“Son of God”, produced by actress Roma Downey and her husband and reality show pioneer, Mark Burnett, is the Hallmark Channel version of Christ’s life. It is re-cut from a 10-hour-long, History Channel documentary called, “The Bible,” and while many such films have lent a unique brushstroke to the wide canvas which exists, “Son of God’s” brushstroke is more of a trite linear abbreviation.
When one considers films like “Color of the Cross,” which sets a black Jesus in South Africa, or even Mel Gibson’s gratuitously gory, “Passion of the Christ,” “Son of God” pales in comparison. While the story of Jesus is arguably extraordinary enough to not require reinvention, the narrative has been depicted so frequently that adding another film to the genre seems superfluous.
“Son of God” earned its PG-13 rating with conservative and tasteful depictions of the very violent circumstances of this narrative. Documentary director Christopher Spencer creates vivid and engaging images. His cinematography is beautiful and expansive but leaves room for improvement in the cheap holographic image of Christ walking on water.
Portuguese import, Diogo Morgado, was chosen for the lead role by Downey and Burnett not so much for his resemblance to prescribed ideas of Jesus’ physical appearance but for his presence. Burnett noted that even though Diogo had short hair, a heavy accent and was reading a script in his audition tape, he had “that nature of being meek but not weak.”
Downey plays Jesus’ mother Mary in her later years and there is also a large smattering of British actors. This includes, Shakespearean actor Greg Hicks as Pontius Pilate, Amber Rose Revah as Mary Magdelene, Daniel Percival as John the Baptist and Darwin Shaw as Peter.
As plentiful as Christ films are, the one constant is the lack of consensus on the events that make up one legendary man’s extraordinary life. Even the four gospels in the bible give a slightly different perspective on Jesus. What staves away the staleness is the hope that each interpretation will resurrect a controversial theory or historical clue into the mystery of Jesus’ life and teachings.
Even Cecil B. DeMille’s 1927 silent film, “The King of Kings,” took a defined stance on the Mary Magdalene debate and whether Jesus cast demons out of her. Many have made a sinner and a saint out of Mary Magdalene. Some argue she was a disciple and others still consider her a reformed prostitute. It is not only the life of Jesus which is constantly under scrutiny, debate and reinterpretation but so is the story of those who inhabited his life and time.
“Son of God” takes the side of Mary Magdalene as one of the disciples who sits at the Last Supper. She is not the sinner that Jesus’ saves from being stoned. In the end, it is Mary Magdalene and Jesus’ mother Mary who are shown staying with him even throughout the Crucifixion when the other apostles have abandoned him. It is also Mary Magdalene who visits his empty tomb and spreads the news of his resurrection.
As James Carroll argues in a 2006 Smithonian article, Mary Magdalene being a reformed prostitute is a fictional tale used to discredit her and is also a tool used to enervate women in a more general sense. Carroll further notes that early Christian texts state how Mary’s “status as an ‘apostle,’ in the years after Jesus’ death, rivaled even that of Peter.”
“Son of God” is passable as a pre-Easter, box office draw and with a run time of two hours and eighteen minutes is certainly easier to digest than Franco Zeffirelli’s six-hour-long 1977 film, “Jesus of Nazarath.” The film does drag in places and move, both emotionally and time wise, in others. Overall, it will not disappointment for those looking to celebrate, or even become better acquainted with, this all encompassing but truncated account.