Thursday, February 12, 2004
Film: Holy turgidity
The Gospel of John tells the good news very slowly
By By Anthony Del Valle
It's obvious that The Gospel of John--a three-hour recitation with visuals of the American Bible Society's Good News Bible, not be confused with Mel Gibson's upcoming The Passion of the Christ--is not meant for general entertainment audiences. British director Philip Savile and screenwriter John Goldsmith present the Gospel's story about Jesus' final days on Earth in its entirety, with no omissions or embellishments. Christopher Plummer (The Sound of Music) reads the text off-camera, with the actors often mouthing the narrator's words.
The performers, mostly Shakespearean actors from Canada and England, are all competent, though a bit lackluster. Henry Ian Cusick is an intriguingly boyish, no-nonsense Jesus. And the film's technical values are solid.
Savile shows a gift for composition, but there just isn't much viewpoint in his direction. It's as if he were afraid that punching up some dramatic scene, or showing some imaginative daring might destroy the producers' desired neutral tone. (Can a good movie ever really be "neutral"?) A bigger problem is that the unedited gospels are not very cinematic, any more than a complete recitation of Beowulf or War and Peace would be. The potential for drama is certainly there--as countless other films have proved--but, as a screenwriter, the apostle John clearly needed some 101 courses.
The result is a sluggish, painfully uninteresting film that might be of value to New Testament students who don't like to read words unless they come with pictures.
What is worth pondering is the credit of Garth Drabinsky as co-producer. The controversial Canadian is co-founder of the Cineplex Odeon chain and a once-prosperous theater moneyman who has been fighting for years serious fraud charges that sent him into professional oblivion. Is this film his penance?