Tuesday, 12 September 2017

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


The Book of Genesis brought to life in an American-Italian co-production, The Bible: In The Beginning... is a ponderous adaptation of some of ancient history's most famous stories.

God creates Adam (Michael Parks) and then Eve (Ulla Bergryd) in the Garden of Eden. After they eat the forbidden fruit God condemns them to a life of toil. Their son Cain (Richard Harris) kills his brother Abel (Franco Nero). Generations later, God decides to reset humanity with a massive flood and asks Noah (John Huston) to build the Ark to help restart all forms of life. Hundreds of years later the Tower of Babel is built under the leadership of the overly-arrogant King Nimrod (Stephen Boyd); God punishes his conceit by giving each man a different language and scattering humanity.

Abraham (George C. Scott), a descendant of Noah, follows God's command and leads his followers towards a promised land. His wife Sarah (Ava Gardner) cannot conceive, but she offers her Egyptian handmaiden Hagar (Zoe Sallis) to Abraham and she provides him with a son Ishmail. In the meantime the Cities of Sodom and Gomorrah become havens of corruption. God sends his Angel (Peter O'Toole) to oversee their destruction, but Abraham's nephew Lot (Gabriele Ferzetti) is spared. Sarah finally does conceive the child Isaac, but the elderly Abraham still has to face God's most difficult test.

Produced by Dino De Laurentiis and directed by John Huston, The Bible: In The Beginning arrived at the tail end of Hollywood's obsession with religious historical epics, and captures all that was bad with the bloated genre. Overly serious, with plastic characters and a complete absence of nuance, the film is unequivocal, overly reverential and way too long. It's The Bible set to slow moving albeit sometimes pretty images, with every episode prolonged well past what is needed, inflating the running time to a tiresome 174 minutes.

In addition to directing, Huston narrates, provides the voice of God, and has fun in the role of Noah. And it is the Ark episode, while still overextended, that is peppiest. Huston's twinkle in the eye introduces an element of human levity sorely missing from the rest of the film.

The Adam and Eve and Abraham stories get the bulk of the rest of the film. The Creation is a narration-dominated 30 minute opening interlude dominated by the hazy colours of an imagined Eden, kicking off the film on a dull note. Despite a dedicated George C. Scott performance channeling his inner Charlton Heston, Abraham's story is rather botched. The Christopher Fry script shortchanges the man and his mission and devolves into a sordid drama about who will provide him with an offspring and when. The rivalry between Sarah and Hagar sets the precedent for catty television soap operas just a few thousand years later.

Surrendering too easily to earnest intentions, The Bible: In The Beginning never finds the flint needed to spark inspiration and creativity.






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