Film review: 'The Gospel of John'

Film review: 'The Gospel of John'

February 29, 2004
Written by Staff Reports

 Unlike Gibson's 'Passion,' the 'Gospel' depicts a different Jesus

"The Passion of the Christ" is the creative brainchild of Hollywood actor Mel Gibson, but the creative genius behind the new film, "The Gospel of John," is none other than St. John himself.

Now playing in several U.S. cities, the Toronto-based Visual Bible International (VBI), which has produced film adaptations of the books of Matthew and Acts, has released its grandest project to date: a feature-length, three-hour rendition of the gospel according to John.

"Before 'The Passion,' experience 'The Gospel,'" reads an advertisement for VBI's fi lm, in reference to the public fervor over Gibson's movie.

Shot on location in Spain and Toronto, "The Gospel of John" adapts, word-for-word, the fourth Gospel, based on the American Bible Society's accessible Good News Bible. The $20 million project, with a cast of 75 principal actors and 2,000 extras, follows John's account of the ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus with precision, neither borrowing from other Gospels nor shying away from complex passages.

The film's authenticity is reinforced by a haunting musical score created with instruments from Jesus' time and with hundreds of meticulously researched period costumes using only fabrics from the era.

Directed by British director Philip Saville, the Canadian-British production stars British stage actors Henry Ian Cusick as Jesus and Scott Handy as John the Baptist. It's narrated by Christopher Plummer, a Canadian and two-time Emmy Award winner.

The screenplay, by veteran John Goldsmith, presented its own challenges—namely, how to keep an audience's attention during Jesus' typically long soliloquies.

As books of the Bible go, those with strong narratives best lend themselves to the big screen, according to retired University of Toronto professor Peter Richardson, who chaired a nine-member panel of theological and academic advisers to the project.

John stands apart from Matthew, Mark and Luke—called the synoptic Gospels because of their similarities—and is said to be the most spiritual of the accounts of Jesus.

"John makes Jesus God from the very beginning, and he downplays the Passion," said Alan Segal of Barnard College in New York, who also advised the project. "His Jesus is much more intimate and reflective."

Unlike the writers of the other Gospels, John records no exorcisms, and his Jesus visits Jerusalem several times over three years. The Crucifixion is graphic but not distasteful. Ultimately, the experts say, the film simply lets the Gospel speak for itself.

Visual Bible International, a global Christian-based media company, intends to produce a new film version of one of the 66 books of the Bible every nine months. The next in the series, "The Gospel of Mark," is in development, to be followed by 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel.

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