By Michael Parnell
Movie-going is a subjective experience. A movie plays on different levels with different people. Each viewer has an experience unlike others who also see it.
My church took a group to see Son of God this past Sunday afternoon. I went along because the movie was marketed to churches. Of the crowd there I recognized almost all of them as members of several nearby churches.
One of the things I rarely do, but did with this movie, was not read any of the reviews about it. I know myself well. I did not want to have a predetermined outcome in mind, which would make me color the movie unfairly. And I am a pastor, after all, so I know something about the subject matter of this movie.
I am very hard on movies when I know something of the subject matter. When movie makers do something that I know does not fit the subject or get something wrong, I become very angry. I am aware that sometimes having too much knowledge of a subject can ruin the movie-going experience. I have read that people who work in the space industry had real problems with things that are wrong in Gravity.
As I sat through Son of God, I felt my anger rise. There were many places where I knew the producers of this movie got it wrong. Badly wrong.
One of them is at the beginning. The movie declares that this is the remembrance of John (Sebastian Knapp), the Gospel writer. Now, John’s Gospel does not follow the course of Matthew, Mark and Luke.
The movie opens with the prologue of John, in chapter 1, and shows scenes from stories in the Bible. Then, Jesus (Diogo Morgado) appears on the scene.
The first thing Jesus does is go down to the Sea of Galilee. There he meets Peter (Darwin Shaw). Jesus has Peter take him out on his boat to catch fish, and tells Peter to follow him and he will be catching people.
My problem with the scene is it is not in John’s Gospel. Andrew, Peter’s brother, follows Jesus first in John’s Gospel. The other problem is that Peter was not “Peter” until Jesus changes his name. His name was Simon, but that is not mentioned.
It seems as though the movie makers put all the Gospels into a blender and took what came out and used them for this story. There is no real focus, except one.
There is clear focus on the political situation that existed between Romans and Jewish leaders. Pilate (Greg Hicks) and Caiaphas (Adrian Schiller) stand in the midst of the narrative as the driving forces moving the story forward.
Pilate is ruthless in making sure things stay calm and will not stop at killing the innocent to achieve whatever he needs in the moment.
Caiaphas does all he can to maintain the status quo. For him, Jesus upsets that and must be stopped at all costs.
These two aspects of the story rang true to both the Bible and history.
But here is my largest problem — something I did not know until afterward. This movie is not really a movie. It was not produced as a movie. It is a portion of Mark Burdette’s and Roma Downey’s “The Bible” series done for the History Channel. Those episodes have been strung together into a movie.
This production is not well done. Even if I dismiss my concerns about authenticity and focus only on production issues, I still do not like it. The special effects are cheap. It is clear that the shots of Jerusalem are models and no attempt was made to use computer effects to make them better.
The scene in which Jesus comes to the disciples walking on the water is shot in a terrible storm, but no one on board seems to be getting wet, even though exposed to the elements.
The movie is under dramatized. And the actor playing Jesus offers some of the worst line readings I have seen. That might be expected since he is Portuguese and English is not a language in which he regularly acts.
All and all, this is nothing short of a means of taking money from church-going folk by using something that was available for free on television. And it was not even good television.
I have always believed that when you purchase a ticket to a movie, one of the things you are telling the producers is you want them to make the movie again. Not this one. I have seen better productions in churches.
Son of God
Rated PG-13 for intense and bloody depiction of the crucifixion, and some sequences of violence.
Directed by Christopher Spence. Written by Christopher Spence, Richard Bedser, Colin Swash and Nic Young
With: Diogo Morgado (Jesus), Sebastian Knapp (John), Greg Hicks (Pilate), Darwin Shaw (Peter), Adrian Schiller (Caiaphas)