Movie Review: The Gospel of JohnQuick Plot Summary: The Gospel of John, from the Bible, read nearly word-for-word with accompanying visuals.
Suggested Ages: 9+ (obviously the Bible is applicable for all, but seeing it visually like this...)
Version Notes: This review is for the 2003 film, not the 2014 one.
This "movie" (if you want to call it that) is unique in that it is actually the entire Gospel of John from the Bible, narrated and acted nearly word-for-word. Despite its several flaws which I'll get to in a moment, this is a GREAT film to watch that can help bring some of the Bible "more alive" through visuals. This movie was produced shortly before The Passion of the Christ was produced and so they sometimes tend to get lumped together, but they are very different films. The Passion of the Christ is a higher quality film that primarily focusses on the events leading up to and including the crucifixion of Jesus as related in all 4 Gospels. It also I believe is MUCH more realistic of the reality of what Jesus actually went through with the events leading up to his death. The Gospel of John, on the other hand, pretty much just shows you the Gospel of John visually, which does include some of the Passion-week events, but also includes much much more.
Besides the "passion" scenes that are MAJORLY sanitized compared to what you see in The Passion of the Christ, the overall acting and production quality of this film is merely "ok". My biggest concern with this film is that while it tells the Gospel of John, the performances seem to lack the "passion" (no pun intended) and "oomph" with which I can envision many of them actually happening. For instance, they'll have Jesus say something very soft-spoken when I can envision it much more forceful, or the emotion they're showing on-screen seems but a mere shadow of what it likely was in reality (such as when they show the scenes with Lazarus). I also noted a few things that were shown visually that I felt could actually give people some possible incorrect/wrong impressions. There's no other way to say it: because this movie has gone through an extra level of "humanity" before being the product it is, it's not going to be a 100% perfect reflection. While the words are nearly all from the Gospel of John, the producers' and actors' decisions regarding tone inflection, visuals to show, level of emotion to show, etc. are all going through the lens of "humanity", so it's not going to be right on. And like I said, I don't think it is right on.
The best way to think of this movie is: "one person's interpretation on what the events in the Gospel of John might have looked like". It's the same way you have to think of the Passion of the Christ. You can't take everything you are seeing as exactly the way it happened. In other words, you need to be careful with both movies not to ascribe the same weight to what you are seeing visually as an interpretation of sorts on the Scripture that you ascribe to the Scripture itself. This can be subtle so I do advise caution. At the same time, you do also need to remind yourself that you are NOT just watching any old film or some "nice story". You are watching TRUE events (whether depicted 100% accurately or not) that really happened when the Son of God walked our earth. That alone puts these types of films in a whole other category that really even transcends being called "movies".
As mentioned, this film is pretty much word-for-word the Gospel of John so it's hard to knock it too much, right? Yet, while it's neat on the one hand, it's kind of frustrating on the other. Because they'll show you part of an event that other Gospels in the Bible provide additional info on or explain further, but you don't see it since the movie just shows you what the Book of John says. So just as one of many examples, when you see the passion week events of Jesus' final week on earth, you only see what the Book of John says about it, which means you miss a lot of stuff that the other Gospels say.
With all that said, for what this movie is, it is still a good movie to help visually bring-to-life some of the events in what is for many people a favorite book in the Bible. Personally I believe a combination of this movie WITH the Passion of the Christ might be great to see relatively close together. First see this movie, and then maybe watch the Passion to get an even deeper sense of what Jesus really went through for us.
Despite the level of acting or visuals, this movie has great power because it shares the Word of God in the whole Gospel of John, and the Word of God has power all by itself because it is God's Word to humanity. And the Gospel of John specifically has many great statements from Jesus in it where the issue of belief or rejection of Jesus is front-and-center.
Reviewed by Christopher Long,