After the miniseries “The Bible” premiered with 13.1 million viewers on the History Channel, it made sense that producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey would want to build on that success by developing a feature, but the duo insisted that the idea to make a film existed long before. Downey explained, “When we were over in Morocco filming and when the Jesus narrative started to unfold, we just knew that we had something very, very special in the central performance by Portuguese actor Diogo Morgado.” Burnett added, “We shot so much extra stuff and we just knew as we were shooting this that we wanted to make a feature film.”
After delivering a miniseries that covered Genesis to Revelation in one narrative that broke down to five two-hour parts, Burnett and Downey set out to stitch together the story of Jesus in a two-hour and 15-minute feature film called Son of God.
While previewing footage from the film, Downey further explained, “It’s just a beautiful re-versioning from our Bible series.” She continued, “We took the footage because it was so beautiful, we re-edited it, we added extra footage that hasn’t been seen on the screen before and we put it together.”
Burnett professed, “This is so much more important to us than a film. This is really, really important for our faith, our life,” adding, “We think no one’s ever seen this story like this before.”
Apparently the material did have an effect on Hans Zimmer, Lorne Balfe, and Lisa Gerrard because the trio signed up to handle the film’s score. Burnett and Downey were particularly proud of the fact that Son of God marks the first collaboration between Zimmer and Gerrard since Gladiator. Burnett recalled, “There was one day where we were saying to Hans, ‘We really feel this could be feeling very male with a lot of the brutality and the Romans,’ and Roma said, ‘We need a female voice in the soundtrack.’” Burnett turned to Downey and continued, “Remember that day when you said to Hans, ‘Let’s get a voice like Lisa Gerrard?’ and Hans said to Roma, ‘Why would we get a voice like Lisa Gerrard when we can call Lisa Gerrard?’ and he called her right there and then and put us on the phone.”
Downey also highlighted their partnership with Lola Post Production and one particular reason she was so thankful to have the esteemed visual effects company on board. “We do the miracle of the loaves and the fishes. In our haste, we had filmed the loaves and the fishes and there were five loaves and two fish, and we were back-assembling our footage in the edit bay and we were putting it together and somebody pointed out that we had five fish and two loaves in the basket.” Downey added, “We had thousands of extras, a wind was blowing, we were out on the edge of a little coastal part of the community. Anyway, clearly inexcusable. All I can say is,’Thank god for CGI!’”
Even though we didn’t get to see this magic transformation of fish to loaves, Burnett and Downey did bring a significant amount of other material to share with the crowd.
Here’s the breakdown of the 30-minute selection of clips shown during the presentation:
The footage kicked off with a series of establishing shots, giving us our first look of Diogo Morgado as Jesus while he struts through a crowd and gets uneasy looks from Caiaphas (Adrian Schiller) and nearby Roman soldiers. After admiring the buildings and declaring, “Not one stone of this place, not one stone will be left standing,” the material cuts to a conversation between Caiaphas and Pilate (Greg Hicks) who misconstrue Jesus’ statement and take it as a threat to destroy the temple. Fearing Jesus’ followers will riot if they arrest him outright, they conspire to seize him quietly the night before Passover.
The next scene features a battle sequence between Pilate and another man, presumably a sparring partner. Pilate viciously slashes him across the chest before being summoned. We see people riot in the streets shouting, “Roman thieves,” and “Roman scum,” before returning indoors where Pilate is speaking with Caiaphas and his followers, threatening to cancel Passover if the riots continue.
From there we get a meaty scene with Judas and Pilate. The conversation plays out in a string of close-ups and involves Pilate trying to coerce Judas by dubbing Jesus’ followers “the less well-educated element,” but calling Judas intriguing. Judas warily warns, “He has a power,” but Pilate retorts, “If he were the Son of God… would he abuse the house of God?” Pilate explains that all he wants to do is talk to Jesus so that they can keep the Roman soldiers out of the situation and avoid unnecessary slaughter. Before agreeing to Pilate’s terms, Judas asks, “What’s in it for me?” and is awarded a bag of coins.
