IT IS a story often told, virtually everywhere—in children’s books, movies, Lenten TV specials, and of course, in the Holy Bible. In the story of Christ, there can be no changes in the plot, new twists or angles, or introduction of new characters. Such is the challenge Philip Saville’s The Gospel of John faces in its hopes to spark new interest in Christ, his public ministry, and his Passion.

Several months ago, Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ helped Biblical films rise, once again, to blockbuster status. It brought its audiences back to Christ’s Jerusalem with the perfectly realistic sets, effects, and costumes. A large number of celebrities and society bigwigs testified to the film’s powerful spiritual impact. Though not competing with such a big production, The Gospel of John now has to be as impressive as Gibson’s chart-topper.

Boasting of a faithful, unaltered and meticulous version of St. John’s gospel, which contains most of the events where Christ’s divinity were most implied, Saville’s film delivers itself in that interesting manner comparable to Passion’s. Most Jesus films summarize the four gospels, but Gospel proves that to be unnecessary as it stands as powerful as the others.

The film opens with the baptism of Christ by John in the River Jordan. This marks the beginning of Christ’s public ministry, and after that the viewers are treated to a fast-paced account of his miracles and teachings.

The narration in crucial scenes and every time a character speaks show that the work is a storybook on film. Simplified dialogues definitely work for the film’s advantage, a deviation from overly complicated, almost trite Biblical epics like The Ten Commandments. And the costumes, not shabby enough to be mistaken as rags, are an improvement from old versions.

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Though the film might seem just like the ones we have grown tired of, the location and studio shots do not ooze with lush greens and beautiful architecture way ahead of Biblical times. It portrays much like what Jerusalem should have looked like—dry, almost. barren, and with crude clay houses that reflect the difficult life of the people. One cannot even distinguish the location shots from the studio ones, for every shot seem to fit seamlessly in the setting. The sets were designed to portray that era, and not according to the whims of idealistic artists. There are flashbacks set in sepia or black and white, and also of masterfully executed overlapping frames. The cinematography is light and clear, a contrast to the heavy theme of the struggle for truth and Christ’s ultimate sacrifice, which floats throughout the film.

And unlike in The Passion of The Christ, the audience need not sweat over following subtitles. Saville’s film is your Christ story in simple but faithful execution at its source. Florian C. Garcia

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