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The Bible: The Epic Miniseries(TV) (2013)
From Executive Producers Roma Downey (Touched by an Angel) and Mark Burnett (The Voice, Survivor) comes The Bible — an epic 10-part miniseries retelling stories from the Scriptures for a whole new generation. Breathtaking in scope and scale, The Bible showcases powerful performances and visual effects that span Genesis to Revelation
For more about The Bible: The Epic Miniseries and the The Bible: The Epic Miniseries Blu-ray release, see the The Bible: The Epic Miniseries Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on April 3, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Diogo Morgado, Darwin Shaw, Sebastian Knapp, Adrian Schiller, Amber Rose Revah, Simon Kunz (I)
Narrator: Keith David
Director: Tony Mitchell
» See full cast & crew
The Bible: The Epic Miniseries Blu-ray Review
The Bible: CliffsNotes Edition
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, April 3, 2013
Read almost any article about The Bible—the five-part History Channel miniseries that just wrapped up this past Easter weekend—and you're likely to come across references to its "unexpected success." The phrase is often trotted out whenever there's a biblically-themed pop culture hit—like, say, The Passion of the Christ—but with around 75% of Americans identifying as some form of Christian, the only thing unexpected is that the media continues to be surprised when religious folks decide to partake in religion-centric programming. Meanwhile, the entertainment powers that be have slowly been getting wise to the fact that there's obviously a captive audience for this kind of material. The last few years have seen an influx of films and TV series that deal—a few directly, many indirectly—with Christian themes and values. But some are better than others. For every Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, there are a dozen ham-fisted doozies like The Omega Code and Letters to God and Preacher's Kid, movies that sensationalize or sentimentalize in lieu of an honest depiction of the peaks and valleys of faith. The Bible makes some of the same mistakes—it can be over-acted, and it's more Christian comfort food than compelling, life-altering filmmaking—but it gets more right than it does wrong, telling the overarching story of the "good book" in a relatively straightforward style.
The series was conceived and produced by husband/wife duo Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, the former a reality TV impresario—he's the man behind Survivor, The Voice, and Shark Tank—and the latter the star of the long-running CBS drama Touched by an Angel. The two were inspired after watching Cecil B. DeMille's entertaining epic The Ten Commandments, which set the gold standard for the "crowds of thousands" biblical adaptations briefly popular in the 1950s and '60s. Using a modest $22 million budget, The Bible goes for the same sense of grandeur and spectacle, shot in Morocco with detailed sets, lavish costumes, and decent-for-basic-cable CGI. Where The Ten Commandments had four hours to tell a single involving story, however, The Bible crams the entire Genesis-to-Revelation meta-narrative into ten short hours, rushing from one familiar tale to the next and leaving little time for contemplation, let alone psychological or theological depth. Think of it as the CliffsNotes version of the Bible; it introduces the major characters, gives a synopsis of the plot, and explains the key themes, but it's designed as a supplement to—not a substitute for—reading the book itself. Burnett and Downey's aim is to get Christian viewers to reengage with the scriptures, and to give those unfamiliar with the Bible a here's what you need to know overview.
If you can get young earth creationists and total non-believers to agree on one thing, it's that the Bible is a culturally important document that contains some truly incredible stories. (Though the two camps will most likely have differing definitions of incredible.) The Bible starts "in the beginning" and after racing through the Adam and Eve temptation-in-the-garden business—and the "oops, humanity is wickeder than I thought" do-over by way of a global flood—the series focuses on the foundation of the tribe of Israel, God's chosen people. We see the faith of Abraham the patriarch (Gary Oliver) tested when God asks him to sacrifice his only son—a motif that will come into play again later, of course—and watch the oft-adapted unfolding of the Exodus from Egypt, led by Moses (Will Houston) and his plague-bestowing, water-parting staff. Sampson and Delilah, David and Goliath, Daniel in the lion's den—most of the biggies are here, in a sketched out chronicle of the Israelites as they enter the promised land, are enslaved by various overlords, and break free from oppression, only to fall out of God's favor and start the cycle anew. Meanwhile, the horrors of the Old Testament—the genocide and pillaging, the weird prohibitions and severe punishments—are largely downplayed here in favor of a sanitized, family- friendly approach.
