It seems almost impossible to count the number of times we’ve seen the story of Jesus’ life and crucifixion brought to the big screen. From “King of Kings” and “The Greatest Story Ever Told” to “The Passion of the Christ” and “Son of God,” it’s a timeless story that filmmakers have told again and again. However, the typical telling of the tale almost always seems to be rather straightforward, giving us the exact same events, and in many cases, the same dialogue pulled directly from the Gospels. This is not to say that these were bad adaptations in any way, just that it’s a little difficult to do something different with a story that has been told so many times. This is why it became a little intriguing to hear that Kevin Reynold’s “Risen” was going to take a slightly different approach to the story, not only telling of the events post-crucifixion, but also showing us the events through the eyes of someone else entirely.
Clavius (Joseph Fiennes) is a Roman tribune who is tasked with keeping the peace in Judea, a task that has become even more difficult with the arrival and crucifixion of the supposed messiah, Yeshua (Cliff Curtis). Prefect Pontius Pilate (Peter Firth) orders him to make sure that Yeshua’s body, recently entombed in a small cave, is kept under guard so that no one takes it in an attempt to claim that he is still alive. However, the body does disappear, with the guards claiming that they were attacked. This turn of events forces Pilate to order Clavius to investigate further in hopes of quelling any further unrest that may result from the disappearance. Clavius begins to question everyone who had any connection to Yeshua, as well as those who speak of his potential resurrection. His investigation eventually leads to a startling truth, one that he has great difficulty understanding as a non-believer.
“Risen” is another one of those biblical epics where the filmmakers’ hearts were obviously in the right place, with the intention of telling this beloved story from a unique perspective, but as good as their intentions were, it ends up falling short in several areas. For starters, the first half of the film comes off as a very unusual episode of “CSI” in which Clavius is trying to follow any clues in his attempt to discover what happened to Yeshua. Most of this section is taken up with endless interrogation sessions that bring the pacing of the film way down to a very lax level, especially since the audience is already fully aware of what’s happened, making it a matter of waiting for Clavius to catch up.
The film’s second half has the tribune finally finding out the truth, after which he decides to follow the apostles around for the remainder of the film as they continue to seek their messiah. Just like the first half of the film, it too ends up being rather uneventful, which only continues the feeling that the film is merely dragging on. What’s more is that it all comes down to a very abrupt ending. Now I’m not a religious scholar or anything, nor am I familiar with these particular events, so this could indeed be how it is written in the original text. However, as an ending to a film that has had very little to go on, it comes off as the filmmakers having given up on their story and calling it quits.
It’s not quite all bad though. Fiennes, most known for playing William Shakespeare in the masterpiece “Shakespeare in Love,” gives a fine performance, filled with gravitas and wonder at the unbelievable events that are occurring before him. It’s the kind of performance that makes you wish that they had given him a little more to do in the latter half, rather than just have him travel around with the apostles. You also have to admire Reynold’s and his crew for attempting to tell a part of the story that’s not often told, and letting us see it from a Roman’s perspective no less. They could have done what so many filmmakers have done before and just told us the same old tale, but they decided to take a chance and go with something a little different. It may not have worked out as well as they’d hoped, but at least they tried to take it in a more unique direction.
That being said, “Risen” merely ends up as another bland biblical epic that you’re likely to start forgetting mere minutes after it’s over. It’s unfortunate because this was a rather interesting idea that had a lot of potential, but, as mentioned earlier, it’s pretty hard to do anything new with this material and do it in a way that’s fresh and interesting to audiences. Luckily there’s no need to fret, as there are plenty of great biblical epics out there that do a fine job of telling all about Jesus’ life, so while this one isn’t quite up to par, you still have more than enough to choose from to see his story done well.
“Risen” comes to Blu-ray in a 2.40:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of excellent quality. The picture remains perfectly sharp and clear throughout, allowing all of the hard work that went into the period sets and costumes to shine. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is another one of those tracks that’s extremely soft, so an adjustment to the volume will have to be made, but once that’s done, you’re given all audial elements in decent quality (just remember to turn it back down when you’re done). Overall, the film has been given pretty good treatment, leaving very little room for complaint.
Commentary with Patrick and Paul Aiello: A commentary track with one of the producers and one of the writers, neither of which has much to say about the film.
Deleted Scenes (4 Minutes): A handful of deleted sequences that don’t add much to the film.
The Mystery of the Resurrection: Making Risen (11 Minutes): An interesting featurette that explores the making of the film through behind the scenes footage and interviews with the cast and crew.
Creating A.D. Jerusalem (9 Minutes): A featurette that takes a look at the film’s grand production design.
The Battle of the Zealots Deconstructed (5 Minutes): A brief look behind the scenes of the opening battle.
Script to Screen (4 Minutes): A very brief featurette that discusses the film’s story.
While Kevin Reynolds does try to do something a little different with “Risen” than we’re used to seeing in a standard film about Jesus, it ultimately can’t overcome its shoddy pacing and uneventful storyline, turning this into a rather forgettable biblical outing. To its benefit, it does contain a fine turn from Joseph Fiennes and an intriguing idea filled with potential, but due to its poor execution, that potential sadly goes unrealized.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD starting tomorrow.
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