In 2003, Scottish-Peruvian actor Henry Ian Cusick starred as Jesus in the three-hour film, The Gospel of John. The script was an unabridged word-for-word use of the Gospel of John, using the Good News Translation.
The Visual Bible produced similar projects for Matthew (1993) and Acts (1994), which included Italian-American actor Bruce Marchiano—who seeks to bring out the gentleness and approachability of Jesus (at one point he tousles a disciple’s hair!) but fails to convey the depth and gravitas of an actor like Cusick.
The Lumo Project
Now comes the Lumo Project, which seeks to do something similar with all four Gospels.
The Gospel of John is already available, with Luke planned for Easter 2016 and Matthew and Mark planned for Christmas 2016.
Here’s one aspect of Jesus films I’d never considered before—though in retrospect it’s obvious. Some people complain about Jesus being depicted as Anglo with an Anglo cast of characters. But if the film is in English, then it may be difficult to get a cast of actors who speak fluent, undistracting English and yet look like the part of a Mediterranean Jews.
In December 2002 Popular Mechanics reported on scientists and archaeologists using forensic anthropology to reconstruct what a first-century Galilean Semite might have looked like, with the following result:
The way that the Lumo Project solved this issue was by having Selva Rasalingam play Jesus. Rasalingam, whose ethnicity is partly Tamil, looks more like the picture above than the typical Anglo-Jesus version. Furthermore, the actors in the film speak Aramaic (and I assume Latin for certain parts?). But you can’t really hear their dialogue clearly. Rather, you hear the voice of the narrator, British actor David Harewood (whereas the Visaul Bible contains a combination of narration plus the actors saying the relevant dialogue). Harewood is essentially reading the Gospel of John word-for-word (you can choose whether to hear it as NIV, KJV, or in the Spanish Reina-Valera translation) as the actors depict the scenes.
It may not work for some viewers, but I think the approach is intriguing and surprisingly effective.
One exciting aspect of this approach is that the film can be translated with relative ease into multiple languages, since it only requires one voice-over narrator to read the biblical text. The Lumo Project is currently translating the Gospel of John film into Brazilian-Portuguese, French, Danish, German, Dutch, Spanish, and Finnish.
The film is shot on location in Morocco, and the cinematography is at times beautiful. There is also an appropriate use of CGI to reconstruct the city of Jerusalem from a difference. As a whole, the entire project is a step up from the Visual Bible version.
For readers who are interested, I’ve copied below two scenes from each movie, on the raising of Lazarus from the dead and the last supper of the Christ with his disciples. It’s interesting to take two identical scripts and to see the various acting and directing choices that can be made with the same source material.
And here is the Lord’s Supper in both versions:
By the way, if you have a Netflix subscription, the Lumo Project Gospel of John is currently streaming for free. I don’t know how long that will last.