"Son of God," the latest cinematic retelling of the saga of Jesus Christ, isn’t based on the much-ballyhooed History Channel miniseries "The Bible." It literally is "The Bible," albeit vigorously edited down from ten hours to 138 minutes with some deleted scenes added in for a bonus. To call "Son of God" a new movie is like a date reheating leftovers and saying he cooked dinner for you, then asking for $10 to cover the cost. And it was Chinese takeout to begin with.
To be fair, this isn’t the first time a TV mini-series has been brought to the big screen. Michael Winterbottom’s "The Trip," most recently, was originally a TV series before it was edited down into a two-hour movie. However, that was originally aired on the BBC in the United Kingdom. "The Bible" was a widely promoted television "event" on a basic cable network, already watched by millions.
It rings more than a little exploitative to charge audiences – some of whom perhaps going based on a sense of faith-based obligation – $10 to see an extremely condensed version of a film they’ve already seen for free (plus scenes that somehow weren’t worthy of the ten-hour cut), reskinned, retitled and resold as something new.
Also, "The Trip" was a good movie. "Son of God" is not, though it should be commended for accurately recreating the soul-sucking boredom of watching a dull and uninspired ten-hour film into one-fourth the running time. Hmm … "commended" may not be the word I’m looking for.
After sprinting through the Old Testament chapters in a manner that’s only missing a voiceover proclamation of "Previously on ‘The Bible,’" "Son of God" dives into, well, the son of God, played by handsome Portuguese soap opera actor Diogo Morgado. He’s first seen emerging from a desert via an attempt at an epic "Lord of the Rings"-esque helicopter shot, ready to find some followers.
What ensues is pretty much a clunky, disconnected highlight reel of Jesus’ story. Fish and loaves are multiplied. Blind and dead are healed. Raging CG waters are unconvincingly trotted across. The miracles and teachings build Jesus’ following, all the while building up rage amongst the Jewish high priests (who the movie rather uneasily goes out of its way to constantly frame as the clear villains of the story, adding in scenes of dark-room conniving, murderous crowd-riling and cross-editing crucifixions with Jewish prayer).
These are stories that have inspired billions, yet there is no inspiration to be found in "Son of God." The TV-ready special effects – especially during Jesus’ walk on water – only help to underline the film’s small screen origins, and the editing barely even bothers covering up the moments where it feels a commercial break would go.
Meanwhile, director Christopher Spencer recreates the events of the Jesus’ story with almost no attempt at visual creativity, inventive interpretation or spark of imagination. Never has the miraculous felt so drearily mundane.
The movie’s biggest problem, however, turns out to be, well, Jesus himself (awaits bolt of lightning). The script is too literal and reverent to give him much humanity, and he’s neither performed nor written with enough screen presence to make him feel otherworldly or special. Not that his disciples are given much more other than one note (Thomas doubts, Judas betrays, etc.).
In fact, as played by Morgado, he’s less King of the Jews and more King of the snooze. When he rages through the temple, Morgado barely seems angry enough to flip a single table over, and the way he playfully tells a little girl about the impending destruction of the temple plays as though something was lost in translation from page to performance. Out of all of Christ’s miracles in "Son of God," his most incredible might be that he’s managed to create such an impassioned following while lifelessly preaching from the Gospel of Drawn-Out Dramatic Pauses and exuding more smug self-satisfaction than contagious charisma.
It’d certainly be a new angle on the story, but considering the movie’s overall slavishly devoted reverence and intentions, this smirkingly contented savior was undoubtedly unintentional.
After blandly marching its way through Jesus’ miracles and teachings, "Son of God" finally climaxes with the Passion. Give credit where it’s due: It’s less pornographically violent than Mel Gibson’s relentless take (and it doesn’t leave everything else as simply a footnote to the bloodshed).
However, sitting through the same laborious slow motion tripping, the same beats – as well as beatings – and the same endless sobbing, mostly from Mary (Roma Downey, who produced this and the miniseries with husband Mark Burnett), drag out feels like just as much of a masochistic endurance for the audience. All the while, Morgado’s absent performance and Spencer’s cheap, affect-less direction make all the misery register emotionally as deep as a flesh wound.
