“The Bible” Climbs to New Ground

History Channel’s “The Bible”: Its first showing racked in a viewership that rivaled the international cult show “The Walking Dead” and since the appearance of Obamatan (a Moroccan actor playing Satan who looks eerily like President Obama) the conversation about “The Bible” is far from over. The 5 part series (episodes 1-10 are shown in pairs of 2 at a time) is 2/3 done and it’s time for me to weigh in with my own two cents (if you’re in America. It’s a nickle’s worth in Canada now). I am a pretty skeptic person when it comes to the portrayal of anything to do with the Bible or Jesus on screen. The people behind the projects are almost always more concerned with converting heathens than making a quality, professional production, and they get stuck in some mental rut that robs all creativity and talent and humanity and emotion and anything that makes it not embarrassing as a Christian to see my beliefs being portrayed as…well, an embarrassment. So while the trailer for this new mini-series and the minds behind it got my hopes up I was cautious to say the least. But the quality of this production makes it stand out as wholly unique and that’s a good thing. Here are some of my thoughts.

1) Angels: Ninja Angel rocks. His first and only showing in the first episode was enough to make me want him back with his ambidextrous sword use and sweet ninja moves. Every time a red cape shows up, my hopes rise that he has returned. In general the angels are awesome. They get a massive stamp of approval. In fact, the whole approach to showing angels and “the angel of the Lord”/God is really cool and is probably one of my favourite developments of the whole series. It’s a new approach of showing angels as the super cool warriors that they are. They are mysterious, strong, confident, the superhero that makes everything turn out in the end. When you see those great red cloaks you know something good is going to happen- or something bad to the guys on the wrong side of the table. Very bad. I love it.

2) Casting: I am glad to say that these are real actors who can really act, not just amateurs who are cast simply because they go to church. As for how I think they have been cast, well, it’s been a bit hit and miss. Noah was kind of Scottish but I suppose that was better than Irish. I really might have started to giggle in giddiness if he had a thick Irish accent. Samson was a big black guy with dreads- what?? I was too perplexed by Samson being a big black guy with dreads to focus on the rest of the story. I think the casting director and historical consultant got their post-it memos mixed up? I wasn’t really feeling Abraham but, like so much else with this series, David was a turning point for the good. His casting was solid. I am a big fan of Zedekiah though his role was small. He really worked that look of an unsure puppet king and had that tormented scream down pat. Jeremiah was really too crazy looking; the man was impassioned, not a mad scientist. Daniel looked too much like a Muskateer at first but then he grew past it and I rather liked him in his role. Apparently he can make the Muskateer look work for Babylonian/Medeo-Persian governors. Cyrus the Great was good, John the Baptist had won me at the first flip of his dreads (anyone else feel a connection with Heath Ledger’s character in “A Knight’s Tale”?) and he was also shown to be a normal person not a crazed desert wildman which I very much appreciated. And, despite the distracting pinkness of Jesus’ lips, and sometimes looking like he came from a 1950’s Arian portrait found in the bottom of a denominational church’s basement Sunday school room, I like him because he doesn’t show himself to be dreary but very human. Thumbs up Jesus. I like being able to like you on screen.

3) Editing: The editing has gotten progressively better. The first episode (1-2) was poorly transitioned, choppy, it seemed to me like they were confused if they were making a documentary or a drama or if they just simply ran out of editing time. By the time we have arrived at the third episode (5-6) they have found their editing stride and the transitions from story to story over nearly 400 years in an hour and a half was smooth and flowing. That no doubt has much to do with scripting, my next point.

4) Creative License in the Script: The fact that the producers of “The Bible” are attempting to put together about 7 hours of film to properly show some 7,000 years of history and draw you into characters and complex stories is daunting just to think about. There were a few moments of creativity in the first episode (1-2), ex. Hagar getting ready to go into the desert, young Moses prepping to fight his fearful brother, but they were few and too far between to take the story off the start-n-stop track that it is written in within the Bible itself. Spending a lot of time with David in part 4 allowed the writers to find their pace (assuming they wrote chronologically) and when we returned to visiting over 5 major personalities in episodes 5-6 those little added moments which aren’t written in the Bible but bring the story to life are wielded with skill and really make for some solid story telling. It is the realistic dialogue which is exchanged between characters, character physical interactions, those moments of humanity that are allowed to show through, it’s all these things that put flesh and blood on names and deeds.

