Director Kevin Connor covers everything from Creation to the Promised Land at breakneck speed in the latest Halmi family miniseries, evoking all the drama and excitement of a Sunday school lecture. “In the Beginning,” NBC’s sandals and chariots pic, also doesn’t quite fit the usual high standards set by previous Halmi projects. It is an arid and joyless version of events that makes one long for the melodrama of a Cecil B. DeMille project.
A “greatest hits” of sorts of the books of Genesis and Exodus — mini starts with the claim that the film “reflects the spirit and historical significance of the Bible” — the miniseries introduces viewers to major personalities of the good book, all linked by their relationship with God as well as their possession of the staff of Abraham, a symbol of authority handed down through generations to the ensuing prophets.
Part One begins 2,000 years before the birth of Christ when the old prophet, Abraham, played by a curmudgeonly Martin Landau, leads his followers to a new land and teaches them the word of God.
The ensuing events are filmed at a frenetic pace and even though pic boasts an impressive cast, most actors are unrecognizable as one bearded man in a robe blends into the next.
By the end of Part One, we’ve worked our way through the stories of Sarah (Jacqueline Bisset), Issac (Sean Pertwee), Rebecca (Diana Rigg), Esau (Andrew Grainger) and Jacob (Frederick Weller). First seg finishes with Joseph (Eddie Cibrian) sold into slavery by his brothers.
Part Two is more watchable, moving from the monotonous desert to the sinful but enticing world of Egypt. Spicing things up considerably is the always-entertaining Amanda Donohoe as the lusty and scheming Zuleika and the stalwart Christopher Lee as Rameses I.
But just as abruptly as Joseph’s tale starts, it ends with a quote from Genesis. Then it’s on to Moses, played by “Once and Again’s” Billy Campbell.
Campbell, adept at conveying modern angst, makes for a grumpy and reluctant Moses. Still, he adequately works his way through all of the requisite drama including the parting of the Red Sea and the return from Mount Sinai with stone tablets in hand.
On average, most perfs are perfunctory and not terribly inspired, although Rigg as Rebeccah and Bates as Jethro do manage to stand out from the crowd.
Tech credits, including laughable special effects and sloppy editing, further inhibit these stories that have been better served in other Hollywood incarnations.
Costumes by Maria Hruby and production design by Keith Wilson fit all of the appropriate specifications for this kind of period drama.