Any time the holiest book ever written has been translated into visual media, there's been speculation and scrutiny over its accuracy. And while many of its stories contained within its blessed pages have been interpreted visually time and time again, something on the scale as The Bible: The Epic Miniseries, hasn't quite been done before. I remember the TV channel TNT featuring solo Bible-story-themed films when I was a teen, and most of those were done on a grand scale, but the people behind this miniseries clearly have a different approach and goal in mind when making visual tales for a new generation of TV watchers.
The Bible: The Epic Miniseries is ten nearly hour-long episodes that take the viewer from God's creation of the Earth on through to John's writing of Revelation. However, to pack 66 books of the Bible into a miniseries, many liberties were taken to make this undertaking "work." But many viewers will have their own opinions about what was included and excluded in the series. For example, the miniseries covers creation and Adam and Eve's fall, along with Noah's Ark, literally within the first few minutes of the first episode. The first episode, titled "The Beginning," is really all about Abraham and God's promises. Ultimately, it shows how Abraham was promised countless descendants which inevitably leads to Jesus' coming, so I can understand why the beginning is breezed over for continuity, but it's shortcuts like these that make me wonder if they couldn't have tried stretching this out into either a full-on TV series or a longer miniseries (although I understand a full-on TV series would be extremely costly). Because of this, you can tell while watching the series that they were trying hard to make it interesting and exciting to viewers who wouldn't normally watch something like this. As such, any chance these episodes can take to display the brutality of the times are taken. At first, it's not only jarring due to the sometimes goriness of it, but it's jarring because of how overly stylized and therefore campy it can appear. For example, when the angels aid in the destruction of Sodom, they're portrayed as warriors in soldier uniforms, red-hooded cloaks and sporting battle scars. They then, in slow motion of course, whip out a pair of swords and go slashing and stabbing through a line of people. Throughout scenes like this, the sound effects of squishing flesh and blood-spilling is heard as blood is usually seen squirting up from wounds or spraying from a blow that's been delivered. It usually pushes past what you'd typically see in a given PG-13 action movie, making some of this clearly R-rated material (but, granted, they don't show dismemberments and such, like most restricted films would). But aside from the sheer violence, it's the fact that the show focuses on these historical moments in nearly every episode as through the lens of what you might see in an action film that make it feel more gratuitous than anything. You can tell they tried hard to adapt The Bible for people who wouldn't normally read it or watch a series like this. It also leaves you wondering how much shorter this series would end up being if they weren't constantly relying on slow motion effects to manipulate the tone of a given scene.
As a whole, it probably isn't a big surprise that the miniseries doesn't really seem to find its legs until Jesus is introduced around episode 6. Characters are constantly being introduced and dismissed episode after episode (and many times within one episode), so it's tough to latch on to some of the characters. But from his birth, we're shown Jesus starting his ministry and the road that takes him to his eventual death on a cross. Diogo Morgado portrays Jesus in a very warm, soft way, which is definitely different from Jim Caviezel's more intense portrayal in The Passion of the Christ, but still Morgado does a fairly good job interpreting Christ. His appearance may adhere to some of the more iconic or idealistic depictions of Jesus a little too much, but he still does a good job bringing Jesus to the screen. Other standout performances include Darwin Shaw as Peter, and Con O'Neill as Paul. Actually, most of the main disciples turn in memorable performances, while Amber Rose Revah's Mary Magdelene feels over-stated in many moments (but more on her character later). We actually don't see Paul until the series' final episode, "Courage," and it's a rather abbreviated telling of the apostle's story -- from Christian-killer to follower of Christ. O'Neill plays Paul very intensely from the start (oddly enough, it's never mentioned that his name was Saul first before conversion). Upon realizing who his character was when he's introduced as a persecutor of Stephen, I instantly became curious as to how O'Neill would be able to portray Paul post-conversion. In the end, the series left me wanting more on Paul's character. If anything, I felt like Paul is such an important person in the rise of the modern church that more than just a portion of one episode would have been ideal for telling his story. Most Biblical tales involving Jesus end with his resurrection, so "Courage" was a particularly engaging installment of the series.
