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April 22, 2000
Column #973


     Two years ago, I came home from a long trip on Easter. I turned on TV and saw ABC was airing ''The Ten Commandments'' for the 19th consecutive year on Easter in prime time.

     ''What does the story of Moses and the Pharaoh have to do with Easter?'' I asked in this column. ''Absolutely nothing.''

     I called Kevin Brockman, an ABC executive, and asked why it was chosen on the anniversary of the Resurrection. Brockman told me, ''I don't know if there is a more appropriate film. This has a religious theme. The Ten Commandments are part of the Christian faith.''

     I proposed to him the film, ''Jesus,'' which had then been seen by 1.3 BILLION people in 219 countries. Campus Crusade for Christ had found it to be such a powerful evangelistic tool, that it was translated into 419 languages understood by 85 percent of the world's population.

     However, ''Jesus'' had never been on ABC, CBS or NBC.

     Brockman had never heard of the film, but expressed interest and said he would talk with Paul Eshleman of Campus Crusade to consider it. Last year ABC made no change.

     But this year, ''The Ten Commandments'' aired on Palm Sunday, just before Passover, which makes it an appropriate film for the season. And on Easter itself will be the world TV premier of ''The Miracle Maker,'' a full length film using the latest in 3-D clay animation to tell the story of Jesus, featuring the voices of Ralph Fiennes, Julie Christie and William Hurt.

     The film was produced in Great Britain. It opened in theaters in England this month, drawing larger crowds than a new Shakespeare film, ''Love's Labour's Lost.

     ''It is faithful biblically,'' says Ted Baehr, founder of the Christian Film and Television Commission that works in Hollywood, reviewing films and TV from a Christian perspective. ''It is not word for word from the Gospel, veering somewhat for dramatic purposes. But it emphasizes the divinity of Jesus and drew upon an impressive list of theologians in its creation.''

     One of the key people behind the film's production and introduction to the United States is Mel Gibson, a deeply committed Catholic, ''who has a great passion for his faith,'' says Baehr, whose reviews appear in his magazine, ''Movieguide,'' and on Christian radio and TV.

     The story is told through the eyes of the young girl who had died, but whom Jesus raised from the dead. In Mark 5:21-43, we read, ''Then one of the synagogue rulers, named Jarius, came there. Seeing Jesus, he fell at his feet and pleaded earnestly with him, `My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.' So Jesus went with him.'' As they approached the man's home, some men told Jarius, ''Your daughter is dead. Why bother the teacher any more?''

     Jesus ignored them and told the synagogue ruler, ''Don't be afraid; just believe.'' A crowd of people were crying and wailing loudly. Jesus went to them and said, ''Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead, but asleep.'' They simply laughed in response.

     Jesus took her mother and father and his disciples into the room, and said to her, ''Little girl, I say to you, get up!'' Immediately, the girl, who the film calls, Tamar, stood up and walked around. Scripture says, ''At this they were completely astonished.''

     In ''The Miracle Maker,'' Tamar has other encounters with Jesus during his ministry, a fictional yet plausible development. Children will love this aspect of the film, for they can identify with her. Tamar gives the story a fresh angle.

     The story opens with Jesus working as a master carpenter helping build a new synagogue in Sepporis. Again, this is speculative, but scholars agree that a new synagogue was being built in at that time in Sepporis, which is not far from Nazareth.

     ''A superb dramatization of the Gospel narrative,'' says Anglican Bishop Rowan Williams. ''Accessible, theologically accurate and moving. An outstanding, vivid and authentic script. The 1st Century detail is excellent, pretty well flawless, in my opinion.''

     And on CBS in a few weeks, will be a new film called ''Jesus,'' that was to have been broadcast on Easter, but is a bit late in production. It is not animation, but a higher budget movie with noted actors.

     Did my column criticizing the story of Moses on Easter spark these new productions? I don't know, but Ted Baehr thinks so!

Copyright 2000 Michael J. McManus.

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