For I beheld a great beast with seven heads wearing seven golden crowns. And lo, its name was Judge Mac McEntire.
Omnium Finis Imminet.
A mega-hyped six part miniseries from May of 2005, Revelations is Hollywood's latest entry in the "religion-based thriller" genre. Combining spirituality and Bible trivia with psycho killers and gun battles could be a risky venture, but with a focus on plot and character at the forefront, is this one a gift from above, or sign of the end times?
Facts of the Case
After helping authorities track down his daughter's killer, physicist Richard Massey (Bill Pullman, Spaceballs) just wants to rekindle his relationship with his son Hawk (Mark Randall, the voice of TV's Arthur). Meanwhile, Sister Josepha (Natascha McElhone, Ronin) is a nun with some controversial theories, traveling around the globe documenting miracles. This leads her to a young girl in a coma (twins Chelsea and Brittany Coyle, Dark Ride), who seems to be receiving messages from Massey's dead daughter.
It turns out the girl in the coma is just one piece of a larger puzzle. With funding from a mysterious billionaire, Josepha is out to prove her theory: that the second coming has happened, and Christ has been reborn as a human baby. Although Massey's logical pessimism conflicts with Josepha's hopeful spirituality, the two of them start working together to save the girl's life from hospital bureaucrats who want to pull the plug.
Elsewhere, Massey's daughter's killer, Isaiah Haden (Michael Massee, The Crow), is in jail, spouting off a constant stream of religious rhetoric and building a following inside the prison walls—and outside of them, thanks to the media. As worldwide events start mirroring Biblical prophecies more than ever before, another baby, the Antichrist, is also about to be born. Now the clock is ticking, as Massey and Josepha must find the missing baby before Haden's gun-toting followers do.
If that weren't enough to worry about, Massey then learns that Hawk is missing. Kidnapped by a Bible-quoting thug (Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit fame), Hawk is on a nightmarish journey of his own, learning that he, too, might have role to play in the end of the world. From Massachusetts to Prague to Greece to the Holy Land, everyone's lives become entangled, science and religion clash, and there are plenty of Revelations.
Clocking in at more than five hours, Revelations is more like reading a big blockbuster novel than watching a movie. Several minor characters are introduced early on, with little subplots that help us get to know them. Just how these folks fit into the bigger picture isn't clear until later, when protagonists Massey and Josepha come across them. This requires the viewers to pay attention to the plot on an almost aggressive level. Someone introduced briefly in Part One might end up playing an important role in Part Five. Also, Massey and Josepha's adventures all over the globe lead to more plot threads to keep track of. There's the virgin mother in Greece, the scientist at Harvard, the archeologist in Prague, and so on. One needs a scorecard to keep track of it all.
These days, the first episode of any new series or miniseries has to start with some sort of attention-getter, in order to lure in viewers and keep them from changing the channel after the first break. The premiere episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer did this with some gender role-reversal on a seemingly typical horror movie set-up. The Battlestar Galactica miniseries had its now-notorious baby-killing stunt. And more recently, the short-lived FBI series The Inside kicked off its debut by putting the characters into a grisly crime scene with a twist. So what does Revelations do to grab viewers' attentions right off the bat? It's an elaborate special effects sequence in which Josepha sees the shadow of Christ on a mountainside. Unfortunately, the scene adds nothing to the story, other than showing us that this nun does indeed have great love for her savior. It's not what leads her to Massey or the mystery at hand.
That's not the only example. With so many stories to plow through in a single miniseries, many elements go unexplained or fall through the cracks. Who are the sexy identical twin supermodels following Massey everywhere he goes? They have glowing yellow eyes, so therefore we know they're evil, but they don't really do anything except look scary. Also, at first it seems that Haden is grooming Hawk to become the Antichrist, but then we learn the Antichrist has yet to be born. So Haden's interest in Hawk is never really explained, other than to give Massey some dramatic drive to confront Haden again.
Although there certainly are fantasy and sci-fi elements to the series, it benefits mostly from being more Earth-bound, with the battle between Heaven and Hell fought in the hearts and minds of humanity, not with flaming swords against snarling monsters. So whenever an overly supernatural event happens, it's almost a distraction, rather than the thrilling surprise the creators were hoping for. In one scene, Massey and Josepha interview another virgin mother, with an ultrasound revealing the baby to a vicious looking demon-like creature, complete with fangs and claws. This moment is seemingly forgotten, however, as the series (fortunately) gets back to the plot at hand. Similarly, one of the six parts begins with the unexplained creation of a new star, an event so stunning that Massey temporarily drops the search for his son to investigate. But this too has no relevance to the plot. It's as if the creators know that the "new star" thing is an iconic Bible image, and included it here merely out of obligation.
But despite all of these criticisms, Revelations is actually a decent thrill ride. The whole is better than the sum of its parts. The creators keep everything moving along at a fairly brisk pace. Several plot twists are surprising, and the actors bring a lot of energy and enthusiasm to their roles. This keeps viewers interested, even during slower or more ambiguous moments. Despite the length, the tension builds and builds to the climax, so even though it's complicated, it's also gripping, with a lot of big thrills along with way.
The series doesn't skimp on the action, either. It's quite frightening when a bunch of camouflage-wearing commando types storm a nunnery, slaughtering all the nuns just so they can kidnap a young girl. Similarly, a prison riot scene is also unflinching in its violence, as both guards and prisoners are killed left and right. Although the series has a lot to say about the nature of faith, its main goal is to catch viewers up in an apocalyptic roller coaster ride, and it does that well.
Filmed to be broadcast in high definition, picture quality is superb, with rich, vivid colors and deep blacks. Audio is also good, with the score being a highlight. The main extra here is a group of deleted scenes that feature some nice dialogue, but which are otherwise extraneous. The on-set interviews are far too brief, lasting only about a minute and not really saying anything. It would have been nice to hear from the writers and directors to learn about the, ahem, genesis of the project, but no luck.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Several devout Christians took issue with Revelations, especially how its depiction of Christ's second coming is not exactly as it's described in the Bible. Similarly, other passages of scripture, they argue, have been used out of context just for dramatic effect. Although it appears that no one told these nice people that the miniseries is a work of fiction, viewers should know that it plays fast and loose with the source material.
So how does Revelations compare to others in its genre? It's not as intense as The Exorcist, it's not as preachy as Left Behind, it's not as over-the-top as End of Days, it's not as gloomy as Millennium, and it's not as quirky as Miracles. Instead, it's somewhere in between all of these.
If a religion-based thriller sounds like something you'd enjoy, then by all means give it a try. But if the subject matter isn't for you, spend your money elsewhere.
It's not perfect, but there is some solid entertainment value here. So it's not guilty, but that's only if the creators can work out the kinks in their storytelling for their next project. Court is adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
• On-set Interviews
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