Peter T Chattaway wrote:
: Genesis: Creation & The Flood
(d. Ermanno Olmi, 1994; ch. 1-9)
(d. Joseph Sargent, 1994; ch. 11-25)
(d. Peter Hall, 1994; ch. 25-33)
(d. Roger Young, 1995; ch. 34-50)
FWIW, these four films were all part of a series that went on to feature other characters from the Bible, culminating in the CBS mini-series Jesus
four years ago (when I interviewed the producer of this series, I believe he said they were thinking of making films on Paul and the Apocalypse, but I have not heard of any such films since then). My review of Creation & The Flood
, and since my long-ago review of the other Genesis movies is not online, I might as well re-post it here. (FWIW, one thing I don't mention is that Abraham
was written by Robert McKee, i.e. the screenwriting guru that Brian Cox sends up in one of the funniest scenes in Adaptation
; and another thing I don't mention is that Creation & the Flood
director Olmi is probably best known for The Tree with the Wooden Clogs
- - -
Old Testament epics capture biblical sex and violence
By Peter T. Chattaway
Christian Info News
, July 1996, page 21
(Warner Alliance, 1994)
(Warner Alliance, 1995)
(Warner Alliance, 1995)
BIBLE MOVIES refer so often to "the God of our fathers" it's surprising at first to discover just how little attention films have paid to the patriarchs.
There are several reasons for this. Most biblical life stories are made up of disconnected episodes that do not easily conform to the structure of a two- or three-hour film. Attempts to be "historically accurate" with Genesis falter since no one knows when these stories occurred": scholars have dated Abraham to anywhere between the 23rd and 14th centuries B.C.
Also, filmmakers face the thorny issue of "interpretation." The Bible is a book, not a movie script; for it to work on screen, it must be adapted, and therefore modified. Unfortunately, many producers have chosen to "clean up" the Bible by purging it of sex and violence and by turning its troubled protagonists into pious heroes that parents can trust.
'The Bible Collection', a new series produced for the Turner Broadcasting Network (of all things) and distributed on video by Warner Alliance, commits the latter error but not the former.
According to some scholars, Abraham and Jacob were crafty nomads who played a game of wits with God, while the younger Joseph was a braggart and a snitch whose slavery taught him a lesson in humility. Not so here.
The titular characters in these films are noble souls who speak about God's guidance even when the biblical record suggests they acted on their own impulses.
On the other hand, these videos do include most of the racier stuff. Joseph
is the most daring video in this regard: the rape of Dinah, the sacking of Shechem, Reuben's affair with his father's concubine and Judah's dalliance with his daughter-in-law Tamar are all present and accounted for. These disparate elements are woven into Joseph
's story without sacrificing the film's dramatic unity; the result is unexpectedly coherent, even poignant.
also benefits from the superb performances of Ben Kingsley as Potiphar and Martin Landau as Jacob. Acting in a made-for-TV Bible epic could have been an easy paycheque for either of them, but they invest their roles with intelligence and feeling. Even Strictly Ballroom
's Paul Mercurio does a credible job as Joseph himself. The only embarrassments are Lesley Ann Warren, who makes Potiphar's wife a shrill, shallow seductress, and an exceptionally pretentious Pharaoh.
The other two videos frequently get their history wrong or fail to connect these stories to their original cultural context. Abraham
begins admirably with Terah and his Mesopotamian landlord negotiating a "covenant," but when the time comes for God to establish a covenant of his own with Abraham (Richard Harris), the account in Genesis 15 -- a weird nighttime ritual involving dismembered animals and a levitating fire pot -- is deleted altogether.
God gives Abraham a terse order to circumcise the tribe, but we never see the kinsfolk react to the news, nor the fact that circumcision was already practiced by some surrounding cultures. Abraham tells Isaac and Ishmael that they must sacrifice not the sheep that are worth the most shekels, but the sheep that they love. Families with pets may want their children to skip this part.
The list goes on. The last of Egypt's pyramids was built centuries before these stories took place, yet here they are treated like an up-and-coming invention. The household gods that Rachel steals were more a symbol of inheritance rights than objects of religious devotion. And, as enlightened as the early Hebrews may have been, they did
Dramatically, these films are a mixed bag. You may get more out of Abraham
if you see it in 20-minute segments than if you see it all at once. Jacob
suffers from a pedestrian script and really bad casting: Matthew Modine (Memphis Belle
) and Lara Flynn Boyle (Threesome
) are probably the least inspiring actors one could have picked for a star-crossed romance such as this.
, however, is about as rich a three-hour epic as one could want from television: complex, challenging and convincing, it has enough emotional power to draw you into its world and enough realism to make you want to stay there.