In honor of Easter Sunday, tonight I bring you quite possibly my favorite version of the Easter story, the Claymation-style future classic, The Miracle Maker. And for once, I’m not even going to take screenshots. Nothing can capture the magic of this production like seeing it for yourself. Also, it won’t go fullscreen from the page again. I wonder if there’s a code.
Produced by BBC Wales, The Miracle Maker aired here in the US on the ABC network, who usually just shows The Ten Commandments, which only works because Jesus was celebrating the Passover at the time of his death and Resurrection. Oh, and guess what airs tonight? I was so happy to see Hulu was carrying this movie, but I still want to have the DVD.
While most of the movie is done in Claymation (or some kind of puppetry), certain scenes were done in hand-drawn animation. My guess is that pulling off the visuals for certain miracles would have been difficult to do stop-motion, so they went with the art. The character models in the drawn scenes match up well with the stop-motion figures, except for the more cartoony parable dramatizations. Rather than take away from the experience, it actually enhances them. When Jesus enters the desert to be tempted by Satan, the characters shifts between the clay and the art, taking us into the well-animated temptation scene. (This is the only time Satan is uses, as he doesn’t seem to have a puppet counterpart, but the animated version is in keeping with the design.) However, I’m not sure Lazarus’ rising from the grave had to be done animated, although it is a flashback.
The best use, however, is for the other flashbacks (rather than using simple black and white to demonstrate the difference), such as Mary (Jesus’ mother, not “Mad Mary”) recalling the visit by the Wise Men and the time young Jesus wandered off, and “Mad Mary’s” point of view, especially the scene where Jesus expells the demons that have driven her mad. To go over every teaching and miracle Jesus performs in the Bible, they hit some of the main parts, and even use the characters afterwards. The little girl Jesus heals is part of the whole story. She first sees Jesus as a carpenter, the day before he goes out to begin his ministry. We see her numerous times, watching her get sicker every time we do, and each time she is fascinated by Jesus, and even asks for him while dieing. Her parents are also used well, and the family ends up part of Jesus’s followers. Even knowing the story, I shed a tear when Tamera (they even name her) dies, although I knew she was “only sleeping”. I kind of fell in love with the kid.
That’s how powerful the acting is. While the facial emotions are only slightly better than a Rankin-Bass production, the body movements are expressive within the limits of stop-motion, and the vocal acting more than makes up for it. Ralph Fiennes does a fantastic job as Jesus, whether telling a parable, weaping for John the Baptist, or speaking to his followers and critics. There’s a slight weak moment when he’s supposed to be shouting at either Satan or the money changers, but that’s more a dialog issue. (It does sometimes sound like he’s trying to make it seem like shouting than actually going through and shouting, however.)
My favorite voice, however, goes to Simon Peter. You wouldn’t think a Scottish accent would work on a Israelite character, but danged if I couldn’t listen to Ken Stott read the phone book and be hooked. I usually only reserve accent love for Irish and Australian women. (Especially a cute Australian woman–I will fall in love like that!) There are some rather famous names in the circle, like Richard E. Grant, William Hurt, and Alfred Molina. I usually don’t care if a “celebrity” is involved, as long as he or she can voice act, which is far different from being able to act live. I’m more interested in the professional voice actors and actresses. However, they assembled an amazing cast, and all perform beautifully to my ears.
This is very much a family-friendly movie, unlike The Passion of the Christ. There are some slightly scary moments, such as “Mad Mary Vision” or some of Judas’s daydreams. In this version, Judas was part of Barbabas’s group of rebels, but was convinced Jesus would lead the revolution. The scene where Jesus prepares to travel into Jerusalem at the final Passover (done in animation, as is his decision to betray Jesus) plays out a bit differently. Also, some parts are glossed over. We never see Judas again after he realises what he’s done (we don’t even see him toss the money at the Pharasees, much less his suicide afterwards), John the Baptist’s murder is mentioned although the beheading and the queen’s trick to cause it are not, they don’t even mention the flogging, much less see it (after The Passion of the Christ came out, not a bad thing–I understand what Mel Gibson was going for, but I think he overdid it), and we don’t see the spikes driven into Jesus’s hands. It’s less scary that BBC Wales’ more famous family-targeted release Doctor Who, so if your kid can watch that, this will be a piece of cake. Even if they can’t, it’s not that bad.
All in all, a fantastic movie. Stop-motion, whether clay or puppets, is a dieing art in favor of computer-animation, but this is stop-motion done right. The acting is great, the use of occasional hand-drawn animation enhances the final product, and it’s something the whole family can watch together. Watch out for Tamera, however. I’m telling you, that kid will steal your heart as much as Jesus will.
Have a great Easter Sunday, people.