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David Smedberg

The Miracle Maker

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I won't be posting anything critical about this movie, not tonight. I just saw it as part of my Good Friday remembrance, and I just know that it, emphatically, deserves a topic. If only to point out how great it is.

What other movie could have gotten away with making Christ so . . . human? I particularly remember the scene where he chooses the apostles, and how there is nothing about that scene to make you believe that he knows we're watching, he's just speaking to his friends and followers. And in that wonderful, climactic scene when he raises the daugher of Jairus, the way he smiles and points out that she's probably hungry . . . it just brought tears to my eyes.

The Miracle Maker became, for me, so much more than a nice story, more than the sum of its parts. It's an opportunity to reflect on how I can see, in each person around me, a reflection of Christ. And then live my life accordingly.

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Nice, nice thoughts. As I read this, my daughter and I are watching Miracle Maker for like the gazillioneth time. (We just found it in our VHS collection ... I taped it way back when it first aired in 2000, when she was 6 months old, and we finally watched it a few months ago. She and I are both in love with it now.)

Also love the way the temptation in the desert is presented, and the depiction of Mary Magdalene's possession, and especially Jesus' sense of playfulness and humor. Very effective, very real, and like you said, very human.

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I, too, wathed it during its original TV broadcast, and found it delightful. Kind of kitschy in a way; I remember referring to it as "Claymation Jesus" in front of a secular co-worker, who found that designation highly amusing.

But it's a great little movie. The thing that threw me wasn't Fiennes' accent, but Peter's Scottish accent (if memory serves). That was goofy, but not a serious drawback. I think "Miracle Maker" aired around the same time as that Jeremy Sisto "Jesus" mini-series on CBS, which was dreadful, making "Miracle Maker" seem all the more superior.

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Remember seeing this one late one night at Schloss Mittersill, a 500 year old castle in Austria. A new friend there, a real movie buff, had just received the dvd in the mail and had to share it with us all. It was one of his personal favourite films. Any qualms I may have had about a plasticine passion were balanced going into it by respect for Murray Watts, who penned the screenplay: he's written some very strong stuff for Riding Lights theatre in England. And this beautiful little film didn't disappoint. How rich an experience, to hear the story rendered by a writer so immersed in the gospels, so literate (and dramatically sound) without some sort of demythologizing agenda. Lots of tears, that night: and it wasn't just the jetlag!

Can't wait to watch it again. My folks are here this weekend, so I'm not taking any time away from being with them to watch movies, but if I end up with spare minutes, maybe I'll watch even part of this one. I had thought AU HASARD BALTHAZAR. Wouldn't that be an interesting easter double feature?

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Great stuff, Alan. Regarding the children/adulthood theme, one moment struck me, when Jesus mentions the Samaritan, and the teen-aged boy says "I hate them." The grieved look of disappointment on Jesus' face.

I love the way he fleshes out Jairus and Tamar's story, following through with them right from the outset through the road to Emmaus. Loved the fact that Jairus's position as synagogue head meant he was exposed to the Jewish authorities' disapproval of Jesus, giving him a real barrier to overcome to reach out for Jesus' help for his daughter.

Great choice to focus on Jairus' daughter and Lazarus, the two resurrections that foreshadow Jesus' own. And the characterization of Cleopas was great, and the fact that, as Jairus's friend, he witnessed both Tamar's and Jesus's resurrections.

Mary Magdalene was also vividly rendered, the way traces of her madness continued through the story, yet clearly she was healed of the affliction of the demons at the outset. Andrew's a kick, isn't he?

(Watched the film with my parents and family this evening. Thanks for the idea, gang: what a splendid close to an Easter day.)

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Hi, y'all! My son Timothy loved this movie this year, he calls it "the Jesus Movie made with the toys..."

It's my favorite Jesus movie of all time, personally. It's fresh, yet orthodox. It's great.

Watched "The Gospel of John" this year, too. It's pretty good. Good script, though a bit talky.... :)

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I'm glad to see this film continues to build an audience; I reviewed it at Chiaroscuro when it was first broadcast, but some other highly-touted (and apparently forgetable) Jesus miniseries was getting all the press at the time. I loved it, bought the DVD the moment it hit shelves, and have loaned it out many times since. One of the things I most appreciate about it is its visual allusions to classical painting.

Incidentally, while the violent final scenes might be too intense/confusing for very young children, the film provides a nice dramatic arc with the resurrection of the little girl. It provided a solid "ending" when my brother first showed the DVD to his four-year-old.

Edited by Doug C

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One of the things I most appreciate about it is its visual allusions to classical painting.

You've piqued my interest! I vaguely remember once or twice thinking, "Hey, that looks familiar." But can't even recollect what images those were. Can you remember any specifics?

There was one point in one of the 2D animation sequences where I thought, "Hey, these guys are Russian, right? That reminds me of something in one of the icons at the end of ANDREI RUBLEV." But I can't even remember what it was I saw that gave me that passing thought.

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Well shoot, now that I wrote that, I'm working from memory and it has been several years since I last saw it (and it's currently on loan). I can't remember specifics. But I do recall offhand that certain scenes--particularly lowering Jesus from the cross--seemed like an almagram of images from classical art. And the lighting in that scene is so Rembrandt.

I liked the varied stylization of the 2D animation, too. I remember some of it as being very angular, almost cubist, so I can imagine why it might have struck you as "iconic."

