This major motion picture event -- an experience created to be shared among families and communities across the U.S. -- brings the story of Jesus' life to audiences through compelling cinematic storytelling that is both powerful and inspirational. Told with the scope and scale of an action epic, the film features powerful performances, exotic locales, dazzling visual effects and a rich orchestral score from Oscar-winner Hans Zimmer. Portuguese actor Diogo Morgado portrays the role of Jesus as the film spans from his humble birth through his teachings, crucifixion and ultimate resurrection.
When it comes to religious movies, I find myself in a bit of a predicament. I am church-going man with a specific set of religious and moral beliefs. For that reason, you might assume that I'm a fan of churchy faith-based movies because of the positive messages, good morals, and Christian ideals that I share with them – but I'm not. Yes, I share the same opinions. And I truly like the potential that comes from filmmakers not shying away from making religious pictures in a time where it's taboo and even uncool to mention God or organized religion in public (did you hear the crickets during Matthew McConaughey's God-thanking acceptance speech at the Oscars?). But the inner movie snob kicks in and points out the amateur (at best) filmmaking that typically results. Even though I may agree with and love a movie's morals and story, if it's a piece of garbage, then the movie as a whole is still nothing more than a piece of garbage to me. That philosophy goes for any type of movie, not just the faith-based ones. So, how did 'Son of God' stack up in my brutally honest, educated, and unbiased point of view? Well, it's good. Better than I expected, but far from perfect.
Prior to watching 'Son of God,' I was not looking forward to it. Most of the religious movies that I've ever seen have been oh-so bad – and I've seen a lot of them. Living in Utah, there are loads of folks with money who think they can make moral Christian movies just because they have the means to. I've stricken so many of their laughably bad duds from my mind. They've ruined my desire to see more. So, being nothing more than a big-screen expansion of a television miniseries ('The Bible'), I wanted nothing to do with 'Son of God' when it was released theatrically.
I haven't seen 'The Bible' so I cannot say what has been added or taken away from the series for the Jesus Christ-specific 'Son of God,' but I can say that, for the most part, it's quite a bit better than I thought it would be. Here's what I really liked about it: the first half of the movie is dedicated to building Jesus Christ, his main disciples and the ultimate "bad guys" of the story as solid characters. The fact that they were fleshed out as well as they were is pretty surprising to me. Most movies about Jesus either focus solely on his birth ('The Nativity Story') or his death ('The Passion of the Christ'). If one tells the in-between, it's only a brief glaze-over; however, 'Son of God' dedicated more than an hour to Jesus' ministry. It doesn't cover each and every thing that he did (I assume that 'The Bible' miniseries covers more of that ground because the closing credits to 'Son of God' show footage of miracles and events that aren't in the final cut), but it covers enough to establish an emotional connection with the characters. And adding merit to the first half, this no-surprises well-known story contains an actual narrative. Some movies have simply shown us the main events because we're already expected to know them, but 'Son of God' tells it like a story, almost all of which is pulled directly from The Bible.
Where 'Son of God' lost some of my admiration was in the second half. Once Jesus is arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, the acting takes a turn for the overly dramatic. Being a slice of a miniseries featuring a completely no-name cast, I feared for how bad the acting would get, but it's almost entirely solid up to Jesus' arrest. Once he's taken by the Roman soldiers, the movie takes a turn for soap opera performances – including the performance of producing actress Roma Downey as Jesus' mother Mary. She and many others lay it on way too thick.
Another thing that bugged me was the fact that the physical abuse Jesus receives at the hands of the Roman soldiers doesn't seem to be that bad. I know, I know. The filmmakers wanted to make an inspiring movie that all could see, so they chose to tone down the violence. I understand and respect that, but the way that it's portrayed on-screen doesn't make it seem like much. The over-acting doesn't help either. We see Jesus get punched a few times, we see him receive some lashings, and we see the crown of thorns placed on his head, but none of them are conveyed with enough gravity to explain his near-death stumbling state as he carries the cross through the city and up the hill to Golgotha. It's possible to convey the brutality that Christ was subjected to without showing it. Other movies and videos have achieved it. But this one fails to do so.
