Well, this weekend I finally got a chance to see the new Bible movie, RISEN, starring Joseph Fiennes, Tom Felton, and Peter Firth. Ever since I saw the poster for this film in December (while waiting in line for STAR WARS: EPISODE VII), I have been anxiously awaiting its release. There were two reasons for this: first of all, because I love Bible movies and I am always anxious to see if they get the story right or not, and secondly, because even from the poster I could tell this movie was going to cover some of the same ground that I covered in my novel, THE REDEMPTION OF PONTIUS PILATE. I was very curious to see what the similarities and differences would be, and from the beginning I wanted to tell all of you about it.
A word about the movie first: Bible-based movies are always a risk for Hollywood. Very seldom does a story lifted straight from the Scripture adapt directly to the screen in a coherent fashion. The Apostles and prophets weren't writing a screen play, they were recording a message from God! So, almost always, the screenwriter has to add characters and pad the narrative in order to make a Bible story into a watchable film. But, when you do that, you are altering a narrative that is holy writ to a large percentage of your potential audience. If you can do it seamlessly, weaving your characters and subplots into the Biblical narrative while remaining true to its message, you can make a movie that the faithful will flock to see - as evidenced by the financial success of THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST, PRINCE OF EGYPT, and ONE NIGHT WITH THE KING.
However, if you alter the narrative too much, or go overboard with artistic license, you may be left with a movie that is offensive to the very demographic you are trying to draw in - for instance, NOAH, which critics liked, was panned by most evangelicals and frankly, it looked to me as if the SyFy Channel had tried to make a Bible movie! EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS was a little more faithful to the Scriptures, but it still contained significant departures and frankly was a rather bad movie that ran on too long and contained numerous "What were they thinking?" moments.
So Hollywood was overdue for a GOOD Bible movie, and RISEN is it! The plot is simple enough: Joseph Fiennes plays the role of Clavius, a Roman tribune tasked by Pontius Pilate (Peter Firth) with finding the missing body of the Nazarene, apparently stolen from its tomb. But as Clavius searches for the body, what he finds instead is a strong core of believers in Jerusalem who firmly believe that there is no body to be found, because the Nazarene in question has really risen from the dead. Finally, Clavius himself encounters the risen Christ, and his life is forever changed as a result. This was an excellent film, with an engaging plot, sympathetic characters, and a new take on the most important story of the Gospels.
In my book, THE REDEMPTION OF PONTIUS PILATE, I took a similar premise - What would the origin story of Christianity have looked like to a skeptical Roman witness? My story centers on the Prefect of Judea, Lucius Pontius Pilate, and tells his story from the beginning of his military career at age 20 until his death nearly 30 years later, focusing on his interactions with the Emperor Tiberius Caesar and his governance of Judea, specifically in dealing with the beginnings of the Christian movement.
I thought I would take a moment to look at how each work portrayed the main characters of the story, starting with:
PONTIUS PILATE: In my book, Pilate is a harder, leaner man - a soldier first and politician second, with a strong sense of Roman justice combined with a streak of ruthless (and sometimes reckless) cruelty. He rises to the top of Roman society, and then is disgraced and banished to Judea as governor with one order: Keep the peace if you ever want to see Rome again! There he encounters the beginnings of the Christian movement when John begins baptizing in the wilderness. He doesn't act against Jesus for some time, because he doesn't see Him as a threat, instead struggling to put down the much more dangerous Zealot movement. But then he is cornered and railroaded into sending the Galilean to the cross, and suffers recurring nightmares and a sense of guilt thereafter.
In the movie, Pontius Pilate is older and softer - a bureaucrat with a military background who prefers to send other men to do his fighting for him. He is not a bad man, but he is a demanding boss and a bit of a trimmer, more concerned with appearances than results. His main concern is making sure the province is totally pacified before a coming visit from the Emperor, Tiberius Caesar (one of the movie's few historical errors - Tiberius never left the Isle of Capri after 26 AD, except to make an attempted return to Rome in 37 AD, and he died during that journey).
PILATE'S SUBORDINATES: The movie is primarily about Clavius, Pilate's military tribune and trusted commandant and trouble-shooter. He is the protagonist, and shares some of the qualities that I attributed to Pilate himself in my story - a brave soldier with a wry sense of humor and the absolute loyalty of his men. In my story, Pilate's chief subordinate is the Primipilus Centurion, Cassius Longinus, a veteran Roman officer married to a Jewish girl, who acts as a go-between for Pilate with the Jews, who carries out the order to crucify Jesus, then abandons the army to become a Christian after the Resurrection.
JESUS OF NAZARETH: In my book, Pilate's only direct encounter with Jesus is during the infamous trial, although he does observe the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem from a distance. In the movie, Clavius first sees Jesus dead on the cross, and then later encounters the risen Christ and speaks with him, thus becoming a convert to the nascent Christian faith. I will say that Cliff Curtis' portrayal of Yeshua in RISEN is the most Jewish portrayal of Jesus I have ever seen, and he is totally believable in the role.
THE DISCIPLES: In the movie, the main two disciples Clavius deals with are Bartholomew, a very likable and joyous young Jew, and Simon Peter, older, more serious, and eventually more friendly to the Roman tribune. In my book, the main disciple Pilate deals with is John, who heals his son from a severe sickness some time after the Resurrection of Jesus, and also has a couple of close encounters with James, the Lord's Brother, one very early in the story, and then again later on.
Overall, then - RISEN is a fantastic Bible movie that I highly recommend. If you liked it, you will almost certainly enjoy my novel, THE REDEMPTION OF PONTIUS PILATE - so please, buy a copy or download the EBook now! And, if you have already read my book, by all means, go see this movie - it is TOTALLY worth the price of admission! Now here's a link to REDEMPTION. Buy it, read it, watch RISEN, and tell me how accurate my comparisons are!