Not Rated. Running time: 2 hours 40 min.
Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 5; Language 5; Sex/Nudity 2.
Our star rating (1-5): 4.5
I missed whatever advance publicity the Lumos Project put forth on this beautiful film. Released on December 1 in 2014, it thus far can be watched only on Netflix. The plan is to finish all four gospels by the end of 2015, so the next year or two should be exciting. Let us hope that the producers fare better than the other two groups that had intended to put the whole Bible on film. The New Media Bible project over thirty years ago completed just the first book of the Bible and the Gospel of Luke with its Genesis and Jesus; and the Visual Bible at the beginning of this milennium was able to finish three films before running out of money, The Gospel of Matthew,The Gospel of John, and Acts.
The director of the newest Jesus film is the noted TV producer David Batty, who knows how to get the most out of a modest budget. Except for the crowd scenes, the production values are top notch, the sets and costumes looking authentic, and the Morrocoan countryside standing in for Palestine. The text of John is read as the actors, speaking Aramaic, act out the story. At the present there are two English versions, the NIV (New International Version) read by David Harewood and the KJV (King James Version) narrated by actor Brian Cox. Soon the Spanish language “Reina Valera 1960” version will also be released.
The cast looks far more ethnic than those in most Jesus films, with the portrayal of Christ by Shakespearan actor Selva Rasalingam. He is said to be of partly Tamil descent. Although he is light-skinned, his face with its large nose certainly has a more Mediterranean look than the Jesus of other actors, with their movie star regular features. The production values are excellent, though the director might have foregone several of the longshots of the crowds arounnd John the Baptist and Jesus preaching—the no more than a hundred extras betray the modest budget. The director does a better job with the long, long Upper Room discourse of Jesus, shifting the camera around and insert cutaways to earlier scenes of the disciples while Jesus speaks.
However, though the text is strictly from John, the filmmakers could not resist the tradional urge to harmonize the four gospels—in the first chapter when the narrator reads “and the Word became flesh” we are shown Luke and Matthew’s manger scene, with the Magi joining the shepherds in adoring the newborn Child. And in the Upper Room scene there is a brief clip in which the Supper is shown as a proto Communion Service as in the three synoptic gospels, even though the text of John itself does not indicate this. Same thing with Pilate washing his hands after giving in to the crowd’s demand that Jesus be crucified.
This new version will be more of an educational than entertainment value because it loses the immedicacy of our hearing Jesus and the other actors actually speaking the dialogue. At the present there are no chapter and verse insertions, so let us hope that in its DVD format these will be provided so that, like Visual Bible’s John it will make studying it easier. Thus far you can just watch it, which is a good first step. I recommend this, but for me it will not replace Visual Bible’s far more dramatic version. As of this writing it is available only on NetFlix, but I presume it will see a DVD release as well. It deserves a place on your shelf of other Jesus films—and makes me anticipate the release of the other three gospel films. I hope Luke will be first!
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