TV Review: ‘The Bible’

TV Review: 'The Bible'

Like many showbiz offerings related to religion, “The Bible” is as interesting for its marketing and commercial prospects as for the production itself. Producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey have reached out to a faith-based community that’s often wary of Hollywood as they promote their five-part, 10-hour epic, and if history is any guide (think “The Passion of the Christ”), that could yield boffo ratings for History. As for this handsome, sober but somewhat unimaginative project, the first half plays like a medley of the Old Testament’s greatest hits, before the true star of the show, Jesus Christ, finally arrives.

Narrated by Keith David (who also lent his “voice of God” baritone to Ken Burns’ “The War”), “The Bible” “endeavors to stay true to the spirit of the book,” viewers are told at the start of each chapter, and that’s certainly the case. Moreover, because of Hollywood’s reputation as a liberal hotbed antagonistic toward “traditional values,” the promise of approaching religion with reverence — and greater scope than that offered by often more narrowly focused Christian films — potentially has a sizable built-in audience.

Still, the first few nights prove a bit disjointed, racing through key figures like Noah (dispatched, along with Adam and Eve, in what amounts to a prologue), Abraham and Moses, whose stories are dutifully told with lots of running, screaming and hacking.

Nothing here will make anyone forget Cecil B. DeMille’s biblical epics — in fact, it’s remarkably how little improved the parting of the Red Sea looks after 57 years of technological breakthroughs — but there’s always room for fresh versions of these classics, especially for the devout portion of the audience that feels abused and under-served by pop culture.

Produced in Morocco, “The Bible” exhibits admirable scale, as well as a fine assortment of mostly British actors. Even so, there’s a sense the producers are killing time before they get to the adult Jesus (Portuguese star Diogo Morgado, who’s quite good) in the sixth hour, with Downey doubling as the elder version of his mother, Mary.

Told with great earnestness and a Hans Zimmer score (think “The Lion King of Kings”), “The Bible” hits only a few conspicuously awkward notes. The portrayal of a bloated, pustule-covered King Herod, for example, is so over the top that he looks less like an inhabitant of Roman times than the Baron in David Lynch’s 1984 adaptation of “Dune.”

Although one needn’t be particularly religious to spark to these stories, “The Bible” is clearly designed to move those who will derive a spiritual experience from the material. Moreover, Downey (“Touched by an Angel”) and Burnett have been vocal about their faith, thus establishing credibility in those circles, as Mel Gibson did with “The Passion.”

As for History, after striking gold with “Hatfields & McCoys” the channel has a follow-up that appears virtually foolproof — down to scheduling the chapters so that Jesus’ story wraps up on Easter Sunday. (A DVD release, incidentally, will follow in April.)

As television, “The Bible” is a respectable effort. In commercial terms, however, a phrase not actually found in the original text comes to mind — the one about God helping those who help themselves.

Filmed in Morocco by LightWorkers Media and Hearst Entertainment & Syndication. Executive producers, Roma Downey, Mark Burnett, Richard Bedser, Nancy Dubuc, Dirk Hoogstra, Julian P. Hobbs; series producers, Alexander Marengo, Michael Waterhouse; directors, Crispin Reece, Christopher Spencer, Tony Mitchell; writer, Nic Young; additional writing, Bedser, Colin Swash, Marengo, Spencer, Adam Rosenthal.

Camera, Christopher Titus King, Rob Goldie, Peter Greenhalgh; production designer, Alan Spalding; editors, Rob Hall, Jacob Thomson, Tom Parsons, Dominic Strevens, Iain Kitching, Julian Rodd; music, Hans Zimmer, Lorne Balfe; VFX supervisor, James Jordan; casting, Carl Proctor. 10 HOURS.

With: Diogo Morgado, Sean Teale, David Rintoul, Amber Rose Revah, Peter Guinness, Greg Hicks, Simon Kunz, Roma Downey.
Narrator: Keith David.

Filed Under:

Want to read more articles like this one? SUBSCRIBE TO VARIETY TODAY.
Post A Comment 2

Leave a Reply

2 Comments

Comments are moderated. They may be edited for clarity and reprinting in whole or in part in Variety publications.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

  1. Me says:

    The first episode was totally abysmal. They skipped 3/4 of the material and added in things that are not in the Bible. They should be totally ashamed of themselves for this.

  2. allib says:

    watched the first night . And while I respect the producers for what they were trying to do I agree with the reviewer that it was only a “respectable effort” and didn’t quite make the mark. I found it rushed and jumpy from one story to the next. It also seemed glamorized for Hollywood and even in my basic, non theologian experience of the Bible found many things to be non-Biblically correct. I saw an interviewed where they said they wanted to redo Charlton Heston’s version of the red sea. It looked like a couple hundred people where they focused on the same people, and not the thousands that were actually there and shown well in the original. I also found it focused too much on the violence and not enough on the other parts of the stories. Sorry but I don’t think I’ll be watching further episodes.

More TV News from Variety

Loading