Published: August 18, 2013
A feature-film version of History channel's epic "The Bible" miniseries, focusing on the life of Jesus, is on its way to the big screen.
"The Son of God" was distilled from footage that appeared in the original 10-hour miniseries, which aired in March, as well as previously unaired scenes shot during filming in Morocco in 2012.
"We've taken portions of the miniseries and many new scenes and we've reordered it, and I think it's absolutely fantastic, some of our best work ever," said "Bible" executive producer Mark Burnett in a phone interview.
Two private screenings of the film have been held - one for a private audience at The Broadmoor hotel in July and another recently in Denver.
"It was absolutely astounding the response we got," Burnett said. "It literally went from applause to silence to tears and a big discussion afterward."
The 2-hour, 13-minute film chronicles the story of Jesus, from the nativity through resurrection and revelation. Like the miniseries, the film stars Burnett's wife and co-executive producer, Roma Downey, as Mary and Portuguese actor Diogo Morgado as Jesus.
Exactly how or when "Son" will make it to wide release - and whether that will be through a faith-based distributor - is still uncertain, but Burnett said the process is moving forward.
"We're talking to distributors every day and working on the best plan," he said.
"The Bible" miniseries played out in five, two-hour installments focusing on some of the more well-known stories in scripture, including Moses parting the Red Sea and Daniel in the lion's den. It garnered blockbuster ratings out of the gate, drawing 13.1 million viewers for its first episode and repeatedly earning the top slot on the nights it aired. Later DVD sales established it as the best-selling miniseries of all time. The show has received three Emmy Award nominations.
"The plan to create the movie version came early in the editing process of the miniseries," said Burnett, who made his name in reality programming with hit shows such as "Survivor" and "The Apprentice." This is Burnett's first scripted project.
"We realized that taking the story of Jesus separate from the overall arc of the entire Bible ... would be something that we know people are clamoring to see," he said.
With its shorter run time and narrower focus, "Son" might succeed in drawing in viewers that "Bible" did not.
As far as audiences, "we haven't even scratched the surface, with the amount of people coming up who'd heard of the miniseries, even had DVR'd it and bought the DVD, but hadn't had the time," Burnett said. "'Son of God' is only 2 hours 13 minutes, which by current movie standards is quite short. Still, it's not a movie you leave and you forget about."
"Son" depicts a "gritty" and at times frightening version of the Christ tale, Burnett said. "This is not a donkeys and sandals movie," Burnett added. "We don't have a movie where everybody looked like they jumped out of a dry cleaners."
Burnett is also currently in the script phase of a new project for NBC called "A.D.," a series that will follow the stories of the disciples after Jesus' crucifixion.
"This is telling the amazing story - again very gritty - of how did 11 guys who were alive once Jesus died on the cross manage to take down the Roman Empire and end up now with 2 1/2 billion followers," Burnett said.
During the production for both the miniseries and "Son," Burnett said he and Downey, who are both devoutly religious, felt a higher hand guiding them through the process.
"So much could have gone wrong, but it was relatively controversy free," he said. "Roma and I have never had more people approach us at airports, hotels, on the street, about any of our series ever, to say thank you for making 'The Bible' series.
"I'll tell you, 'Son of God' is going to be even bigger."
The Broadmoor is owned by the Denver-based Anschutz Corp., whose Clarity Media Group owns The Gazette.