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Case Number 11999

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Biography: Satan: Prince Of Darkness

Biography Channel // 2007 // 141 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Ian Visser (Retired) // September 5th, 2007

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All Rise...

Judge Ian Visser sold his soul for a mint-in-box Optimus Prime figure.

The Charge

Please allow me to introduce myself…

Opening Statement

Lucifer. Beelzebub. The Great Unclean. The Devil. You know the name and you know the game. It's Satan, he of the pointy tail and even pointier pitchfork. Fallen from heaven and really, really upset at mankind, the ultimate evil is coming to steal your soul and damn you to an eternity in Hell. Best load up on the SPF 60,000 while you can…

Facts of the Case

Did you know the story of Satan is not really in the Bible? But medieval writers took fragmentary references scattered throughout the Bible and assembled the story we all know and love. Turns out this angel Lucifer was actually down with God for a short period of time. Lucifer was God's light-bearer, working with Him to create the universe and all its parts. The pair would hang out, drink some beers, and toss planets at each other for fun. Good times, right?

But when God decided that Man (that's us) was created in his own image and therefore superior to these heavenly dudes, well, Lucifer couldn't roll with that. No way was Lucifer going to lie down for a less-than-heavenly being! So he and a bunch of his fellow arch-angels decided to throw down on the Lord and his crew, which eventually got them cast out of Heaven and right into Hell. Lucifer vowed revenge upon mankind and set out to corrupt and abuse the pesky mortals.

I guess we had it coming.

The Evidence

I have to hand it to The Biography Channel. After profiling conquerors, kings, actors, gangsters, politicians, and mass murderers, there isn't a whole lot left. Another Jennifer Aniston retrospective, anyone? Thankfully, Biography has never been afraid to go outside the box for content, and viewers now get a chance to revisit the life-and-times of one of history's greatest monsters.

Combining theology, religion, and history, Biography has pieced together a look at the personification of evil and all his nasty habits. Using interviews, art, recreations, and ancient texts, Biography—Satan: Prince of Darkness chronicles Satan's rise to prominence in our culture. This examination is divided into three main periods of human history:

Early Humanity—After tempting Adam and Eve out of Eden, the devil turns his attention to the rest of us. Satan is initially believed to be a literal person, one able to visit with men and change his shape to suit his needs. The devil is blamed for afflicting people with physical symptoms such as blindness, boils, insanity and fever, as well as for natural disasters and crop failures. Satan is seen as the creator of all earthly misery, causing suffering solely for his own pleasure.

However, a change in the perception of Satan soon occurs; rather than casting abuse in the form of mere physical afflictions, the devil turns to attempts at moral corruption. No longer responsible only for hangnails and impotence, Satan is now out to steal souls through temptation. In response, the faithful turn to martyrdom and baptism as ways to reject his evil schemes. Finally, the documentary focuses on the rise of personal pacts with Satan and the hysteria of the Salem witch trials in the New World colonies.

The Enlightenment—An attitude change in the 18th and 19th centuries finds Satan celebrated by intellectuals as a rebellious anti-hero. Rather than being something to fear, Satan is now considered a wily opponent for men to battle with; if one can reject sin and remain faithful to God they will have triumphed over evil. More significantly, the rise of science and reason provides new explanations for mankind's crises and afflictions, further driving the influence of the devil into the background.

The 20th Century—The notion of a singular evil would re-emerge in the 20th century. Faced with atrocious wars and suffering, Satan again rose as a force to be reckoned with. The character became increasingly visible in the 1960s and 1970s with the emergence of horror films, The Exorcist being the most prominent example. More unexpected was the development of Satanic churches, whose followers were dedicated to worshipping Lucifer rather than resisting him. Seen as the ultimate rebels, followers of Satan believe that they will be rewarded by the dark lord for their obedience.

Biography—Satan: Prince of Darkness is ultimately a disappointing attempt to examine the history of the devil. As much as this documentary tells us, it overlooks or omits just as many potential areas of interest. Nowhere are other religion's representations of the devil examined, or any investigation made of how other cultures view this personification of evil. The Muslim faith, for example, has an entity known as Shaitan who closely parallels the Jewish (and to a lesser extent Christian) version of the devil. It's a shame that The Biography Channel couldn't widen the scope of their investigation to include such representations, especially since the notion of a supreme evil being is so universal.

There is also a lack of explanation of the symbolic representations of Satan. Throughout the documentary we are treated to images of goats, pentacles, pitchforks, and so on. But no information is provided to explain these representations or how they came to prominence in popular culture. Have they been misused or misinterpreted throughout the years, or do they have something to tell us about how the perception of evil has evolved from biblical times? These elements are certainly part of the history of Satan, yet are left unexplained.

Finally, why does the examination into Satan's influence on culture end at the 1970s? The 1980s were rife with reports of Satanic-based child abuse cases (virtually all the result of hysteria) and tales of black vans cruising America searching for sacrificial victims. Heavy metal music during this period was famous for its co-opting of Satanic symbols and practices, whether sincere or used for mere shock effect. There were even Christian metal bands (such as Stryper) who dedicated themselves to fighting Satan's influence on teenaged metal fans. Satan continues to make appearances in film, music, and television, and considering such an enduring character never really fades from our consciousness it seems like a cop-out not to bring an examination of Satan into the present day.

As expected for a television broadcast, Biography—Satan: Prince of Darkness is presented in the full-frame aspect ratio. The image is solid, with deep blacks and good color balance. The audio track is a standard Dolby Digital 2.0 mix which conveys the screaming of the damned and the crackling of eternal hell-fire in a clear, crisp manner.

The only extra feature is a complete program from Biography called Hell: The Devil's Domain. Focusing more on the physical realm of Hell than Satan himself, the documentary includes tales of near-death experiences during which people claim to have visited the netherworld and returned. Ironically, this "extra" contains more material of interest than the actual feature, including a closer look at modern Satanists and their beliefs. This additional program is very similar in form to the feature and is worth watching to fill in the gaps remaining from Biography—Satan: Prince of Darkness.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

It's Satan, not Angelina Jolie. There's no archival footage, no yearbook photos, and no embarrassing clips from early TV commercials to use. Considering what it has to work with, Biography does the best it can on a subject that is more myth and legend than fact.

Closing Statement

This examination into one of the great mythical creations of humanity is reduced to a thumb-nail sketch. Biography—Satan: Prince of Darkness would have been a more interesting experience if greater attention had been given to the details that make the devil such an enduring and compelling figure in our society.

The Verdict

Biography—Satan: Prince of Darkness is found guilty of withholding evidence and is sentenced to a fiery eternity in you-know-where…

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Scales of Justice

Video: 80
Audio: 80
Extras: 70
Story: 60
Judgment: 70

Perp Profile

Studio: Biography Channel
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 141 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Genres:
• Documentary
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• Documentary - Hell: The Devil's Domain

Accomplices

• None








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