An all-enveloping darkness. Suddenly, a child's voice, frightened, questioning, pierces the darkness... The first flickering rays of light begin to sculpt mysterious shapes out of the ... See full summary »
An elaborate Hollywood retelling of the Bible stories narrated by the film's director John Huston. We open with the Creation of the World and arrive at the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve and continue on to Cain and the murder of Abel. Next, we visit Noah and his ark with its spectacular flood sequence. Then we come to the story of Nimrod, King of Babel, the emergence of man's vanity and the heights to which it could aspire if unchecked. Finally we cover Abraham, a mystic who spoke personally with God, a leader of men, a builder of nations, a pioneer and a warrior and Sarah. At the time she conceived her first child, the event being forecast by an Angel of the Lord. Three such Heavenly Messengers appeared in the course of events which befell Abraham and Sarah. Written by
This film was released in September of 1966, which placed it at the close of a long tradition of Hollywood Biblical epics. I was around ten years old and had a vinyl LP of its great musical score which I played over and over before I finally saw the movie on the big screen of a theater. Our family was not particularly religious, but this film was one of those that had a profound influence on me and made me interested in knowing more about the Bible.
Looking at it today, I see more depth. The opening footage from all over the world of the days of the Creation is still breathtaking. As a child I felt uncomfortable with the partially nude scenes of Adam and Eve, and even now I believe nudity needs to be implied. Otherwise my mind stops focusing on the story and thinks "I just saw a naked actor!". Also, a theory of some Bible commentators is that animals are clothed with feathers or fur, and Adam and Eve were clothed with a glow of light emanating from within them. When they sinned that glow disappeared and they were then totally naked before they hit on the idea of fig leaves. (This interpretation would not likely have been known to John Huston). Beyond that, the film rolls on quite nicely through the first twenty-two chapters of Genesis. The cinematography is rich and beautiful. I do think a few too many scenes were interpreted as desert settings, since many of the Bible lands were lush and only outskirted by desert as a result of the climatology of the region being somewhat different more than 4,000 years ago (though of course that's controversial). Either way the storyline still follows the episodes of salvation history. One reviewer said it looks like they just kept shooting until they ran out of film and decided to call it quits. To me it was essential they kept going until they climaxed the film with the sacrifice of Isaac, which pointed forward to the day when God would inaugurate a new creation. Thus there is a great arc of theme in the epic from "In the Beginning" to "The New Beginning".
Overall the movie looks like a live-action version of Sunday School art. By that I mean most of the scenes are like pictures I've seen in religious artworks. For example, Adam and Eve are portrayed by clean-shaven white people. Cain bashes Abel over the head instead of slitting his throat (like the sacrifices he'd watched - see I John 3:12 in the original Jerusalem Bible , not the New Jerusalem Bible ). This Tower of Babel somewhat rightly resembles a Sumerian ziggurat, yet more resembles Renaissance paintings of it. Modern researchers have discovered that Noah could have been a king, and the ark was actually a huge flat barge shaped like a giant shoebox to ride the tidal waves of the Flood. The movie pictures things like I've seen them all my life: a peasant Noah, and a rounded boat with a house on top (and that shape would capsize in no time). The only thing they didn't have was a giraffe sticking out of the window.
Nevertheless, you may enjoy these traditional depictions. I'm just preferring literal Biblical research combined with the look of what has been discovered in archaeology. Yet, for me the overall effect of this film is still profound and quite moving. It's been said that George C. Scott's portrayal of Abraham was the low point of the movie, but I thought his crusty performance was inspiring! (I was also thankful they didn't picture Abraham like Santa Claus). For the most part, watching this film was an enjoyable and uplifting experience. Any Biblical movie should give us a taste of what things were like, and then we should always go back and read the Book. There we will find the authentic atmosphere of the actual words. Still, one line the scriptwriters put in the mouth of Abraham is not found in the Bible, yet it does reflect what the Bible says of him. It has helped me with my faith. It is the line where Abraham asks, "Shall the Lord speak, and Abraham not believe?"
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