorns seemed more like a piece of rope! I don't think this lessens the impact too much, but I think it is important to remember the death was not only spiritually painful for Jesus, but also extreme physical torture and it is this punishment that purchased our forgiveness.
I hope this project will be used as an easy way into reading and understanding the Bible. In the booklet accompanying this DVD there is a simple bit of information about each of the six sections of the DVD. There is a hope that people will see this and recognise that Jesus was not just a good man, or a figure from history, but God with a desire to know each of us personally and to forgive us.