By the time the credits roll, "Son of God" winds up as moving and inspirational as one of those prayer cards received trick-or-treating on Halloween. I'd like to give it credit for having a sincere devotion to sharing the Greatest Story Ever Told, but its discreet trail from TV to $10 "new release" rings my cynicism alarm and loudly. Even the word of God and Hans Zimmer’s thunderously pounding score can't completely muffle the sound of dollar signs in producers' eyes going "ka-ching!"
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Matt Mueller
Published Sept. 19, 2014
It's been a turbulent few years for Aaron Freeman, more commonly known as Gene Ween from the band Ween. After much self-repair, however, the musician is himself again - literally - recording and performing as the lead in his new band, fittingly titled Freeman. The band has a new album, along with a tour stopping at Turner Hall Ballroom. Before then, OnMilwaukee.com chatted with Freeman about the road to recovery, music and himself.
Published Sept. 18, 2014
Character actor David Eigenberg is likely best known for spending multiple seasons and two movies romancing Cynthia Nixon's Miranda Hobbes on the iconic HBO TV show "Sex and the City." Eigenberg's latest television project nowadays, however, is far from high fashion and high living in New York City. Instead of a fiery redhead, Eigenberg now co-stars with actual flames on NBC's "Chicago Fire."
Published Sept. 17, 2014
In 2010, Mark Clements arrived in Milwaukee and, in his first act as artistic director, brought something to the Milwaukee Rep's main stage that oddly it had never seen in its impressive history: a musical. Several years later, Clements has made it a bit of a tradition to feature a musical in the Rep's main house schedule. 2014 is no different and the Powerhouse opens up with "The Color Purple."
Published Sept. 15, 2014
The title of The War on Drugs' latest album is "Lost in the Dream," fitting for a record - and a moment in time - that utterly enveloped front man Adam Granduciel. The band is now taking the final product on the road, including a stop at The Pabst Theater on Sunday, Sept. 21. Before then, Granduciel chatted with OnMilwaukee.com about becoming a real band on the road, the process behind the album and the inner battles that went into it.
Published Sept. 14, 2014
It's hard to imagine there was much clamoring for a sequel to "Dolphin Tale." The first film was a modest early fall success back in 2011, but even then, the story of Winter the dolphin was already fairly thin dramatic material, serving as little more than a nice pleasant aside. Still, somebody thought it was a good idea to head back to the well, and surprisingly - judging from "Dolphin Tale 2" - that person wasn't wrong.
Published Sept. 12, 2014
The Brewers are desperately trying to pull themselves out of a devastating tailspin. Even when they win, they seem to lose - as evidenced by last night's Giancarlo Stanton debacle. Sounds like a good time to get baseball's favorite canine Hank the Dog back in the spotlight!
Published Sept. 10, 2014
The country-tinged rock duo of Phil Leavitt and Joie Calio worked together for years in the band Dada. 7Horse, however, marks a fairly new project for the guys. And there are certainly worse things to put on an early band's resume than being associated with an Oscar-nominated Scorsese film. OnMilwaukee.com got a chance to chat with Leavitt about the band's origins, its Milwaukee connection and getting the rare Scorsese Stamp of Approval.
Published Sept. 9, 2014
For fans of the late '90s, names like the Sugar Ray, "TRL," Surge and Chris Gaines will sound very familiar (OK, maybe not that last one). For local music fans around in the era, another name might sound a little familiar: The Buzzhorn.
Published Sept. 8, 2014
The good news? As with every year, the lineup of movies are the Milwaukee Film Festival is overflowing with terrific options. The bad news? Unfortunately, save for some kind of planetary revolution halt, divine intervention or new time machine development, there are only so many hours in the day. So here are some picks for the film festival selections you should definitely make the time to see.
Published Sept. 5, 2014
After slowly teasing its complete lineup for the past several weeks, the 2014 Milwaukee Film Festival finally revealed the entire cinematic buffet it's assembled for film fans - both hardcore and casual - this morning. And my friends, it looks absolutely delicious.