Judge Joel Pearce says this isn't the greatest story ever told using stop motion animation. That would be Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.
Our review of The Miracle Maker: The Story Of Jesus (Blu-Ray), published March 9th, 2011, is also available.
An all-star cast brings life to the greatest story ever told.
Arriving around the same time as The Nativity Story, 2000's The Miracle Maker has been brought across the pond for a North American release. Unfortunately, it gives us little reason to revisit this story in film form once again, aside from some impressive stop-motion animation. Still, families interested in another well-produced version of the story may want to check out this beautifully designed retelling.
Facts of the Case
While The Miracle Maker begins with a young sick girl who will soon be healed by Jesus, it spends most of its running time telling the familiar Christ story, from the beginning of his ministry to his resurrection. There's little point in me telling you any more of the story, because you have almost certainly heard it many times before.
This familiarity is where the production of The Miracle Maker falters the most. We have already seen this story put on film before, whether it focuses on one portion like Passion of the Christ, or tells the entire, familiar story. When handling such a commonly told story, it's critical to set your version apart in some way. The Last Temptation of Christ centered on Jesus' humanity and explored an element of his story that is often misunderstood and ignored. The Passion of the Christ re-sensitized us to the horrific nature of his death. Zeffirelli turned Jesus of Nazareth into an epic work of art. By contrast, all The Miracle Maker can really boast is puppets—not exactly a compelling reason to see the story once again. Each segment of the story has a Sunday school familiarity, and I often found it difficult to pay attention. The wording and imagery is so familiar, so overused, that the film is almost self-defeating in purpose.
As well, it forces us to ask who this film is for, but doesn't give a strong answer. Those unfamiliar with the story will find it obtuse and confusing, since the whole story has been crammed into a 90-minute retelling. The images are common, but not explained clearly. For those who did grow up with the story, it only brings up a faint nostalgia for Sunday school picture books. Children may draw more from The Miracle Maker, though it still fails to distinguish itself from several other versions of the Christ story that already line the DVD shelves of most Christian families. Indeed, it is a flawed educational tool for the way it jumbles and fuses the stories from the Bible to squeeze the whole thing into such a short running time. Oddly, the pacing seems to decelerate throughout the film, so I found myself losing interest even more towards the end.
The news is not all bad. The stop motion is often quite impressive, especially in sequences with large groups of characters. They all move smoothly, and it doesn't have the stiffness that's often found in this style of animation. The Russian animation industry has a very unique look, and it fits the story well. Everything moves slow in these sequences, but it's a richly painted tapestry. I cannot say the same for the cel animated portions of the story, which look flat and bland in comparison. This other animation is often used for flashbacks, which works well, but there are also some segments that switch to regular animation without clear purpose. Did the production team run out of time to use stop motion for the whole story? Either way, it's quite distracting.
Although relentlessly British, the cast does an impressive job with the voice work. Ralph Fiennes (The Red Dragon) is dignified as Jesus, and the other cast members support him well. It's mildly distracting to hear Ken Stott's Scottish brogue as Peter, but at no point could I fault the performers themselves. In the end, The Miracle Maker is a perfectly functional telling that has been eclipsed by a multitude of superior ones from the past. It's beautiful to watch at times, but frustrating to sit through.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
While I was less than impressed with the actual product, I can hardly fault Lions Gate for their impressively stocked DVD release. The image has obviously been transferred from a PAL image, so it features some ugly artifacts. Aside from that, it is vibrant and sharp, capturing the details of the animation well. There are a few scenes with too much movement, though, and the transfer simply can't keep up. This could be due to so many special features crammed on the same disc. The sound is fine, with clear dialogue and well mixed sound effects. The music is sparse, but blended into the mix well.
The disc also houses a production featurette, which are always more interesting for stop motion animation. There were some extremely creative elements in this production, and the documentary covers it well. We also get a storyboard comparison, but it's less impressive—since they overlay the two elements in an awkward way. The option is also there to watch the film with Bible references, so that you can follow along in the text. Once you are finished, you can take a quick quiz to test your knowledge of the Christ story. Finally, we get a commentary track with Naomi Jones and Derek Hayes. It covers a lot of the same ground that the documentary does, but they are well prepared for it, so the information is good and eloquently communicated.
I will have little reason to return to The Miracle Maker. It's not a very exciting retelling of the Christ story, and fails to bring anything new and different to the familiar tale. It tells the story in a beautiful way, though, so families will probably find much to enjoy in this handsomely mounted production. If only they had done something fresh with the story, it would be highly recommended.
Another trip through the Jesus story has put me in a forgiving mood. Not guilty, I guess…
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