Since it's obvious that the series is trying to keep The Bible epic in appearance and scale and storytelling, there's a great deal of story-hopping throughout the episodes. Just when you feel like a story might be gaining momentum, we jump 40 or 100 years ahead to another character. In "Homeland," we get the story of Samson after the story of Jericho's fall. Samson here is presented as a bulky African American man with dreads(?!). While we all have had our Sunday School imprintings of what we have come to believe a character to look like, it's hard to believe that this is a realistic representation of him. To make matters worse, his scenes feel like something taken out of The Mummy Returns or The Scorpion King... not The Bible. The other odd but disputable storytelling liberty that really sticks out to me was the inclusion of Mary Magdelene in Jesus's ministry journey. They leave out some of Mary's pre-resurrection stories in the Bible and focus on her as having tagged along with the 12 disciples. Not only did it feel a little odd (like she was more of a groupie), but Amber Rose Revah's performance just made it seem all the more less fitting. Most of the actors in Jesus' main twelve are actually strong, convincing actors (Thomas was also solid, as was Judas), and Revah stood out too much. But, when it comes to what stories they chose to include in these ten episodes, it surprised me, not only that Noah was only briefly mentioned, but that the inspiring story of Joseph was ignored and that Jesus' time on Earth after his resurrection was shortened to just a scene or two (I was really looking forward to the story of when Jesus appears to them while fishing, for one). It's easy to point out missed opportunities or artistic liberties taken (like how it isn't until Jesus hugs Peter after the Last Supper that he gets a vision of Peter's denial), but the heart and essence of The Bible is captured without any watering down, which is a little surprising in today's social climate.
The content of The Bible is in line with how rough the Holy Book's wording actually is, but as I mentioned before, some of the violence just really feels much too gratuitous. Not only are many of the battles really bloody (especially by what one might expect from a television series...but yes, I realize times have changed dramatically), but things like slicing a lamb's throats for sacrifices are oddly focused upon seemingly just for the sake of being able to show a flood of blood spewing from the animal's neck (and several episodes feature this). Other times, slow motion, dramatic music, and blood squirting from a victim are utilized to make moments feel more "epic" and dramatic, when I have to wonder how just a straight-shooting take on it would have impacted audiences instead (in other words, do we need all the added dramatic visual elements? Or would good acting and character development be enough for viewers? There was a painful overdose of slow motion in these episodes). When John The Baptist is executed, we see a silhouette shot of his severed head being removed. It'll be shocking for younger viewers (along with David's beheading of Goliath), but they're just a couple examples of how brutal things on the screen can get. There are also a couple scenes where infants or children are murdered, which are a bit disturbing. The worst of these is when King Zedekiah's two little children are killed in front of him just before they gouge his eyes out. They cut away from the actual killing, but we see them lying dead on the ground and then the king getting his eyes squished in. Finally, there's a little sexuality with Delilah seducing Samson and David watching Bathsheba bathe, but there is no nudity or sexual acts ever actually shown, as the filmmakers clearly decided to handle such subject matter far more delicately than the violence.
I was excited to hear that Hans Zimmer had scored the miniseries, but upon watching it, I didn't find Zimmer's work standing out as much as it normally has for films of his--like Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, Inception, or the Pirates of the Caribbean and Sherlock Holmes series. In all fairness, however, once Jesus is introduced, Zimmer seemed to be holding the more memorable music for the Savior, and even though some cues may remind a few viewers of The Dark Knight Rises or other previous works from Zimmer, his score finally seems to really add to what we're seeing on the screen.
When all is said and done and the credits roll on the tenth chapter, I could certainly glean spiritual insights and inspiration from The Bible: The Epic Miniseries, but I couldn't help feel like some aspects just left me wanting more, while other portions felt like complete letdowns. Personally, of the Old Testament tales, I might be inclined to revisit David's story, but The Bible: The Epic Miniseries really felt like it took off when Jesus was introduced. And while I think it could have spent more time on his teachings (even as a young boy, which wasn't touched on at all), and stories from the book of Acts, there's enough shown here to educate and entertain, but most of all, inspire. And most importantly, hopefully it will inspire people to pick up the source material and read The Good Book.