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I love this film, defintitely one of my top ten Jesus films, and I watched a couple of weeks ago as well. FWIW I reviewed it on my blog.

I think for me I'm constantly amazed that this film, gives us the most realistic and human Jesus of all the films. Plus I love the interchanging animation. I also don't think the violene is too much for young kids. This is probably another whole debate, but death ahppens at all stages in life, and Jesus's death is central to his story and our story. The film really skims over the ins and outs of what happens in those final few hours - it's probably the shortest treatment of it in a feature-length Jesus film at a guess.

FWIW there are some specifc comments on the portrayal of Mary in the iflm over at The Magdalene Review

Matt

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The violence isn't too much for little ones.

I'd say that very much depends on the little ones in question. It was too much for my nephew at the time, and I admired my brother's restraint and long view of faith in developmentally appropriate ways. (I think he was partly inspired by the Godly Play program.)

Edited by Doug C

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I've posted a scene guide for this film with timings and citations, and a few comments about the film's use of luke over at my blog.

Matt

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Link to the relevant post in the 'jesus point-of-view shots' thread.

One of the great revelations to me when I saw this film at that time was that it didn't just mix different kinds of animation, it actually used certain kinds of animation to convey certain things. Stop-motion animation is for the day-to-day objective physical reality in which the characters live, and hand-drawn animation is for the subjective spiritual reality where stories, memories, even experiences of demonic possession and oppression all take place.

So for that and many other reasons -- including, yes, Ralph Fiennes' remarkable vocal performance -- this is easily one of my favorite Jesus films.

Now if only people didn't keep forgetting that it was a follow-up to the nine-part half-hour Emmy-winning TV series Testament: The Bible in Animation, which is also quite good -- and surprisingly mature for an animated series about the Bible. (Why, oh why, is it not on DVD?)

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Now if only people didn't keep forgetting that it was a follow-up to the nine-part half-hour Emmy-winning TV series Testament: The Bible in Animation, which is also quite good -- and surprisingly mature for an animated series about the Bible. (Why, oh why, is it not on DVD?)

Oh, but they are! Vision Video has them.

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Woo hoo!

Thanks!

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Tim Willson wrote:

: Oh, but they are! Vision Video has them.

Pfeh! A separate DVD for each half-hour episode!? This whole series could easily fit on two discs, instead of nine. Where's the much more economical boxed set?

BTW, it occurs to me I may as well quote my blurb on The Miracle Maker from my recent 'Top 10 Jesus Movies' article: "Shown in theatres in Europe and on television in North America, this follow-up to the Welsh-Russian TV series Testament: The Bible in Animation was the first major animated cartoon about the life of Jesus. Like the series that preceded it, The Miracle Maker employs a mix of animation techniques, and in a very purposeful way. The day-to-day experiences of Jesus and his followers are depicted with stop-motion puppets, while the parables, flashbacks, memories and spiritual encounters are depicted the traditional, hand-drawn way; the scene in which Jesus casts the demons out of Mary Magdalene is especially striking, as it segues from one style of animation to the other. Co-produced by Mel Gibson's Icon Productions and written by Christian author Murray Watts, the film stars the voice of Ralph Fiennes, whose Jesus is by turns tender, humorous, exasperated, and above all very, very engaging."

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{quote}Pfeh! A separate DVD for each half-hour episode!? This whole series could easily fit on two discs, instead of nine. Where's the much more economical boxed set?

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As carefully as I watch DVD releases these days, I can't believe this one slipped past me: Yesterday a new DVD special edition of The Miracle Maker was released! Extras include a director/producer commentary and making-of featurette. I'm going to have to see if I can get Lions Gate to send a screener.

Incidentally, does anyone know which network the film first played in the USA? IMDb doesn't say; I'm guessing PBS, but I'd like to be sure.

Edited by SDG

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My recollection is that it aired on ABC. But I don't know if that's where it aired first.

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Also, the new DVD is anamorphic widescreen! I didn't originally realize that the film was made for theatrical release at all, so I didn't even know it had a widescreen aspect ratio.

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The DVD I've had for a few years now is AWS; do you have a FS DVD or a VHS copy?
I thought my DVD was FS, but now you've made me wonder. Maybe I was thinking of my old VHS copy. Hm.

Well, if the commentary's any good, it will be worth it for that.

I believe the film aired on ABC during Holy Week, 2001.
But surely it aired somewhere in the US in 2000? I know I saw it in 2000; I wrote it up in my 2000 year in review piece. Of course I probably had it on VHS, but did it really come out in VHS in the US and not hit the airwaves until 2001? Where did it broadcast in 2000?

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Each of the "big three" networks had Jesus movies during the 1999-2000 season. This was ABC's contribution (CBS had Jesus, starring Jeremy Sisto, and NBC had Mary, Mother of Jesus). PBS is definitely not one of the "big three".

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/onfilm/message/477

Man, it's been over nine years -- almost a decade -- since I first heard that this movie was going in production.

http://us.imdb.com/news/sb/1998-01-13#film6

FWIW, the back of my DVD says it's 1.85:1, "enhanced" for widescreen TVs (which I believe means it's 16x9 rather than letterboxed 4:3).

What an ugly cover that new DVD has.

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Yer welcome.

BTW, if you're curious as to the nature of those "interactive games", according to the Canadian Amazon page, they are:

"It is Written", relating movie scenes to Bible scriptures

"Learning From Jesus" reinforcing messages conveyed in the movie

If you get any contact info for the DVD, could you forward it my way?

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