“The Miracle Maker” and NBC’s “A.D.: The Bible Continues” Episode I

A big smile appeared on my face when I saw that Crux featured an article about the greatest Jesus movie that far too many people haven’t seen (or then shown to classes or groups).  I learned about it a few years ago from a theology teacher who mentioned it to the class in passing.  His opinion, with which I concur, is that “The Miracle Maker” follows the stories of the gospels quite closely while telling the story of Jesus in a creative and engaging way.

Take a moment to watch the trailer for it to see if it peaks your interest and curiosity.

Aside from the truly jaw-dropping use of stop-motion animation (be sure to watch the “making of” feature on the DVD after you view the movie), I most like the perspective from which the gospels are told.  The main character, who witnesses almost every moment of Jesus’ ministry from early teaching to Ascension, is Tamar – the fictitious name for Jairus’ Daughter.  She begins the film as a sickly ten year-old, dies and is raised from the dead by Jesus.  The dinner in the Road to Emmaus story is at her home and she is on top of the hill when Jesus ascends.

I’m in the midst of showing “The Miracle Maker” to my sophomores as one third of an assignment (Word version & PDF version) in which I want them to compare and contrast how Jesus is portrayed in a trio of popular films.  The other two films that I use are:

I just streamed the first episode “The Tomb is Open” of NBC’s A.D. The Bible Continues and I was pretty pleased with it.  Here’s my immediate thoughts:

+ The production values, from cinematography to use of CGI effects, are much improved over The History Channel’s The Bible. I show the Old Testament segments of this now two year-old mini-series to my freshmen with this disclaimer – “It follows the OT stories quite well and it shows both the Judges and the Prophets in ways most Bible films do not.  But, I feel it goes too far in both glorifying and sensationalizing the violence and bloodshed in the stories.”

+ The first episode showed the bloodshed and butchery which was a central part of the Jewish Passover ritual in the Temple.  I’ve not seen this aspect (which is referenced in John’s Gospel) in other films.  Unfortunately, the scene is used for exposition on the reasons why the Sanhedrian wanted to eliminate Jesus rather than any explanation of the ritual happening in the background.

+ Jesus and the Apostles are portrayed as they might have actually looked.  Jesus looks more Semitic than he does in previous films, including The Bible. John and Mary Magdalene appear of African descent.  Pilate looks appropriately Roman.  Unfortunately Caiaphas, the High Priest, doesn’t look Semitic at all.

+ Dramatic effects are used a bit too much.  The darkness, earthquake and Temple curtain tearing after Jesus’ death are all described in one or more gospels.  These after-effects of the crucifixion are shown for too long and in a manner bordering on cheesy.  And I think this is the first film to show the actual moment of Christ’s resurrection (spoiler alert – it involves an angel with a sword!)

+ Joseph of Arimathea, also a member of the Sanhedrian, is a central character.  The tension that his request to recover and entomb Jesus’ body likely caused between him and Caiaphas is shown quite convincingly.  The burial itself was interesting.  John the Apostle places Jesus’ body on the slab while Mary, the mother of Jesus, cleans the blood from his face and hands.  Meanwhile, what I assume is a traditional Jewish funeral prayer is chanted by a cantor.

Mark Burnett, producer of the twelve episode series (broadcast on Sundays at 9pm EDT/8 CDT) has described A.D. as “The Bible meets ‘Game of Thrones’ meets ‘House of Cards.'”  This is a ironic way of promoting a broadcast network series – especially since the two shows referenced are watched by millions either via cable or streaming (or both).

I’m looking forward to seeing what that future holds for the coming eleven episodes.  As this first season only covers to about Acts of the Apostles chapter 10, Burnett is hopeful he is given a second season to continue the biblical story.  He goes so far to dream of an annual series premiering each Easter Sunday.

If both the first and second episodes are available for streaming after the broadcast this Sunday, I’m considering showing this movie to my sophomores rather than “The Bible.” If so, I’ll let you know how it goes for us.

UPDATE: A blogger at Patheos posted a quite detailed summary about and reflection upon the first episode of A.D.  He plans to post summaries of the additional episodes after they air.  I’m going to use these summaries as an aid to my students’ viewing of the episodes in class.

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