- John DiBiase (reviewed: 4/13/13)
Blu-Ray Special Features Review
You can get all 10 episodes in either a 4-disc DVD set or on a 4-disc Blu-Ray set. The picture quality on the Blu-Ray set is truly remarkable. They obviously spared no expense, and the high definition transfer is excellent. Along with the feature episodes are the following extras:
The Bible: Genesis (9:35) - This short featurette features Roma Downey and her husband Mark Burnett who executive produced the project as a labor of love to tell these stories to a new generation. Roma talks a lot about what the scope was for the project and how they picked what stories would go into the series.
Scoring The Bible (8:45) - Hans Zimmer and vocalist Lisa Gerrard teamed up for the film's score, and it's especially interesting to hear from Zimmer and the producers about this project, and how excited Downey was to actually get Zimmer to do it.
The Cast Of The Bible (13:36) - Here we hear from the key cast throughout the series until we reach Jesus and Roma talks about how difficult it was to find the right actor for Jesus -- until they tracked down a famous actor from Portugal, Diogo Morgado. We then hear more from Morgado about the role and what he did to prepare to play Jesus.
The Creation (42:09) is an episode-long featurette about the making of the series, separated into three parts: I: The Vision and The Look, II: Production Stories, and III: Crucified & Resurrected. It's a thorough and fascinating making-of featurette. Everything from stories on set (like a set collapsing after people left it) to Roma talking about being chosen to play adult Mary even though she hadn't been planning on starring in the series, is covered.
Believing in Miracles (7:59) - Maya Angelou herself opens up this featurette talking about what The Bible means to her. Roma and the crew then share about some real miracles that happened on set -- including how the wind rushed during the scene where Jesus talks to Nicodemus, which wasn't planned and was a real gust of wind that happened on cue (If you look closely at the scene, you can catch a hint of surprise on Diogo's face). But most of this short featurette shows some on-set filming and Roma and Mark talking about the project.
The Bible: Visual Effects (3:05) is a montage of before-and-after effects shots. Some were obvious in the series, while others weren't. It's actually pretty impressive.
"Mary Did You Know?" Music Video (3:41) is a music video using Mark Lowry's song "Mary Did You Know?" as it was performed in 1996 by Kenny Rogers and Wynonna, set to clips from the series from Jesus' birth till the last episode. (It's a little surprising that they chose a recording that's 17 years old for this music video, though.)
- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 4/13/13)
Parental Guide: Brief Summary of Content
Episode 1 ("In The Beginning") - We briefly see Adam and Eve with Eve's long hair covering up any nudity; Sarah tells Abraham to sleep with Hagar since she is barren. We see Hagar's bare back while lying in Abraham's tent; In Sodom we see a lot of people making out and partying. We also see a fat man dressed like a woman
Episode 3 ("Homeland") - A soldier calls Rahab, a prostitute, a whore; Delilah shows cleavage; Delilah and Samson are shown lying in bed together in two different scenes. They're not shown doing anything, but it's obvious what their relationship is like
Episode 4 ("Kingdom") - David watches Bathsheba bathe and we see her bare back. He then meets with her and asks her to sleep with him. She resists at first, but they do (nothing is shown).
Alcohol/Drugs: There's some drinking throughout the series, but a few stand out: Episode 4 ("Kingdom") - Saul shouts an order to be brought wine; Uriah gets drunk.
Episode 1 ("In The Beginning") - We see the act of Cain killing Abel with lots of blood on Abel's head; Abraham's people attack Lot's captors. We see some blood spray as there's lots of slashing and stabbing. Abraham has some blood from his victims on his face; We see some blood on an angel's head; We see people's eyes bleeding as Sodom is destroyed; We see an angel with blood on his face as he runs through the streets of Sodom, slashing and stabbing people with blood squirting out.
