Skip to comments.Bigger Than Life -- The Gospel on the Big Screen -- Film Review of The Gospel of John
Posted on 09/18/2003 11:51:05 AM PDT by Between the Lines
Cynic that I am, I approached the much touted The Gospel of John movie with expectations firmly in check. A word-for-word transfer of the Gospel of John to film? Why not just read it aloud to myself? My skeptical nature sometimes protects me from being disappointed when things don't turn out well. But often, I'm wrong and in cases such as this -- I can be pleasantly and totally overwhelmed.
The Gospel of Johnis superb and moving, even startling in its simplicity and strength. With renowned actor Christopher Plummer narrating and a cast of seasoned stage actors doing the dialogue, I began to feel as if John somehow wrote -- in the first century -- for the big screen in the 21st. The film had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 11, and will make its U.S. debut September 26 in Charlotte, Dallas, Colorado Springs, and Fayetteville, Arkansas, before moving into 80 other cities.
At an August screening at Deluxe Film Lab in downtown Toronto, I was among some 25 journalists, most from secular newspapers. We were hosted by Visual Bible International (VBI), the production company, and the DeMoss Group, which is handling public relations. In a Q&A session following the screening, one reviewer asked if the film was intended to have a "religious outreach."
"The project is not, per se, a religious outreach," producer Garth Drabinsky told us, "but to engage in word-for-word adaptation. We did approach the work with reverence and diligence." The script is a recitation-dramatization of the Gospel of John. Producers and scholars chose the Good News Bible (American Bible Association) because its informal language seemed most easily adaptable to the screen.
Drabinsky is winner of two Canadian Film Awards for Best Picture, 19 Tony awards, and an Academy Award nomination. He said his main goal was to achieve a high degree of artistic excellence. Mission accomplished.
An Engaging Jesus While the producer is pleased with the artistic level of the film, Christian leaders who have reviewed it say it may well be a tremendous evangelistic tool. The National Association of Evangelicals has awarded it their seal of approval.
Movieguide's Ted Baehr said the film brings the Gospel alive. "[I]t becomes clear why Jesus and his Jewish followers were at odds with the Jewish establishment," wrote Baehr. "Watching Jesus throw down the gauntlet of His messianic claims in the face of the Pharisees and Saducees will clearly call people into the Kingdom of God. There is no ambiguity here. This is Jesus, the Son of God ...."
Jesus is portrayed by British actor Henry Ian Cusick in his first starring role. Cusick's background is primarily on the Shakespearean stage. The supporting ensemble cast is made up of British and Canadian actors, also with strong stage experience. Producers said stage actors, especially when performing the classics, are more strictly disciplined to deliver a perfect word-for-word line. In The Gospel of John, producers ordered re-takes of scenes if an actor made as simple an error as saying "a" instead of "the."
Cusick exudes an engaging energy that, indeed, seems supernatural. With a broad range of facial expressions, he conveys empathy when he weeps with Mary and Martha over Lazarus' death; humor when he baits hypocritical religious leaders with probing questions; compassion for the Samaritan woman at the well; humility when washing the disciples' feet. More than once I was moved to tears by Cusick's Jesus.
In scenes of Jesus cleansing the Temple and angry mobs screaming for His crucifixion, I had become so much a part of the crowds that a cold chill ran down my spine. Altogether, the movie was both a humbling and a rewarding experience.
VBI, a publicly traded, faith-based media company, has exclusive rights for select translations of both Old and New Testaments on a word-for-word basis. Under consideration for future projects are the Gospel of Mark, and 1 and 2 Samuel.
Because of our flight schedules, some of us were whisked away before the Q&A session ended. Sandwiched in a cab with three secular reviewers -- from South Florida, St. Louis and Little Rock -- I was interested in their take. Their first reactions were to mumble about the film's length (almost three hours) and their skepticism regarding its potential at the box office.
I just kept thinking over and over of God's promise through the prophet Isaiah -- "[My word] will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it." So be it.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.