The Bible miniseries produced by Mark Burnett and Roma Downey was a ratings success for the History channel and enjoyed by many Christians. It captured the core of the Bible story and was filled with great moments.
Yet The Bible had its share of problems and odd editorial decisions. With some exceptions, The Bible was fairly faithful to the text, but they had a penchant for throwing in extra sword fights that plausibly could have happened but were not in the text and not necessary to telling the story. They also made an odd decision in the Old Testament episode which focused on Daniel to spend about ten minutes on Jeremiah and the execution of King Zedekiah’s young sons before his eyes before the king’s eyes were plucked out. That left the telling of Daniel’s story rushed.
The Bible’s biggest problem was its scope. Conveying the story of the Bible in ten one-hour TV episodes is an impossible mission. By the nature of the project, many stories couldn’t be told and others had to be rushed and condensed. Perhaps the worst victim was the Resurrection of Christ and everything after that followed. After the gospels, the rest of the Bible was covered in a single episode, condensed to the point of being incomprehensible
The twelve part A.D. mini-series gives Burnett and Downey the time they didn’t have in The Bible to do justice to the era most hurt by the limitations of the previous series.
The first episode of A.D. focuses on Jesus’ crucifixion and its immediate aftermath. The episode is well-paced except for the ending (more on that later.) The acting is superb throughout. Juan Pablo Di Pace as Jesus is a huge upgrade and brings a great presence to the role.
The way the crucifixion is presented is emotionally affecting, particularly within the limits of network television. Despite the limitations of budget, The Passion of the Christ’s influence is still felt there. Prior to the Passion of the Christ, productions had tame, sanitized crucifixion portrayals. That simply won’t wash anymore. However, not every production has to show every detail of the crucifixion. A.D. doesn’t and can’t, but it communicates the horror through the words of John and Mary who witnessed, the look of anguish on a mother’s face, and their views of what happened. They convey the horror of what the Lord went through in a powerful way and allow the rest of the story to develop.
A.D. also does a superb job capturing the cataclysmic events that happened after Christ died with earthquakes and rumblings. It’s something rarely covered, but important.
Most of the rest of the episode focuses on revealing the characters of Pilot, Peter, and Caiaphas, as well as capturing the sense of sadness, confusion, and mourning that gripped the disciples after the Lord’s death.
Some brilliant ideas are expressed. While it should be understood as historical fiction, everything seemed plausible within the context of scripture. Caiaphas becoming enraged when he found out about Joseph of Arimathea laying Jesus in his tomb because it could be interpreted as fulfilling Isaiah 53:9, “And they made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; although he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his month.” This prompts Caiaphas’ concern about the disciples stealing the body.
I also liked a scene where Pilate takes pains to reassure Caiaphas that Jesus couldn’t have survived. Pilate calls in a centurion who recounts what he did. When prompted by Pilate, the centurion concludes anyone who thought Jesus could have survived was a madman or a fool. Of course, the centurion not only answered Caiaphas but debunked one of the silliest anti-resurrection theories out there.
There are few negatives with this episode, and they’re mostly in details towards the end. Some things, like Judas hanging himself, may be out of context for those less familiar with the Bible as the story begins late in Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin. Also, while scholars debate whether Roman soldiers were at the tomb, or Temple Guards, the show should have picked one side rather than trying to fudge on that. The special effects used for the resurrection scene looked cheesy to me, though my wife thought it looked cool.
The ending was too abrupt. My wife and I were watching a special preview version on Good Friday on my tablet and we thought the video had stopped streaming by accident. That’s how abrupt it was. We also felt the story’s mood and focus made it more suitable to airing on Good Friday than on Resurrection Sunday.
Yet, overall, I found this first episode engaging and highly recommend it. If the rest of the series can live up to this first episode, this may be one of the best and most memorable adaptations of the New Testament ever produced.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10.0