Episode 2 ("Exodus") - Ramses has a pretty gory cut on his cheek; We see little kids with blood on them, infants thrown into the water to die; A slave is whipped with blood on his back; In one of the plagues, we see the water turn to blood and Ramses covered in it; We see some gory animal carcasses and sores on people's faces; A lamb is sacrificed and its throat is cut and we see blood dripping from its throat; Lamb's blood is smeared on doorways for passover; There's a little blood on Ramses' sons mouth and nose
Episode 3 ("Homeland") - We see blood squirting and spraying as the Israelites stab and slash through the people of Jericho; We see blood squirting as Samson kills Philistines. We see blood come from a guard's mouth; A man's throat is slit and it's very bloody; Samson takes a jawbone and goes on a killing spree with lots of flying blood; Samson's eyes are gouged out off screen and we see a bloody rag around his eyes and blood running down his face
Episode 4 ("Kingdom") - A lamb's throat is cut for sacrifice and we see a lot of blood spill out; An enemy camp is raided and we see slashing and stabbing with some blood; There's a little blood when Samuel stabs and kills the enemy king; Saul has some blood in his face; David slings a rock at Goliath. There's a red mark on the giant's forehead as he falls. We then see the silhouette of David holding up Goliath's bloody decapitated head; We see blood squirting as a priest's throat is cut; David brings a bag of enemy foreskins to Saul and we see a little bit of blood on the bag and hear flies buzzing around it; Saul stabs himself, blood runs out his mouth, we see the point sticking out of his back with blood on it
Episode 5 ("Survival") - We learn of the famine and see children eating, presumably, human bones; Jerusalem is raided with more stabbing and slashing, one soldier with lots of blood after slashed; We see more blood on another victim in Jerusalem; King Zedekiah's kids are killed in front of him (it's a bit disturbing) and then the soldiers gouge out his eyes. His face is bloody from this; We see some burns on Nebuchadnezzar's hand We hear that the Romans are crucifying people and we see a large group of crosses with bloody dead bodies on them
Episode 6 ("Hope") - We see Herod with leeches all over him with bloody soars, scabs; Herod stabs man in the neck and blood bubbles out; We see a man crucified and covered in blood; We see bloody, ghostly dead crucified bodies; Jesus sees visions of his bloody crucifixion; John The Baptist is beaten with blood on his face; John is beheaded and then we see the silhouette of his gory, decapitated head
Episode 7 ("Mission") - A leper approaches Jesus for healing and we see his deformed, bloody face; We see Pilate sparring with swords with a soldier, and he slashes a bare chested man so we see some blood across their chest; We see some dead. bloody bodies of Jews that Romans had slain
Episode 8 ("Betrayal") - Jesus sees bloody vision of his crucifixion; Peter punches Judas and slices a soldier's ear, which is bloody; Jesus has blood on his cheek as they hit him
Episode 9 ("Passion") - Jesus' face is bruised and bloody; We see the bloody back of Jesus as he's being whipped; There is blood smeared on the wall of Jesus' cell (from him). Blood then streams down his face from the crown of thorns as it's pushed into his head; A sheep's throat is sliced spilling lots of blood; Jesus's clothes are torn off, revealing his bloody body; Jesus and the thieves hanging on the cross next to him have blood running from their hands and feet as they've been nailed to their crosses
Episode 10 ("Courage") - After he's resurrected, we see can see through the holes in Jesus' hands; We see Stephen stoned to death. As such, he has blood on his head and running from his nose; Paul briefly sees flashes of bloody faces of victims of his persecution; Peter is beaten (possibly to death), and the camera focuses on his face with his mouth filled with blood. Blood splatters out as his head flinches backward in pain.