We then move out to a camp location where someone questions Jesus’ ability to perform miracles and whether or not he’s seen the kingdom of God. Jesus insists that this man too can see the kingdom of God, but only if he’s born again. The man asks, “Born again? How can you be born again?” Jesus explains that being reborn doesn’t mean being reborn in the flesh, but rather the spirit. After that it’s back to the villainous characters during which they continue the conversation regarding Jesus’ capture. Even though Malchus (Paul Brightwell) and Nicodemus (Simon Kunz) question the decision, Pilate concludes that the only way to keep the Romans from destroying everything is to sentence Jesus to death.
The next scene is The Last Supper. While dining with his Apostles, Jesus grows visibly worried until there’s a quick shot of him donning the Crown of Thorns with blood streaming down his face. When he snaps out of the vision, he’s straightforward with his Apostles and simply announces, “This is our last meal together before I die.” They’re all visibly heartbroken, but Jesus tries to lift their spirits by explaining that the bread at the table is his body and the wine his blood, and if they indulge in them, he’ll always be with them. From there Jesus’ attention moves to Judas. He reveals that he knows someone at the table will betray him and that that person is the one who’ll eat a particular piece of bread. After eating that piece of bread, Judas runs outside and throws it up.
The next time we see Jesus he’s shackled and bloody. While being hauled out in front of a massive crowd for the announcement of his sentence, Judas runs up and begs to return the money before hurling the coins and running off. Peter (Darwin Shaw) watches from a distance, but eventually someone identifies him as a friend of Jesus. As Jesus predicted, pressure from the crowd causes Peter to betray Jesus three times by insisting that he knows nothing of Jesus. After being beaten, both Jesus and Peter lay on the ground, staring at one another. Transferring a thought to Peter’s mind, Jesus tells Peter not to be afraid before he’s dragged off to Pilate.
During a meeting with Pilate, Caiaphas explains that he cannot execute Jesus, because it could insight a rebellion that could tear the city apart. Pilate then goes to visit Jesus in his cell to question if he really is the “King of the Jews.” Jesus retorts, “My kingdom is not of this world.” After Jesus refuses Pilate’s offering of a bowl of water, Pilate storms out and comes face to face with his wife Claudia (Louise Delamere) who tries to convince him that she’s seen Jesus in a dream and they he mustn’t execute him. Pilate explains that if Jesus stirs a rebellion, he will be held responsible and he cannot let that happen.
The next chunk of material is Jesus’ crucifixion. As Jesus is dragged through the street, the crowd erupts with screams and sobs. The cross is brought out and dropped in front of Jesus to carry himself. Before attempting to lift it, he gingerly kisses it. Jesus makes it a short way down the path before we catch a glimpse of his mother (Downey) in the crowd. As Jesus trudges on we view the crowd from his somewhat fuzzy point of view. Soon thereafter, the attention shifts back to his mother who’s fought through the mob to embrace him.
The material fades out before the actual crucifixion, but the moment could be included in the final cut of the film, as this fade simply seemed to mark a divide in the footage chosen for the presentation. The reel picks back up again as the Crown of Thorns is removed from Jesus’ head and his bloody, lifeless body is carried off. From there we cut to a shot of his mother washing the blood from his face before kissing him and then laying him to rest inside a cave. The opening of the cave is sealed shut with a giant boulder before moving to another scene featuring Jesus’ Apostles suffering after losing their leader. Soon thereafter we get a scene that follows Mary (Amber Rose Revah) as she catches sight of the boulder that once sealed Jesus’ tomb. It’s now cut in half, right down the middle. She steps into the tomb and upon realizing Jesus is gone, she turns to find Jesus standing right behind her in a ghost-like form. He tells her, “Go and tell our brothers I’m here.”
As someone who’s more detached from scripture than she cares to admit, it was a little tough to connect to the scenes out of context, but for those with more extensive knowledge of the material and especially for those who enjoyed “The Bible,” Son of God looks as though it could meet expectations.
Son of God is released theatrically on Friday, February 28.