Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Ronald Tipton and Patrick Flynn, 2017.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

"Bible Series" on History: My View

The Bible is large. It is divided into 66 book, 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New. It was composed by many authors, all writing under the influence and guiding present of the Holy Spirit, which is to say God (Father, Son and Holy Ghost). It contains many stories, histories, poems and personalities.

Needless to say it is a complex and layered volume. It is filled with thrilling tales that make for great drama. These contain the gamet of human emotion and struggle as well as battles and adventures of epic proportion. Many of these have had great allure for film makers since the birth of movies. Films based on the Bible go back to at least "Passion Play" (a series of shorts that equaled about an hour in length) in 1903 and Vie et Passion du Christ in 1905. Most have presented a singular episode such as "Adam and Eve" (1912), "Noah's Ark" (1929), "The Ten Commandments" (1956) and "The Nativity Story"(2009). Few commercial filmmakers have dared tackle the Bible as a whole.

In the mid-1960s John Huston announced he was filming "The Bible" in its entirety. In 1966, "The Bible" was released, but with the subtitle, "In the Beginning..." It included several parts of Genesis, such as Noah (played by John Huston himself). The others were Cain and Able, The Tower of Babel, Sodom and Gomorrah and the life of Abraham. I remember the hype for this film and most of the attention in the media focused on the Creation sequence, most notably that the actors portraying Adam and Eve would be performing in the nude.

This probably boosted ticket sales. However, as spectacular as many of the scenes were and as perfect as were Adam and Eve's bodies, "The Bible" never got further than "In the Beginning". None of the promised sequels were ever made.

On Sunday evening, March 3, 2013 the History Channel showed the first in it's series, "The Bible". Produced by Rona Downey ("Touched By an Angel") and her husband Mark Burnett ("Survivor") it promises to cover Genesis through Revelation in five two-hour long shows. Television might be the best outlet to present the dramatization of the Bible, but I don't think 10 hours is enough time to do it. My main criticism of this endeavor is the feeling of being rushed.

A brief synopsis of the first episode would probably be helpful.

It began with the Arc being tossed upon raging waters. Inside the boat Noah is reciting the creation story to his family. He tells this from when God said, "Let there be light", touching on the creation of man, Cain killing Abel up to God's decision to drown the whole world because of man's evilness. These scenes flash by as he talks with little explanation. For instance, we see Cain strike down Abel, but receive no explanation of why Cain did this or what happens to Cain afterward. We basically jump from that first murder to pictures of people drowning in the flood.

This portion begins with the arc in the middle of the water and quickly ends there. There is no sending out of birds, no olive branch, no landing on dry land. We are literally left adrift at sea. Perhaps the most effective part of this sequence is giving us a picture of just how enormous the arc was.

We go quickly from the Flood to Abraham. We have parts of Abraham's life, including the destruction of Sodom, up to the moment when he is stopped by God in mid-knife of sacrificing his son. At this point we are transported to Egypt and Moses. The stories of Jacob and Joseph are simply ignored. We see young Moses (pictured right) being egged into a sword fight with Pharaoh's son (a passage I missed somehow in Exodus). Pharaoh breaks this up and then tells his daughter she better tell Moses he really isn't her son. Moses goes out, wanders about, kills an Egyptian overseer and flees while Joshua hides the body (another passage I missed, I guess - the part about Joshua hiding the body that is).

And suddenly it is 40 years later and there is a burning bush speaking to a much older Moses (pictured left with Aaron).  Now Moses is much quicker to agree to the idea he must save his people than he is in my Bible. In my Bible he argues with God that he isn't up to the task, especially since he can't speak well. In my Bible, God tells him his brother Aaron will do the speaking for him, but in this film Moses accepts the challenge pretty quickly and he doesn't meet his brother until he returns to Egypt, and Aaron doesn't speak for him at all. Moses also walks about with this odd smile on his face most of the time.

We get a flip-book sequence of plagues -- frogs hopping about, locust swarming, burning hailstones, etc, and after each a picture of Pharaoh yelling, "No!" The Passover is passed over rather quickly and then Moses is parting the Red Sea. Once across the Red Sea, with Pharaoh's dead army floating upon the water, we are told that Moses led his people to Mt. Sinai and there received these stone tables from God. Moses shows the tablets to Joshua, declares they now have The Law and tells Joshua to lead the Hebrews to the Promise Land. There is no coming off the mountain to an orgy and golden calf, no wandering about the desert for forty years, not even a representation of Moses' death, let alone any explanation of why Moses couldn't lead his people into Canaan himself.

We simply leap to Joshua and his followers standing and looking at a walled city. "We must take Jericho," Joshua says and then sends two spies to the city.

We go inside the walled city and this man stops a woman on the street. He calls her Rahab and his "little whore". It comes across as a bully of a man harassing a young woman. Other than his calling her a whore nothing establishes that she just may be one. She goes on her way and the man laughs.

Right after this we see the two spies scale the wall, drop to the other side to immediately be confronted by about a dozen Jerichoians, who they rather easily dispatch, although a couple flee crying, "The enemy is within the walls." The two spies run about and meet Rehab, who directs them to an escape route. One spy pulls this rope from about his waist and tells her to hang it on her window and she will be safe with their army attacks.

And at this point we are told continued next week.

I am out of breath telling it here, which to me is the biggest problem with the series. It is rushing to get everything in on schedule, but not fleshing out the sequences with what they really mean. I wish they had decided to continue beyond five weeks and ten hours and develop the characters and plot more fully.

However, the initial presentation had the highest ratings of the night, even in the coveted 18-34 age group. It not only out rated everything on the networks, but was the highest rated show on cable this year so far. We will see if these ratings hold up through the next episodes. My hope is they do and it makes people curious enough to read the Bible for the full story or drives them to approach people of faith for more explanation.

There is some license taken, but perhaps not of such import to quibble. For instance, we all ready mentioned that Moses was much quicker to accept God's request than was so in Scripture. Another example was when Abraham was stopped from sacrificing Isaac. Scripture tells us God supplied a sacrifice, a ram that had its horns caught in a bush. In this film it was a lamb with its hind leg caught. I also don't know if the Angels sent to Sodom wore shining armor and were expert in martial arts style sword fighting.

I would mention that Rona Downing is playing the Virgin Mary. I don't know why there wasn't a younger actress hired to play this part at the birth of Christ. Rona Downing is 52 years old. She might pass for Mary at the Crucifixion when she would have been a woman in her mid-to-late forties (pictured right), but she does not look as convincing as the teenage girl who God chose to be the mother of Jesus (pictured left).

We saw they used a younger actor to portray the young Moses, so why not a younger actress to portray the girl Mary?

Nonetheless, I look forward to Part Two and I hope I have not been too picky in my comments about Part One. We need more shows that would portray the Bible stories in a truthful way. Still, we also need explanations of why these things were included in Scripture. Can we easily see how these pointed to the future Christ in this film?

It is also funny to me that Rona Downing and Mark Burnett have written a novelization of the series. Hopefully in this the meanings are explained, but at the same time I wonder why do we need a novelization when we already have the Bible and have it abundantly in many fine translations?

1 comment:

Pastor Randy Scott said...

That is why I want to see people use their Bibles and get to know it!! It is so important, there will be people out there use this mini series as gospel!!Thank you Larry for your wisdom and observations!! So blessed to have you at Iron Faith to keep me on my toes!!