Saturday, 11 May 2013

The Bible: In The Beginning... (1966)


I cannot review this film without offending someone. You see, I am not a religious person, so in order to review a movie about the Bible, I really can't quite sympathize with those who, what's the word...associate closely towards the stories in the book. I don't want this review to be all about religion, so I guess I'll just address it here. I will try to focus on the aspects of the film and not on the source material, but if I have to I will voice my opinion on the issue.

That aside, this film kind of sucks. The main problem I had with the film is such, it's incredibly boring. Similarly to most other biblical epics, the pace is languid, the film wooden and the length overlong. This film tells four stories. First is Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve frolic in the garden of Eden for a while, but then Eve eats a magic fruit and god gets pretty mad because he told her not to. As a result, he banishes Eve and Adam from the garden and they form their own life. They have two sons, Cain and Abel. One day, Cain kills Abel and then god banishes him. Next is the story of Noah and his big ark where he takes a bunch of animals and rides out god's giant flood which destroys everything else on earth.

Noah builds a giant ark after god asks him to, because god wants to kill everyone else. Then Noah and his family take many animals and ride out the storm. This lasts for about forty minutes. Then it gets really boring. God sends Abraham into the desert with his family and stuff, and Abraham establishes a colony there. God speaks to Abraham and gives him advice, gets his wife pregnant, after god advised him to sleep with his maid instead, and then sends three angels to destroy the nearby city of Sodom. Then god gets Abraham to almost kill his son, but then he doesn't.

Okay. Where do I start? Perhaps a little history would be helpful. This film was started with Robert Bresson directing, but then Dino De Laurentiis, the producer, got fed up with Bresson's original and artistic style. He replaced him with John Huston, an atheist, and Huston took the job. For the money, of course. Huston also played Noah, and the narrator, and at points, god. I'll get to the acting in a minute, but first I just want to say one thing. This film may be among the few films I have ever had the violent urge to yell at the screen "get on with it!".

Anyways, the acting. The film has a lot of great actors, and a lot of unknowns. They all share one common thread, they suck. I don't want to seem harsh, but oh my, are they bad. Their dialogue is taken directly from the bible, and thus it feels wooden and forced coming out of their mouths. The only actor who seems at ease with it is George C. Scott, who goes completely method in the role of Abraham, in a way that seems incredibly fake. I'll do a list here: Michael Parks as Adam+ Ulla Bergryd as Eve= wooden, forced, completely naked for the first half of the film. Richard Harris as Cain= over the top, wooden, over dramatic. John Huston as Noah and God= good voice, bad acting, seems incredibly bored, says lines in a mocking and uninterested tone. George C. Scott as Abraham+ Ava Gardener as Sarah = one is too much, one is too little, one seems to young, one seems too old, one is not bad, the other isn't good at all. Peter O'Toole as The Three Angels = easily the best performance in the film, he is actually not that bad, but he does blow up a building by staring at it furiously. Final Verdict= pretty bad acting, most of the cast doesn't establish their characters in any way that makes us care for them at all.

Well, there you go. The acting is pretty bad. But one can put the majority of the blame of the screenplay. Christopher Fry is a well regarded playwright of the time, but you couldn't tell by this film. His dialogue is stodgy and old fashioned. He never develops the characters in anyway, and his view point is incredibly one sided. He just transfers the bible to the screen, there is no innovation here at all. He never put his own spin on it, or tried to make the material more viewable, he just wrote it, in a very boring way actually. This is the root of all the film's problems. If the screenplay had been just the tiniest bit innovative or creative, than perhaps the film might have been better than the final result.

The cinematography looks appropriately epic, but I never really got anything from this film in terms of scope. I just couldn't feel it, I couldn't feel that quality that makes or breaks this kind of film. That isn't due mainly to the cinematography, but it wasn't quite as creative as I had hoped. The film certainly looks good, but it does not feel "good". It just lacks that quality that makes this film a success. The film's failure does not have to do with the cinematography, but it certainly has to do with a few other major things.

The score, in all it's bombastic "epic" glory, is perhaps one of the most annoying parts of this film. It never gives the film an edge at all. It just plays out with little to no innovation, and all it's musicality in itself is also kind of boring. It just chugs along, never feeling quite that special or interesting at all. The sets are quite nice, they give the film a false sense of grandeur, but it certainly makes things look good to the eyes.

This brings me to another subject, and perhaps the most interesting one to me. Huston's direction, in itself I find it a really intriguing idea. An atheist directing a movie on the bible. Was Huston going to add something, or try to approach the subject matter in a way that expresses skepticism? Unfortunately, the answer is no. Huston did something worse here than giving the film his point of view, he gave the film his sense of boredom. It increasingly appears that Huston just took the job for the money, and like Annie, invested it with empty promises. The scope and spectacle is all here, but where is the heart of this film? To be honest, it doesn't have any. For all it's preaching and showcasing of god's magical abilities, this film ultimately has nothing to say, and even less to show.

It's just there.

The Bible: In The Beginning...
Starring: John Huston, George C. Scott and Peter O'Toole,
Directed by John Huston,
4.5/10 (F)

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4. Moby Dick
5. The Asphalt Jungle

6. The Red Badge Of Courage
7. The Night Of The Iguana

8. Key Largo
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10. The Misfits

11. Beat the Devil

12. Reflections in a Golden Eye
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14. Wise Blood
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17. Under The Volcano
18. Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison

19. Victory
20. The List of Adrian Messenger
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23. The MacKintosh Man
24. Sinful Davey
25. In This Our Life
26. We Were Strangers
27. The Bible: In The Beginning...
27. Phobia: A Descent Into Terror 

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