”The Bible”: Tense and Turbulent Testament, for Better or Worse

At least they seem to have had a decent special effects budget. The new dramatized Bible series, produced for History Channel by Mark Burnett and Roma ”Touched by an Angel” Downey is otherwise struggling with a certain turbulence of its own. And I’m not sure it could be characterized as a consistently well-structured drama, judging from the first 90-minute episode, shown on Swedish Television (SVT) yesterday. But it does make these old stories, familiar for many of us, come alive again.

To begin with, we are transported without warning into the raging seas, where Mr Noah relates the highlights of World history thus far, from the Garden of Eden until the start of the Flood. The story of Adam and Eve and their lack of proper clothing does often seem to present a dilemma for not least overtly Christian filmmakers, but now they’re able to deal with that little incident with the forbidden fruit in a few quick cuts and then move on rapidly, well, rush, really – to other supposedly more edifying stuff. Such as jealousy, rage and revenge, massacres of enemies and… you know the drill. Large swaths of the Old Testament are by definition, not entirely appropriate for children, but they’re also fascinating stories that tell us a great deal about the delicate art of being human, interpreted again and again by generation after generation in a significant percentage of the world as we know it.

This time the focus first really aims at Abraham and his younger relative Lot, including the destruction of Sodom, here presented with an added bonus in the shape of Mature Mutant Ninja Angels of Death. I thought I might have missed something last time I read the story, and as it turns out the series creators have (surprisingly enough) taken some certain dramatic licence here and there. I double-checked with Genesis chapter 19 and indeed the angels are there, and they do turn some Sodomite sinners blind, but they’re not explicitly armed and up for a swordfight in the Desert City of Doom. Just so you know. In the case of Abraham, his anguish over having to split up a family, being the father of two sons with two different mothers, is rather well and vividly portrayed in my opinion. although it ends too abruptly and less satisfying, considering the resonance the tale of Isaac and Ishmael still contains in today’s world.

The Lion’s share of high-pitched drama and climactic sequences is reserved for Moses. He’s not played by Charlton Heston this time around, but he’s still a pretty impressive presence (even if I can’t find the actor’s name either on Internet Movie Database nor anywhere else at the moment). The Exodus from Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea, have been strategically placed shortly before the end of the first episode and the following ‘previews of coming attractions’ such as King Saul and his off-and-on protegé David, Samson the hairy heavy-lifting guy and a certain Jesus. The budget seems overall to have been decent and production values convincing as a whole. The acting is a somewhat uneven thing, with some especially impressing performances that do stand out in the crowd. But remember it’s a cast with precious few household names involved.

And so, the decisive question: how often will Satan himself keep lurking around in the background, you know the guy some people in the blogosphere have identified as suspiciously resembling Barack Obama? I am quite sure I saw him somewhere already in the first part. The Evil One in his incarnation, by the way, is played by a Mr Mohamen Mehdi Ouazanni who is not new to Biblical dramas, according to IMDb. And, if the producers of the show are to be believed, he’s not at all meant to make people think of the current US president, regardless of the speculations.

All in all, to be continued…

Note: This short review can also be found on russin.nu in a Swedish-language version.

Official site for the History Channel’s Bible series

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Note: This post has also been published at Yemenity2010. It has been slightly altered and updated in some details here.