Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Jesus Movies

 It being time for Easter, people ask me what is the “best” movie about Jesus life. The Passion of the Christ is the first one many might think of, and it is a great film, but it’s not exactly about the life of Jesus. It’s really more about the death of Jesus, and there are some other great films that bring out much more of the account of the Messiah.

My personal favorite is Jesus of Nazareth, which was made for television, but it was done on a huge budget and directed by Franco Zeffirelli. It is a masterpiece in many ways, though it is very long, running at 6 ½ hours, but it’s worth every second. The attention to detail is amazing. The acting is natural and restrained, and the whole thing makes you feel like you’re there, 2000 years ago, in the middle of it all.

My least favorite are two films, one being the 1999 made for TV movie called “Jesus,” which was so bad it’s best to just leave it alone and hope it fades into the mists of oblivion. Then, on a larger scale, there is The Greatest Story Every Told, starring the blond haired, blue eyed, Swedish actor named Max Von Sydow as Jesus. I like Max Von Sydow as an actor, and he has done some cool things, but what were they thinking? He is horribly miscast in this film. The whole thing is a giant mess from start to finish. Over blown, over acted, obvious in it’s presentation. It’s an embarrassment.

Other versions like the two versions of King of Kings are okay. But not great. Most are a bit maudlin and preachy when they aren’t being pompous and over done.

A big exception to all of that is this newer version that we watched with our kids the other night. It’s called The Miracle Maker, and it is done in stop motion animation. If you don’t know what that is, it’s how the old Rankin and Bass TV shows were made, as well as modern films like Coraline and The Nightmare Before Christmas and, like the Henry Selick films, this is light years beyond Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer..

The Miracle Maker succeeds on every level. It is a great retelling of the life of Christ that the whole family can watch. My kids were into it for the whole show. And, on top of this, it is one of the best pieces of stop motion work I’ve ever seen. The sheer number of characters on screen throughout the film is outrageous from a stop motion perspective. Given that they have to move all of those character one little increment for every few seconds of film, it leaves you stunned and wondering how in the world they managed it. It is a co British/Russian production, with mostly Brits doing the voice acting (Ralph Fiennes does a fantastic job with the voice of Jesus), and the Russians doing most of the animation. It is stunning to look at, with character design, backgrounds and lighting informed by the paintings of Raphael. Regnault and Botticelli. And it is very respectful of the Bible.

You could easily read through the four Gospel accounts this week and see a few of these movies. It would be well worth your time.

Peace to you.

© LW Publishing 2011

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