Review: 'Son Of God'

I know what He said about casting the first stone, but here goes.

“Son of God” is terrible. This isn't coming from an angry, atheistic (or even Satanic) point of view. I love a good Jesus movie. “Son of God” is undeniably a chintzy production – a hodge-podge from the pre-existing “The Bible” mini-series with laughable special effects, stiff acting and impenetrable dialogue. The film compresses multiple episodes of the mini-series and mixes in previously unseen footage. And yet, it's mostly a group of people wandering around the desert as rancid music plays and we're told how to feel in voice-over. For a movie with the ostensible mission of spreading the Gospel, it does a poor job of speaking to anyone except the faithful.

When we first meet JC, he's gathering his flock, bringing fish to Peter's net and looking for a crew. One by one he gets his disciples to walk off their jobs. He speaks about the glories that will come by joining him, but there's nothing in the film that gets too specific about what this really means. Yes, we see some miracles (walking on the water, loaves and fishes, Lazarus 2.0) but this feels like a checklist of the New Testament's greatest hits. The problem with this movie – and it is a real problem – is that there is no attempt to dig deeper than these famous moments from sermons and art history. We are never shown what Jesus wants.

George Stevens' 1965 epic “The Greatest Story Ever Told” went the same route – just show the moments, don't add in any typical Hollywood “scene work.” Stevens' version is far more successful (though still a little dull) because it had enormous Technicolor glamor working for it: Charlton Heston as John the Baptist, to give just one example. “Son of God” has about ten extras huddled around Jesus as he rides into Jerusalem. It looks and feels like a high school production.

“Son of God” does deviate from scripture when Jesus is off-screen. The political handwringing between Roman governor Pontius Pilate and Jewish high priest Caiaphas makes an attempt at seeming like “real” drama in the modern context. Compared to the lifeless sequences of Jesus going through the motions of his Ministry it is practically “The Wire.”

These scenes which humanize Caiaphas are an attempt, I would imagine, to do some damage control after Mel Gibson's “The Passion of the Christ,” which was criticized for portraying the Jewish characters in a particularly harsh light. Still, once the establishment figures decide that Jesus is a troublemaker, they push for his execution.

The Crucifixion is a cakewalk compared to Gibson's version (or even Scorsese's “Last Temptation of Christ”) but there's still plenty of wince-worthy blood. These scenes are effective by their very violent nature, but given just how blank this movie is, any emotion felt isn't necessarily earned by the movie itself, but by previous knowledge of the story (or one's own religious beliefs.)

The post-Crucifixion resurrection reads like a Marvel mid-credits stinger – an afterthought with messages of “coming back soon.” It is possible that true believers will enjoy the movie, but even the most die hard born-again has to recognize that this is really shoddy filmmaking. The final Ascension looks like a free special effects setting on iMovie. Considering just how popular Jesus is, you'd think he'd get better treatment.

As the calendar nears Easter, I recommend Nicholas Ray's “King of Kings” for big Hollywood filmmaking, Pier Paolo Pasolini's “The Gospel According to St. Matthew” for an artful portrayal of faith and Norman Jewison's “Jesus Christ Superstar” for a toe-tappin' Messiah that is endlessly watchable.

SCORE: 2.0 / 10