‘Son of God’ draws rave reviews from religious leaders

‘Son of God’ opened in Toledo area theaters Friday.
‘Son of God’ opened in Toledo area theaters Friday.

Forget what’s certified fresh on the Rotten Tomatoes website.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl calls Son of God, which opened in theaters Feb. 28, “engaging and compelling.” Bishop David Zubik of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, after watching an advance DVD five or six times, pronounces it very, very powerful.

“I have to say, of all the films I’ve seen about Jesus, this is the most moving. The manner in which they portray some of the significant scenes takes on a love and a tenderness and a merciful side of Jesus that maybe isn’t always as beautifully portrayed,” he said.

Son of God is a 138-minute movie drawn from the History Channel’s The Bible. The 10-hour miniseries premiered in February 2013 and covered the Old and New Testaments. Son of God opens with a quick Old Testament montage but concentrates on the New Testament and incorporates footage not seen on television.

It’s being billed as the “first major studio feature film on the complete life of Jesus Christ since The Greatest Story Ever Told 50 years ago.”

Produced by actress Roma Downey and her husband Mark Burnett, Son of God stars Portuguese actor Diogo Morgado in the title role and tracks Jesus from his birth through his teachings, crucifixion, and resurrection.

Bishop Zubik, a movie fan whose endorsement was conveyed in a letter to parishes in his diocese and a Feb. 14 story in the Pittsburgh Catholic newspaper, said the script is “very on target” when it comes to its source material.

“What it supplied was the element of emotion that sometimes people don’t picture when they’re reading about those various scenes. Obviously, the film is titled the Son of God but it also emphasized, in a very beautiful way, the humanity of Christ and the manner in which he fulfilled his role as the son of God.”

Son of God is one of several faith-based movies scheduled for this year. Plans were just announced for an animated Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Russell Crowe stars in Noah, due March 28. Heaven Is for Real, about a boy who claims to have visited heaven, opens April 16. And Exodus, a retelling of the story of Moses with Christian Bale, comes to screens Dec. 12.

Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst with Rentrak, a global media measurement company, tracks the box office and says the name of the game today is about crossing over to mainstream audiences. Ride Along isn’t seen as just an urban movie or The Lego Movie as strictly kiddie or family fare. Both steadily or speedily passed $100 million in North America and are spawning sequels.

“The faith-based movies have a little bit of a tougher go. A lot of those movies are perceived as being so specific that you’re only going to be preaching to the converted, so to speak,” Mr. Dergarabedian said. But “At the end of the day, if you have a really good movie and it’s well marketed, all barriers are broken down in my opinion — or they can be.”

Every time a faith-based movie does well, it emboldens studios, producers, and theater owners to get behind such releases, he added. Television has done just that, with NBC ordering 12 hours of A.D., Mr. Burnett’s sequel to The Bible expected to air in 2015.

The fact that much of Son of God was on cable TV or The Bible was the top-selling miniseries of all time on DVD and Blu-ray means the movie was basically made — although it needed to be re-edited and promoted once again.

The film is being repackaged and expanded in another way with “The Bible: Son of God Tour,” a two-hour live event promising immersive video and visual effects with live musical performances.

Scheduled to perform are musical artists Francesca Battistelli, Sidewalk Prophets, Natalie Grant, Chris August, Meredith Andrews, and Jason Gray. See www.thebibletourexperience.com for more information.

It will make 16 stops from March 20 through April 13, including at Grace Polaris Church in Westerville, Ohio, April 3 at 7 p.m. Ticket prices range from $23 to $129.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Barbara Vancheri is the movie editor for the Post-Gazette.