Gospel of John”
Directed by Philip Saville
Screenplay by John Goldsmith, based
on The Book of John
Produced by Chris Chrisafis and Garth H. Drabinsky
Starring Henry Ian Cusick, Stuart Bunce, Daniel Kash, Alan Van Sprang, Andrew
Pifko, Scott Handy, Steven Russell and Christopher Plummer
|The voice over for this
“The Gospel of John” might go something
like this: “Jesus stood in the
room, looking down.”
say it’s the greatest story ever told,
and for good reason. Religious or not, Christian
or not, the story of Jesus of Nazareth is nonetheless
a pretty good yarn, and the material is ripe for
Screen depictions of the story of Jesus Christ are
aplenty, ranging from the deadly serious (“The
Last Temptation of Christ”) to the entertaining
(“Jesus Christ Superstar”) to the satirical
(Monty Python’s “Life of Brian”)
to the educational (all those church videos you watched
in Sunday School).
The newest offering in the Jesus genre is “The
Gospel of John,” which bills itself as a “word-for-word” depiction
of The Bible’s Book of John. But while this
film is professionally made and obviously had enough
financial backing to make it to the big screen, unfortunately
it more closely resembles an as-seen-on-TV Bible
study video for Christian teenagers.
That’s not to say this film is incompetent.
In fact, it’s far from it. The acting isn’t
bad, the sets are nice and the filmmakers seem to
have had their hearts in the right place.
But what Saville can’t seem to get a handle
on is how to turn this material into a powerful and
thoughtful narrative. There’s a stark contrast
between this film and something like Martin Scorsese’s
wonderful “The Last Temptation of Christ,” which,
despite some flaws, was an emotionally powerful and
heartfelt dramatic work.
Like that film, “The
Gospel of John” focuses
on Christ’s ministry in and around Jerusalem,
up through Judas Iscariot’s betrayal, the crucifixion
and the resurrection. Narrated ad nauseam by Christopher
Plummer, the film is detailed and meticulous — and
that is precisely the problem.
The movie was probably
doomed from the get-go simply because of its storytelling
structure. The fact of the matter is that a word-for-word
depiction of The Book of John just isn’t interesting,
despite the material. A word-for-word depiction of
any historical or fictional work is uninteresting.
This film has the same problems that doomed last
and Generals.” It gets so bogged down by every
single detail — every speech, every parable,
every meal, every miracle — that ultimately
the soul of the story is lost.
The most glaring and
annoying flaw — and there
are many — is Plummer’s incessant narration.
The filmmakers were apparently so in love with every
detail of the story, they chose to not only show
us everything, but tell us at the same time. Instead
of letting us absorb a potentially beautiful story,
they beat us over the head with it.
You might have to see
it to believe it, but the narration is practically
constant throughout the film’s
entire three-hour length (and trust me, it feels
a lot longer). The narrator says, “Nathaniel
kneeled down before Jesus.” And then — lo
and behold! — Nathaniel kneels down before
Jesus, right before our very eyes. That pesky narrator
even butts in during conversations. He’ll tell
looked at him and said…” And then Jesus
will look at someone and tell him something. And
so on. It’s hard to believe professional filmmakers
could use a tactic so amateur.
The narration is only
one of many factors that make “The
Gospel of John” a boring and redundant experience.
I can’t tell you how many times we hear the
same exact speeches, the same exact lessons, the
same exact words. That’s fine if you’re
reading the Bible — but what Saville fails
to grasp is that books and movies are worlds apart.
What works in print might not on celluloid. It wasn’t
long before I felt like I was seeing the same few
scenes over and over again.
Saville and screenwriter John Goldsmith could have
made a good film here. Instead, what we’re
left with is a good idea that’s so ponderous
and meticulous, there’s really no story left