Hits & misses in Son of God, other Jesus films

LIVE FEED - Bibsy M. Carballo - The Philippine Star

Since it is the season of religious fervor that had started on Ash Wednesday and is ending this weekend, it is only natural to expect Filipinos to fill the movie theaters with stories on the life and death of Jesus Christ. This year is no different and the two times we watched Son of God, we found the theaters fully packed on both occasions.

The reason we thought of watching Son of God twice was precisely to make certain we had not missed any important detail, that we were not merely being manipulated by a beautiful face, superior equipment and the guidance of those whose occupation is clinching a sale.

The possible appeal of “a beautiful face” we found most apropos in the case of Son of God lead Diogo Morgado. He is 6’3”, 34 years old, a Portuguese actor and model, and has trended on Twitter. He also played Jesus in the mini-series called The Bible. He is again Jesus in Son of God and accepts the tag of “Hot Jesus” as a compliment, as long as it doesn’t bury the major message of the film, he has said in interviews. To get an idea of what awaits Diogo, we decided to go back in history, to the various actors who portrayed the “Son of God” and what differentiated one from the other.

The Passion of Christ was a film independently produced by Mel Gibson in 2004, with 46-year-old Jim Caviezel in the lead role. The Passion of Christ focused on the last hours in the life of Jesus. Many religious say it is just as it happened and praise the use of the Aramaic dialogue. Another priest adds that this is not a documentary but the work of an artistic imagination that is nevertheless faithful to the New Testament.

Cecile B. de Mille’s The Ten Commandments originated as a silent version in 1923, and the 1956 version is a partial remake of the original. It is, nevertheless the most successful film of 1956, the second-highest grossing film of the decade, and the seventh most successful film of all time.

The Ten Commandments dramatizes the Biblical story of the life of Moses, who receives from God The Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai to serve as the moral code of behavior for the human race.  

The film deals with the history of an era gone by, of Egypt and the Hebrews, slaves and pharaohs, princes and bedouins. It starred the biggest names in Hollywood at the time like Yul Brynner, Anne Baxter, Yvonne de Carlo, Debra Paget, John Derek, Edward G. Robinson and Vincent Price.

Appearing in the role of Moses was Charlton Heston, who had worked for De Mille before in The Greatest Show on Earth and impressed him with his knowledge of Ancient Egypt which nailed for him the much-coveted role.

The Greatest Story Ever Told was produced and directed by George Stevens in 1965 with Swede Max von Sydow as Jesus. It took Stevens two years to write the script which was shot in the US Southwest. The reaction of critics had been divided; it was sad that the film was not commercially successful.

The Gospel According to St. Matthew produced in 1964 is an Italian biographical film by Pier Paolo Pasolini. Enrique Irazoqui played Christ. The process of coming out with the final product took time. Pasolini and his committee found John much too mystical; Mark too vulgar; Luke too sentimental. Matthew was apparently the perfect mix.

Jesus of Nazareth by Franco Zeffirelli, on the other hand, blends together all four New Testament accounts successfully. Robert Powell was chosen to play Jesus after such names as Dustin Hoffman and Al Pacino were considered. It is said that Powell clinched the role because of his remarkably blue eyes that almost never blink. A dark blue eyeliner had been used to accentuate those blue eyes. The result is penetrating eye contact with Jesus which defined the image of Christ in the minds of the audience more than any other Jesus film.

Last Temptation of Christ by Martin Scorsese released in 1988 has been the most controversial among the Jesus films. With Willem Dafoe as Jesus, it was banned in Singapore and the Philippines, as well as in Turkey, Mexico, Chile and Argentina. In the final sequence on the cross, a child Satan leads Jesus to come down from the cross and live a mortal’s life. Jesus marries Mary Magdalene, then Mary and Martha. It is only on his deathbed that he discovers he had been deceived. He begs God to let him be God’s son; finds himself once again on the cross as it was meant to be.

(E-mail us your thoughts to [email protected], or text 0917-8991835.)

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