Entire family: No
2015, 12 episodes (600 min.), Color
Unrated (would be PG-13 for graphic violence)
Aspect ratio: 1.78:1
Featured audio: English DTS-HDMA 5.1
Bonus features: C+
The New Testament gets the TV miniseries treatment in A.D.: The Bible Continues, a less sprawling 2015 sequel to the gap-filled 2013 miniseries, The Bible.
What immediately impresses is that A.D. presents a believable ancient-world reality, despite slightly modernized language and direction that includes all sorts of contemporary techniques. It’s really well made, with great production values. While previous biblical movies and miniseries stayed with unobtrusive camerawork and an overly respectful treatment of the material often handcuffed directors, the five (Ciaran Donnelly, Tony Mitchell, Brian Kelly, Rob Evans, Paul Wilmshurst) who direct these 12 one-hour episodes use such devices as quick cuts, extreme close-ups, character flashbacks, walk-and-talks, and cross-cut scenes so that A.D. feels contemporary but still looks convincingly ancient. Filmed in Morocco using CGI to enhance the illusion, A.D. also features some gorgeous cinematography (it looks terrific in HD).
What’s more, you never find yourself thinking that these are actors wearing costumes, and for that you can credit the casting department. For the most part A.D. is constructed like a contemporary dramatic miniseries and only infrequently lapses into the kind of heavens-open-and-angels-sing schlock-and-awe that characterized the old-school biblical epics. Also missing (and thankfully so) is the gratuitous sex and violence that now seems requisite for “edgy” TV miniseries. A.D. only includes violence that seems necessary to the storytelling and manages to find its edge without going any further. Some, for example, might think it edgy that Mary Magdalene (Chipo Chung) is ethnic in this production, that the humanity of Jesus (Juan Pablo Di Pace) is emphasized, or that the political machinations involving the Roman governor Pilate (Vincent Regan), the Hebrew high priest Caiaphas (Richard Coyle), and various emperors are worthy of House of Cards episode.
Despite a complicated plot in later episodes, A.D. flows well—much better than The Bible—starting with Jesus’ crucifixion (yes, the filmmakers assume a certain knowledge of subject matter on the part of the audience) and continuing with the backlash and the early activities of Jesus’ disciples, as told in the Book of Acts.
“The Tomb Is Open” begins in media res with the already arrested Jesus talking to Pilate, then being crucified (yes, this part is graphic), and ending with the news that the Roman seal of Jesus’ tomb has been broken and that the tomb is empty. That’s the plot skeleton, but the flesh is all political intrigue involving the Jews who are opposed to Jesus and the sectarians who follow him, and the Roman governor who is trying to keep either faction from gaining power.
“The Body Is Gone” shifts its focus to the disciples and Jesus’ reappearances to them following his foretold resurrection from the dead. Pilate, meanwhile, wants no witnesses that Jesus’ body has disappeared and eliminates—at least one personally, and bloodily—the soldiers who were assigned to guard the tomb. Then “The Spirit Arrives” and descends upon the disciples during the Festival of Pentecost, and the disciples take up Jesus’ teachings and miracle-working, despite the fact that they know they too may be arrested at any time.
“The Wrath” finds Pilate decreeing that 10 Jews will be crucified daily until a would-be assassin is turned over. Meanwhile, Peter recruits more followers and “fishers of men.”
In “The First Martyr,” Peter (Adam Levy) and the others continue to organize while hiding in Jerusalem. The episode seems ill named, since 20 are rounded up for crucifixion. Pilate also tortures one of the new converts suspected of being the assassin, and Stephen is stoned to death.
“The Persecution” introduces Saul of Tarsus, who dismisses Jesus as a false prophet, and tension builds between the Nazarenes (followers of Jesus) and the Jews, while “The Visit” features Roman emperor Tiberius, who comes to Jerusalem; meanwhile, Saul leaves the city in pursuit of Peter. “The Road to Damascus” details Saul’s conversion to Christianity and his emergence as Paul, who would become one of the greatest missionaries of them all. In “Saul’s Return,” Peter is reluctant to believe in Saul’s conversion and the Nazarenes consider using him to further their purposes. Caiaphas is reluctant to order Saul’s execution, and tries to convince him to return to his post in “Brothers in Arms”—an episode that has more scheming and death-plots than all the others combined. These later episodes, wrought with politics, will have less appeal for all but families with children in their late teens.
In “Rise Up” and “The Abomination,” the clashes continue as Emperor Caligula enters Jerusalem with a golden statue and all of the factions come into play. If you can keep up with what happens in these final episodes you’re doing well. The box copy touts A.D. as an “epic story for the ages . . . and inspiring entertainment for everyone.” I would say that’s true for the first three episodes. After that it gets a little more violent and a lot more complicated for all but the adults and older teens.
Violence: Nails are driven into hands, throats are slit, and blood is routinely used to suggest violence when anything more graphic is off-camera
Adult situations: Even background realism, like Jews bringing their lambs for sacrifice, might be disturbing for younger children; Judas hangs himself, and there is plenty of adult drama involving betrayals, life-and-death situations, and highly emotional responses
Takeaway: It IS possible to tell a Bible story using a contemporary style.