17 April 2009

Jacob: The Bible Collection

Jacob Important and Honest, But Imperfect
By Kristin Battestella

In my search for family friendly religious film, I was very pleased to see TNT’s The Bible Collection available on DVD. Taking on the ambitious of chronicling Biblical drama from Abraham to the Apocalypse, this second film in the series falters on slow pacing and little action.
Jacob (Matthew Modine) is the second son of Isaac (Joss Ackland, Shadowlands) and Rebekah (Irene Papas, Z). He follows the God of Abraham and seeks to do what is best for his people, unlike his elder, hairy twin Esau (Sean Bean). Esau favors hunting and Canaanite women and trades his birthright to Jacob for some porridge. At his mother’s behest, Jacob disguises himself as Esau and takes Isaac’s dying blessing. Discovering the betrayal, the angry Esau vows to kill his brother. Jacob flees to his uncle Laban (Giancarlo Giannini, Quantum of Solace) and falls in love with Rachel (Lara Flynn Boyle). They wish to marry and return to Canaan and amend ties with Esau. Unfortunately, the deceptive Laban tricks Jacob into years of suffering with false marriages and indentured service.

Jacob (The Bible Collection)It’s a lovely Biblical tale, and I applaud Ted Turner and his production team for not only dramatizing the better known or frequently told Old Testament epics. However, Jacob’s story of love, betrayal, and servitude doesn’t translate well to the screen. Writer Lionel Chetwynd (Kissinger and Nixon) gives us several quiet two-man conversations, but these sentimental moments don’t dig deep enough into the familiar relationships of Jacob and Esau or even Jacob and the love of his life Rachel. Director Peter Hall (The Camomile Lawn) gives us one brief and somewhat humorous camel chase-but some implied animal death adds a bitter exclamation point. This is an older television movie, so there’s nothing too scandalous, but the wedding switcheroo between Rachel and her sister Leah (Juliet Aubrey, Primeval) is way too obvious-even for younger folks who aren’t up to date on his or her Genesis reading.

Jacob is supposed to be all about the man himself, but Matthew Modine (Vision Quest, Memphis Belle, And the Band Played On) has little material to with which to work. The tale seems thin as it is, but this telefilm also doesn’t take the story deep enough. If Jacob loves Rachel so much, how can he have so many other wives and handmaidens? Is he conflicted about this? What are his relationships with his sons? Modine does his best to show love, anger, and frustration, but the bare script gives little room to maneuver. I think we’re meant to believe Jacob is quiet and stoic, but it’s not. In 1994, Modine was quite the star, and I do believe the Emmy nominee has the talent to pull of a juicy tale if given the chance.

Likewise, Sean Bean (Sharpe, Patriot Games) and Lara Flynn Boyle (The Practice, Twin Peaks) have little development beyond their relationships to Jacob. Both suffice as his antagonist and faithful foundation, the entire supporting cast looks the part and delivers on form. Nevertheless, I want more of Jacob. Where’s Esau bringing forth the Edomites? Where’s Rachel’s maternal strength? That’s all we get of Isaac and Rebekah? Sean Bean in a cop out camel race and Lara Flynn Boyle squatting over her dad’s stolen idol statues are not what I have in mind. Sure, it’s only a ninety minute television production, but if given the proper treatment and appreciation, Jacob can take its little love story and show its proper weight against those other pillars of Jewish history. I kept waiting for Rachel to bear Joseph and Benjamin already, but the show ends with a rather broad montage implying the settlement of Hebron.

Though Jacob is a slight misstep, you can’t quite skip it and go directly from Abraham to Joseph. The Bible Collection is a wonderful series for reflection and teen Bible study, but I do wonder if Jacob’s nudge nudge wink wink bedroom bait and switch is too much for immature youth. Jacob portrays Leah, Rachel, Bilhah, and Zilpah accordingly, but if it’s not for giggling teens making jokes about the kinky ways of the Old Testament; then for whom is this picture? Serious adults looking for Biblical reflection will find Jacob fairly broad, and teenyboppers will love or laugh at its love story mentality trumping the issues of betrayal and the struggle against the followers of the God of Abraham.
Even with its misguided direction and untapped potential, Jacob is an essential part of The Bible Collection and gives some justice where justice is due. However, parents and teachers may want to preview Jacob before a showing with the kids. Despite its slow pace and underutilized cast, lovely locales and an authentic feeling shine through. The entire Bible Collection can be found affordably enough individually, as a set, or online. For a little history and Biblical reflection, spend a night with Jacob.

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