Since the first five hours skip quickly through hundreds of years of history, we rarely get to linger on any one character or story for more than an episode. Thankfully, the pace slows considerably once The Bible enters the New Testament and homes in on the life of Christ, played by handsome Portuguese TV actor Diogo Morgado, who has the hippyish "Jesus meek and mild" thing down pat. As Jesus gathers his disciples and begins to teach and heal, attracting what we might call a cult following—along with the increasing suspicions of Roman and Jewish authorities—the series finally lets us develop a real connection to its characters, especially Peter (Darwin Shaw), the savior's trusty right-hand man and "the rock" on which the capital-C Church will be built. Jesus himself is portrayed as he usually is—no Last Temptation of Christ-style controversies here—a beatific figure who calmly outsmarts the hypocritical pharisees and preaches a new, socially conscious gospel, making him a threat to the religious and political power structures of the day. The climactic crucifixion sequence is handled with more taste and restraint than Mel Gibson's goregasmic Passion of the Christ, and the denouement of the resurrection and the ascension—followed by the scattering of the disciples as world-wandering missionaries —sums up the series' message of hope and forgiveness and love.
A disclaimer before each episode warns that the program "endeavors to stay true to the spirit of the book," so yes—as with any literature-to- film adaptation—there are compressions and inaccuracies and the glossing over of details deemed unneeded to tell the core story, none of which we need to dig into here. (Let's leave that to the biblical scholars.) As scripture, The Bible is basically the condensed, Sunday School story-time edition; as entertainment, it's something akin to a light Game of Thrones for Christians, an epic with sword-clanging battles, period piece political maneuvering, and unlikely heroes out to change the world. This isn't particularly innovative television—it tells its stories in the same way we've always seen them presented—but it has obviously resonated with faithful audiences, who led the series to high ratings on cable and will most likely do the same for home video sales.
The Bible: The Epic Miniseries Blu-ray, Video Quality
If you watched the series during its run on The History Channel in HD, you'll have a good idea what to expect from The Bible's Blu-ray release. The 1080p/AVC-encoded presentation here is basically the purer source version of the 1080i cable stream—it's far less prone to compression and motion artifacts—and it generally looks fantastic from Genesis to Revelation. (Taking into account that the cinematography and general production values of the series are better than the usual made-for-TV dramatic reenactments but short of major motion picture status. The CGI is notably not quite up to big budget snuff.) Shot digitally with Arri Alexa cameras, The Bible has a sharp and nearly noiseless look in bright daylight scenes, with the picture only growing grittier in the darker sequences. Clarity is consistently impressive, and you'll almost always notice extremely fine detail in the characters' weatherbeaten faces and roughly sewn clothing. Even longer shots look tightly resolved. The only real softness in the image comes from focus pulling that lags behind the movements of the actors, but even this is rare and hardly noticeable from a normal viewing distance. Color and contrast are well-handled too, with the abundance of dusty, golden, antiquity-suggesting tones broken up by occasional flashes of vividness, like the crimson red cloaks worn by the angels. With no obvious source or encode issues, you'd have to nit-pick to find any picture quality complaints.
The Bible: The Epic Miniseries Blu-ray, Audio Quality
For a basic cable miniseries, The Bible has some great sound design, with a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 presentation that's energetic and immersive. The full soundscape is utilized often, not only for ambience—the murmurs of a crowd as Jesus preaches, pouring rain and crashing thunder aboard Noah's ark, the growls and roars behind Daniel in the lion's den, frantic sword-clanging battle noise—but also some well-integrated cross-channel movements, like fiery arrows zipping through the rear speakers. The mix is assertive and dynamic, with a surprising amount of low-end assistance and a good sense of clarity throughout the range. Backing up the effects and atmospherics is a score by the always bombastic Hans Zimmer, collaborating here with ululating vocalist Lisa Gerrard for the first time since their work on Ridley Scott's Gladiator. Their orchestral score for The Bible often hits too hard when it should be more subtle—and it has a sort of blandly ancient middle eastern vibe that makes it feel like the musical equivalent of the Papyrus typeface—but at least acoustically it sounds fantastic, full and rich and detailed. Most importantly, dialogue is always balanced and comprehensible, requiring no volume adjustments between quieter scenes and more battle-heavy sequences. There are no dub options on the disc, but there are English SDH, Spanish, and French subtitles, which appear in easy-to-read white lettering.
The Bible: The Epic Miniseries Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Bible: The Epic Miniseries Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
An abridged retelling of the biblical narrative across five parts and ten hours, The Bible is part epic Games of Thrones-lite political drama, part proselytization tool, and all runaway cable ratings hit. The History Channel is wise to strike while the proverbial iron is hot, releasing The Bible on home video only two days after the series finale. Judging by the sustained interest in the series over the past five weeks, the four-disc Blu- ray set will be a high seller, and viewers should be pleased by the excellent audio/video presentation and the abundance of bonus material. Recommended for the faithful, although some skeptics may want to give it a go too just to see what all the fuss is about.
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