Son of God (2014)
Directed by: Christopher Spencer
Premise: A re-telling of the story of Jesus edited down from the television mini-series The Bible.
What Works: There has been a growing trend of faith-based movies being given wide theatrical release but these pictures frequently look unprofessional and their low budgets show through in the shoddy production values. Son of God is an uneven movie but it is better crafted than a lot of other recent faith-based movies. This picture was created by editing down the ten hour mini-series The Bible to a feature length and for a project that was originally created for television Son of God frequently looks adequately cinematic. The editing and cinematography of this film are pretty good. The picture makes effective use of the desert landscape and the editing has some clever juxtapositions of images, particularly several scenes that cross-cut different groups of people in prayer. As a narrative, the middle portion of Son of God is the most compelling. The story of Jesus is a familiar one, having been dramatized in every artistic medium, but the makers of this film distinguish their version by focusing on the political aspects of the story. This is an angle that’s rarely emphasized in Jesus movies despite the fact that it’s central to understanding Jesus both as a historical figure and a religious symbol. Son of God emphasizes the uneasy relationship between the local Jewish religious leadership and the occupying Roman political and military presence. This film depicts Jesus as a potential threat to the religious and political power structure and the drama of this portion of the story plays very well.
What Doesn’t: Unfortunately, the portion of Son of God that really works is sandwiched between blocks of material that do not play nearly as well. The first third of Son of God recaps the story of Jesus Christ’s birth and his early days as a preacher, as he gathers the apostles and delivers the initial pronouncements of his gospel. This portion of Son of God suffers from common flaws of historical and biographical moviemaking. Part of the problem is the melodramatic acting in which everyone speaks as though they are aware that they are in the midst of historically important events instead of being in the moment. The other problem is that the events that are dramatized come across as a series of disconnected episodes instead of incidents in an escalating narrative. Throughout the first portion of the story, Son of God hits most of the familiar beats of the Jesus story: the birth in the manger, the miraculous catching of fish, the curing of the sick, the forgiveness of the adulteress, the resurrection of Lazarus, and the Sermon on the Mount. Although these scenes are generally set up and executed well enough—except for the Sermon on the Mount, which is rushed through and misses its significance—none of these scenes play with impact. Jesus is presented as a boring character and his companions and enemies are mostly one-dimensional. The picture has the feel of going through the motions and there is very little imagination to the way in which these events have been envisioned. The Jesus story is so familiar and has been adapted to cinema so many times that the filmmakers are obligated to find new ways of presenting this material. After doing that in the middle third of the story with the emphasis on the political context, Son of God returns to a by-the-numbers approach in the arrest and crucifixion. However, where the first portion of Son of God looked like virtually every other Jesus movie, the last portion looks like one in particular: Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. The arrest, interrogation, torture, and crucifixion of Jesus are taken wholesale from Gibson’s film. The images aren’t anywhere near as gory as The Passion but Son of God doesn’t have the visceral power of that film either. And that ultimately sums up the problem with Son of God: it’s not that interesting and it frequently seems like we’ve seen all this before.
Bottom Line: Son of God is intended to cater to an audience of believers, and specifically those who are interested in ritualistically experiencing the same story in the same way. For them the movie does that but they’d be better served by watching the DVD of The Bible mini-series instead.
Episode: #481 (March 9, 2014)