If I could have my way, then the next time that I wanted to see the life of Jesus Christ portrayed in film, I'd watch the first 80 minutes of 'Son of God' (with the several terrible TV-worthy CG shots of Jerusalem removed), then cut over to 'The Passion of Christ' when Jesus is arrested. The portrayal of those events in 'Son of God' are not as impactful as they were in 'The Passion.' If you're looking for a good Christian feature-length movie to watch with the family around Easter time each year, 'Son of God' is the best (mostly) family-friendly one out there.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Fox Home Entertainment has placed 'Son of God' on a Region A BD-50. The combo pack release includes a DVD copy of the film, as well as a code for redeeming an Ultraviolet copy. The two discs are housed in an Elite keepcase. Alongside the paper containing the Ultraviolent code are two other sheets: one is an ad for a religious app, the other an ad for the 'Son of God' soundtrack. The keepcase comes with a slick, glossy and reflective cardboard slip cover. Upon inserting the disc, the only things to play are a forced Fox vanity reel and a skippable trailer for 'The Bible.'
'Son of God' has been given a pretty decent 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer in a wide 2.35:1 aspect ratio. While some of the grand-scale effects may have the quality of a mid-'90s computer game, the live action footage is quite sharp and detailed, much better than I expected from a third tier cable network's miniseries. All of the great aspects that I will detail from here on out are only applicable to the live action shots, and not the nasty sweeping hazy shots of a computer generated Jerusalem. Those are bloody awful and cringe-worthy. Thank heaven that less than ten of those transitional shots are contained in the film.
Fine details abound. The movie's sharpness and flawless clarity allow for the most minute details and textures to impressively stand out. The movie opens with a recap, of sorts, of the major bible stories that happen before Christ's birth. As Adam, the first man on Earth, rises from the ground. As he does so, each individual crack of dry mud can be seen on his caked face. The great details are constantly shouting out for attention via the high count of perfectly detailed beards. I expected to see much nicer costuming than would be historically accurate, but heavy authetic-looking materials were used. The video quality shows off the not-so-tight weave of material in just about every costume that makes its way into the foreground.
Aside from the bad CG work, the only real flaws to be found in the video is a waivering consistency in black levels and the occasional dark scene with noise. Most times, the two go hand-in-hand. There are many nighttime scenes. The black levels can range from perfectly rich to mild crushing. During the scenes with the most black crush, traces of mild digital noise can be seen.
'Son of God' hits Blu-ray with a tame lossless 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. Despite the countless opportunities to make use of the surround and rear channels to emphasize the high count of people cheering or booing in large crowd scenes (of which there are many), surround effects are rarely utilized in this mix. The vocal track is very front-heavy. Many of these scenes feature "peanut gallery" moments, faceless voices from an unseen crowd throwing out opinions, yet they're always located front and center. The lack of vocal mixing removes some of the should-be dynamics, leaving the mix flat and less engaging than it would be otherwise.
The effects mixing make a little better use of the surround channels, but still isn't worth bragging about. When the apostles find themselves in the middle of the sea during a storm, lightning cracks ring throughout the room. Rainfall is also mixed around the space. Stones clacking and falling during the rumbly and very bassy earthquake are mixed in a way that place you in the unsteady locale. But that's about it - and even during the best of these moments, the effects feel a little too quiet in comparison to the other sounds.
The only element of the mix to be consistently spread throughout the speakers is the music. Hans Zimmer's 'Gladiator'-esque score is dynamically mixed. A great amount of that same aforementioned earthquake bass has been applied to the music, giving it a nice little rumble that reminded me of his score for 'Man of Steel.'
All of the following features are found on both the Blu-ray and DVD discs.
'Son of God' isn't a bad religious film. Despite my preconceived notions, it's amongst the better ones. It is honest and genuine with its depiction of Christ's story and message. Aside from several quick and ugly CG shots, the overall quality is pretty high. Having not seen 'The Bible,' the television miniseries from which 'Son of God' originates, I cannot say if this film is worth adding to your collection alongside 'The Bible.' But if you're looking for a decent movie about Jesus Christ that you can watch with most of your family (it deserves its PG-13 rating, but is nowhere as graphic as 'The Passion of Christ'), look no further. The video quality is very good, but the sound is simply okay. A couple of the special features aren't all that special, but two lengthy ones are very good - one an English language making-of and the other a Spanish language making-of. Faith-based movies usually destroy my soul because of their fatal lack in quality, which may seem strange because I'm an active Christian, but 'Son of God' is much better than most faith-based movies and is definitely worth checking out if it at all piques your interest.