There have been many movies about the life of Jesus Christ, "King of Kings," "The Greatest Story Ever Told," "The Passion of the Christ," and "The Bible" among them. The latest telling, premiering on National Geographic on March 29, is a different take on the well-known story, emphasizing the political, social and economic motivations of various forces at work at the time.
Based on the Bill O’Reilly best seller and the third, following "Killing Lincoln" and "Killing Kennedy," to become a Nat Geo film, "Killing Jesus" was shot in Morocco with Haaz Sleiman (Jesus), Kelsey Grammer (King Herod, at right), Stephen Moyer (Pontius Pilate, below right), Emmanuelle Chriqui (Herodia) and Rufus Sewell (Caiaphas) playing just a few of the 93 speaking roles.
The movie is like a behind‑the‑scenes story of the life of Jesus, and it’s different in one major respect, says screenwriter Walon Green.
"The movies that have been done before have been from the point of view of Jesus, and this is a film that’s placing a man in his times, at a critical stage with political and other religious forces coalescing against him that this will inevitably result in his death," says Green. "He knew what his destiny was yet he didn’t feel he could turn away from it. There was not another path he could take."
That, he explains, is because of what was going on at the time in the region. The Romans were occupying the land and the Romans were a threat to the Jews. They wouldn't tolerate disorder.
The Jews, he says, have had other messianic figures rise up in Israel and, as a result, the Romans killed people and destroyed their villages. They obviously don't want that to happen again.
"They are trying to keep a lid on things for that purpose. Along comes this man who some think is a good guy. But others think, ‘Uh‑oh. This is a bad thing. I don't know how we are going to deal with this. What if this guy really catches on and becomes huge? The Romans will come down on us like they've done before for other apocalyptic figures. What if he shows up suddenly in Jerusalem with 10,000 followers? There's no question that Rome will begin annihilating people. Will the death of this one man save others?’" Green says.
"All of these questions are in there, which are not questions necessarily religious questions but questions that involve the moral conundrums of today or any time."
Executive producer Teri Weinberg explains the movie's goals.
"Our intentions were to tell the story of Jesus, the man, and what his plight was as a human being and what it was like to live in such a tumultuous political time, and we kept the focus on that," she says. "You will not see a lot of miracles. It’s firmly planted, very grounded and real to the time."
Being able to take this unique viewpoint is key to the success of these productions, says executive producer David Zucker of Scott Free Productions.
"Part of the relationship we've enjoyed so much with Nat Geo and Bill O’Reilly with these books is to take that different perspective on these types of stories and do them in as credible a way as possible," says Zucker. "When it comes to production design, when it comes to the whole vision of this, that obviously is critical for all productions we undertake. We want to make sure the authenticity of the story is as strong as it can be."
Weinberg says he believes the final results are fair and not subjective.
"I hope people will come to it with an open mind and an open heart. Whether you believe in its interpretation or not, you’re still going to learn about the economics of the time."
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