Friday, April 15, 2005

Review: Revelations

The NBC miniseries Revelations debuted this Wednesday, April 13, at 8:00 pm (CDT). I will admit that I was prejudiced against it based on the title alone. I was under the impression the program was to be based on the last book of the New Testament, which is properly the Book of Revelation. My prejudice was that if the producers could not get the name of the book right, they probably didn't get anything else right.

The program has been promoted as being "inspired" by the Book of Revelation, along with other Bibical apocalyptic writings. David Seltzer, the writer/creator of the miniseries, has been quoted as saying he takes these prophecies seriously. So, I was suspicious that Mr. Seltzer's production would be similar to Tim LeHaye's "Left Behind" series — a supposedly literal interpretation of apocalyptic writings which owes as much to the "Rapture Index" as it does the Bible. [For more information on the Rapture Index, I refer you to the seventh paragraph of this speech by Bill Moyers].

Based on the debut episode, I needn't have worried. There are three events in this episode which are supposedly signs of the End Times: a shadow appears on the side of a mountain that "onlookers say is the image of Christ" when there is no object to cast such a shadow; an infant is found in the midst of the storm, apparantly the survivor of a shipwreck; and a brain-dead girl is reciting Biblical passages in Latin and writing in archaic code. All of these certainly fit into the category of the generic "wonders" Jesus mentions when speaking of the End Times, but none relate to specific events prophesied in Revelation or elsewhere — so far as I am aware.

What we are left with, then, are the main characters and the plot. Dr. Massey is ably portrayed by Bill Pullman, a journeyman actor who brings an appropriate mix of skepticism and grief to the role of a scientist who has recently lost a daughter and is confronted with supposed "miraculous" events. I am inclined to like the character simply because I like the performer.

Natascha McElhone portrays Sister Josepha Montafiore, who belongs to an unspecified order (NBC's web site refers to the "Sisters of Mercy"). It's made clear that Sister Montafiore is a member of a renegade order, which neatly avoids any charge of anti-Catholocism in the series; that is, if she's a member of a renegade order, no one can claim her views reflect those of orthodox Catholocism. She has a habit of quoting scripture, saying that many people find it comforting. I'm inclined to agree with Dr. Massey's character, that it's just annoying. The sister is less than skeptical about whether these are the End Times, and would seem a poor choice to try to prove the matter in any meaningful way.

In spite of the fact that she quotes scripture, she does not cite a single passage to substantiate her claim that the "signs are in place for the End Times". Not once does she say, for example, "This girl is speaking even though she is technically dead. Her body seems to be channeling Dr. Massey's dead daughter. Thus, the dead have returned, as Jesus promised in Matthew 24." This seems a flaw in the character, if not the program as a whole.

There are a number of equally niggling matters left unexplained: how the code written by the brain-dead girl leads Sister Montafiore to Dr. Massey; why the infant is considered so special that he is reverenced at a Greek Church (the shipwreck occurs conveniently close to the island of Patmos, where the Book of Revelation was written). Some of these questions may fall under the "suspension of disbelief" rule; others may be answered as the series continues. Those which are left unanswered reflect disturbing plot holes.

There are certainly worse dramas out there. If I were reviewing this program for Entertainment Weekly, I would give it a "C" – it's about average. In no way is the program Biblically based, and knowledgeable people seeking that are likely to be disappointed. If, however, you are seeking a quasi-religious mystery/suspense story that plays out like a watered-down "X-Files", you are likely to be entertained by this series.

Oh – by the way " the nun accurately refers to the Biblical text as the Book of Revelation. So, extra credit for at least that level of accuracy.

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