5) War & Blood: YES!!! THANK YOU!!! Thank you for not being afraid to show blood squirting, entrails flying and eyes being gauged with horrendous screams (though I am in doubt Nebuchadnezzar would have done the deed himself). Thank you for showing the real grit of the Old Testament and even the tortures of the New Testament for what they are. Take off the fig leaves of innocence, you’ve only been boring us all and fooling yourself for the last decades by trying to hide it. The battle scenes are some of the most consistently exciting parts of this series and are my favourite to watch.

6) Romans: Please for the love of all things good in this world, stop putting Roman soldiers in Israel before they were actually there! The Xth Fretensis wasn’t posted in Judaea until the 20’s AD and Jerusalem until the war in the late 60’s AD so you can have them, or one of the other Syrian legions, squashing rebellions brought in from Syria (ie. the rebellion in Galilee) but local auxiliary forces were not the Roman army and local auxiliaries were what were causing all the trouble in the early years of Jesus’ life. One of these days I’m going to make a career out of un-doing all the undue credit being handed out to the Romans. I’m going to advocate everyone read the book “Rome & Jerusalem” by Martin Goodman, it will correct years of erroneous history sermons and plays.

7) Wisemen: I have to admit I was disappointed the producers felt they needed to have three and a black guy. Nothing against black guys, it’s possible there was one. The wisemen were most likely Persian though and there’s growing support for the notion that three was not the magic number for traveling wisemen. For all the effort put into providing a fresh look at many of the stories up to that point, having three wisemen was pretty cliché.

8) Soundtrack: Anything with Hans Zimmer behind it is gold. That they have such a name and such talent is beyond impressive. I even found myself humming the theme after it ended.

Watching “The Bible” has been like watching the growth of a child. Awkward and too big for its own shoes but then the progression of the series finding its own feet and independence has been a worthy journey. The opening script of every episode states that the essence of the Bible has been preserved with the highest conviction to authenticity. That goal has been a project of growth and I believe that they have finally come into near fullness of what they were aiming for. The beauty and humanity of the book of the Bible is often missed by readers because it has to be inserted by the reader themselves since the authors of the Bible were focused not so much on the tears, laughter and dilemmas of the characters’ situations but on how their lives fit into the greater scheme of God’s plan. Nevertheless, it is those very qualities that make us invested in their situations and that is what audiences need to experience in order to care. “The Bible” has learned how to do that, how to insert that humanity for us, and to take text from the pages and breathe life into it.

One of the most revolutionary developments made by the creators of this series is what I believe might have been the crucial missing point to all its Bible predecessors: it is its mission to show the essence of the Bible- what it means to us, today, the people in the trenches of life. “The Bible” shows the characters living their situations from their own point of view, with nothing but some “blind” faith and a desperate need to get through a really bad situation. Reading the Bible in the 21st century we get the luxury of 20/20 hindsight, and we get to be armchair generals. We have the ability to read the commentary of the Bible’s authors and we often read it like we are sitting with God looking down on a large playing field seeing the whole picture knowing the end from the beginning. But when you are David facing the pressure from your loyal men to kill the man hunting you down, or Daniel realizing that the laws are being manipulated against you, there is no knowing of what will happen next. There is reality and then there is faith that a cool red cloaked angel will come to your rescue. But the dread of reality fights for control of the mind and it is only their ability to take control of their fears and keep their situation in perspective of the promises of God that saves them that forces them to make a decision on what to do. To everyone else around them they are acting out of stupidity or weakness. It is a real feeling that anyone of faith lives with not only 3,000 years ago but today. It is what makes the Bible relevant. Yesterday I made decisions not knowing what today will bring and I made some of them in faith that certain things would, or would not happen today. The characters of the Bible changed the world the same way- one day at a time believing that if they stay true what God said a long time ago then God does not change and everything will work out in the end somehow.

It is with that realization that “The Bible” began to mean something to me more than just another historical show. It was the point of view, the in-the-trenches point of view, not knowing what may come of your actions, just knowing that you’re acting, that showed me these people had the same kind of faith that we do today- whatever may come, let it come, I will go to the grave with my conscience intact.  It may mean the end of me but it may not. Think what you will of Christians and the Bible, there really is little room to question the braveness their convictions and that is admirable no matter what your opinions are.

Watch the Trailer here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_3aOg_UeyGA

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