OKLAHOMA CITY – I recently had the chance to catch a sneak preview of A.D. from producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, and I will sum up my thoughts in three words: I am excited.
Launching off the success of the Bible miniseries and Son of God feature film, Burnett and Downey are using A.D. to give viewers something new: a thorough look at what happened in the early church immediately following Jesus’ crucifixion.
This is indeed newsworthy.
In a world of Ben-Hur, The Ten Commandments, The Passion of the Christ, Noah and Exodus: Gods and Kings, there has never been a major cinematic treatment of the early church. So, this is new territory, and if the first episode is any indication, I believe we are in for a mind-expanding and enlightening series.
Of course, it should immediately be noted that this series isn’t a word-for-word presentation of the Biblical text.
To be very clear – a visual Bible this is not.
Instead, the writers take the basic Biblical vignettes and augment them with tastefully crafted dialogue. These interpolations help weave together the threads of well-known elements in a way that is creative, respectful and quite believable.
One example of this would be the treatment of Pilate and his wife.
After the crucifixion, we see Pilate and his wife engage in a series of encounters that become increasingly bitter. This marital strife makes complete sense given what we know of those two. After all, she did tell him not to have anything to do with Jesus’ death, and he completely ignored her. Bad idea.
Another example would be the handling of the politics surrounding the burial of Jesus by Joseph of Arimathea.
We know that Joseph was a member of the council (many suggest the Sanhedrin) and a secret follower of Jesus. We also know that he eventually gathered up the courage to ask Pilate for Jesus’ body and buried it in his family’s tomb.
What we don’t know is exactly how all those facts surrounding Joseph of Arimathea played out in reality. We don’t know exactly what words he used to claim the body, and we are not made privy to Pilate’s motivations when he granted the request.
Thus, the A.D. writers present a scenario where Joseph, Caiaphas and Pilate interact in a tangled web of politics, each vying for his agenda, with Pilate ultimately rewarding the body to Joseph out of a desire to keep the Jews in a state of infighting.
At the premiere, Mark Burnett described this political intrigue as being on par with an episode of House of Cards. Having watched a couple episodes of House of Cards, that seems a bit of overstatement. But, I see what he means – there probably were intense political moves in play around Jesus’ death, so the direction the writers take makes sense.
In the end, the first episode was very interesting, exciting and essentially biblically faithful. Of course, as mentioned earlier, this is not a word-for-word adaptation, but rather a series based on the Biblical accounts.
Though much more could be said about various elements of the production such as casting, set design, music, CGI, acting etc., I will simply say that I find the whole tone of the project to be polished and well produced.
On that note: after the episode concluded, Burnett said: “Being a Christian doesn’t give you the right to produce crappy material.” His intent is clear – we should strive to put out the best stuff possible.
To that end, Burnett has succeeded. This material is first-rate cinema of which believers worldwide can be proud. It goes without saying that, since this is a TV series, some elements are less amazing than a full-fledged blockbuster movie. Still, the overall effect is excellent and often quite memorable.
In closing, I will simply say, this looks to be a wonderful series. I cannot wait for episode two.
Grant Stevens writes reviews for this site and for the print and online versions of the Christian Chronicle. He also plays music and enjoys basketball.