Episode 1 ("In The Beginning") - We see the act of Cain killing Abel; We briefly see people drowning in Noah's flood; People brawl over the land; We see Lot and other people tied up. Someone elbows Lot in the face. Abraham's people attack, with lots of stabbing and slashing; As Sodom is destroyed, we see people's eyes bleeding; An angel pulls out two swords and runs through the streets of Sodom, slashing and stabbing people; Fire rains down on the city of Sodom; Abraham carries Isaac up the mountain with the intent to sacrifice him and almost does; We see some Jews being whipped
Episode 2 ("Exodus") - Ramses and Moses spar and Moses slashes Ramses on the cheek; We see little kids with blood on them, infants thrown into the water to die; A slave is whipped and Moses kills the soldier with rock who was doing the whipping; Moses is punched in the gut and dragged off; We see some gory animal carcasses and sores on people's faces; A lamb is sacrificed and its throat is cut and we see blood dripping from its throat; The Angel of Death comes through Egypt, killing the first born. We see Ramses' son lying dead; When the Red Sea waves come crashing down, it crushes the soldiers pursuing Moses and his people
Episode 3 ("Homeland") - A soldier roughs up Rahab; the Israelites slash up the Jericho people when they raid the city; We see the Jericho walls crumble and then the Israelites slash the people inside; We see the Philistines beating Israelites and Samson smacking people around; The Philistines smack Samson's wife's father and then burn Samson's wife in their home; Samson twists a man's neck, killing him and then goes on a killing rampage; A man's throat is slit; Samson takes a jawbone and goes on a killing spree; Samson's eyes are gouged out off screen (he hear him screaming in agony) and we see a bloody rag around his eyes and blood running down his face; Samson collapses the temple, killing many people
Episode 4 ("Kingdom") - A lamb's throat is cut for sacrifice; The throat of an enemy is cut from behind before the people raid the camp. There's lots of slashing and stabbing with some blood; Samuel stabs and kills the enemy king; Young David kills a wolf with a sling; David slings a rock at Goliath. We then see the silhouette of David holding up Goliath's bloody decapitated head. We soon see David killing enemies as he ages; There's more battling with lots of dead bodies shown. Saul stabs himself, blood runs out his mouth, we see the point sticking out of his back with blood on it; David and his men attack Jerusalem and slash and stab people; We hear of Uriah being sent to battle to die
Episode 5 ("Survival") - We learn of the famine and see children eating, presumably, human bones. We see them dragging one off into the dark to presumably eat it; We see flaming arrows being shot into the sky and hitting people; Jerusalem is raided with more stabbing and slashing; King Zedekiah's kids are killed in front of him (it's a bit disturbing) and then the soldiers gouge out his eyes; Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are thrown into the furnace but do not burn. Nebuchadnezzar sticks his hand in the flames to see if it truly is hot and we see his flesh burn some; Daniel is thrown into the lions den but survives. His accuser is then thrown in there and we hear him screaming as he's eaten (not shown); We hear that the Romans are crucifying people and we see a large group of crosses with bloody dead bodies on them
Episode 6 ("Hope") - The Jews try to remove the Roman eagle from their temple and are attacked. Some are hit by arrows, others stabbed, a man falls to his death; We see Herod with leeches all over him with bloody soars, scabs; Herod stabs man in the neck and blood bubbles out; The Romans are shown beating up the Jews; We see the murders of infant babies (disturbing); Herod's son is strangled to death; Many Jews are slaughtered; We see people crucified; Jesus sees visions of his bloody crucifixion; John The Baptist is beaten; John is beheaded and then we see the silhouette of his gory, decapitated head
Episode 7 ("Mission") - We see the Romans beating up rebels; We see Pilate sparring with swords with a soldier, and he slashes a bare chested man; blood; Romans beat Jews and stab some
Episode 8 ("Betrayal") - Jesus overturns tables in the temple; Romans fighting Jews again; Jesus sees bloody vision of his crucifixion; Peter punches Judas and slices a soldier's ear; Jesus has blood on his cheek as they hit him
Episode 9 ("Passion") - Jesus' face is bruised and bloody and he is beaten by soldiers; Peter is struck and falls over; Judas hangs himself;
Jesus's bare back is whipped repeatedly; The soldiers push a crown of thorns into the top of his head; They whip Jesus as he takes up the cross to carry it; A woman tries to help Jesus and is pushed away. A soldier then kicks Jesus; A sheep's throat is sliced; Jesus's clothes are torn off, revealing his bloody body; They whip Jesus as he crawls onto the cross. They then hammer nails into his hands and feet; We see two thieves hanging on crosses besides Jesus; After he dies, Jesus' side is pierced with a spear
Episode 10 ("Courage") - After he's resurrected, we see can see through the holes in Jesus' hands; Stephen is stoned to death. When he falls, we see his eyes frozen open as he lies there dead (it's a bit haunting); Soldiers arrest and beat people; Paul falls from his horse; James is beheaded, and we see the sword come down where his neck is and the split-second of his head falling forward (it's not gory, but is violent). The disciples look on in horror and disbelief; We see Matthew grabbed by opposers and thrown to the ground; Peter is beaten repeatedly while on the ground; Paul is smacked and taken away; John is forced to drink poison while chained up. We then see that he survives this and lives out his days in exile.
** Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's rating.