(Photo: Grace Hill Media)
I guess I must have seen most of the Hollywood-made movies and TV shows about the Bible or characters from the Bible. While many of them have a nostalgic feel for me, I must admit that the majority was pretty high on my "cringe factor" scale.
When Mark Burnett ("Survivor," "The Voice," "Celebrity Apprentice") and his wife, Roma Downey ("Touched by an Angel"), stepped into this well-traveled space, my initial response was skepticism. I firstly wanted to figure out where this particular effort would fit on my "cringe" scale – but I was in for a big surprise.
Burnett and his wife have produced a mini-series that is not only "not disappointing," but actually rises to the top of the "Wow" scale. Attempting to take on the whole Bible in 10 hours is pretty much an impossible task for just about anyone, but apparently not for the Burnetts. They really have produced something of epic proportions.
Over the last 3 1/2 years, Mark and Roma have been driven by the singular vision of producing a project that would honor the sacred text, yet bring it to life for a new generation. The end result is something that has the feel of a $150 million big budget film.
A half year of filming in Morocco, hundreds of extras, an Oscar-winning editing studio and a score that brought back together for the first time after "Gladiator" the incredible Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerard – all this helped to bring the Bible to screen like no other film in history. The cast made up of gifted actors coming from across the world reflects the global influence of the Bible – a Samson from the African diaspora, an Irish David, and a Portuguese Jesus, just to name a few.
Obviously, the most challenging role of the entire series is that of Jesus. Diogo Morgado rises to the task, presenting Jesus as a powerful yet compassionate and humble character.
Over the last year, I had the privilege of reading all the scripts, seeing many clips of the series and even visiting the set in Morocco. While I felt that this was going to be a great project, I wanted to be sure that the final edits would hold together as a singular thematic message throughout the entire series. I was not disappointed!
Just recently I did a marathon session and watched the entire series in one single day. For someone that has read and taught the Bible for most of his life, I had a remarkable spiritual and emotional experience. The theme of God's love and hope for all humanity is the thread that holds the entire series together. I received a fresh new perspective on many of the famous Bible stories: Looking through the eyes of Sarah as she thinks that her husband, Abraham, has sacrificed their son Isaac; listening to Noah telling the story of Creation to his children on the ark; agonizing with Mary (played by Roma Downey) as she sees her son, Jesus, beaten and crucified. These and so many other stories allow you to connect with the characters on a deep emotional level.
Obviously not all the stories could be covered in those 10 hours, and some of them needed to be compressed. However, the Burnetts – with an impressive list of over 40 advising scholars – have been faithful to the spirit of the text and at the same time provided a television series, that is compelling, gritty at times and spiritually moving.
"The Bible" is not just for the faithful. It's meant for everyone to see: the curious, the skeptic as well as those who just want to see an entertaining adventure series.
There is a scene where Jesus and Peter are together on the boat. Peter has just landed a bountiful load of fish from waters that he deemed unfishable. He looks at Jesus and asks him: "What are we going to do?" And Jesus replies: "We're going to change the World!"
As this series airs on History Channel this March and later this year around the world, it will have impact on people's lives today as well as the lives of generations to come.
This time, Hollywood got it right.