Cecil B deMille taught us two things: that the people of the Old Testament had access to eyeshadow, and that they spoke slowly, sonorously and with American accents. This is perhaps why the narrators of these videos - respectively, Kelly McGillis, Morgan Freeman, Jason Robards and Mel Gibson (well he sounds American here) - sound so right for the job. The success of these excellent videos comes from getting the ingredients right: well-written and well-spoken narration, good accompanying music, and good art work.
The images are, in effect, stills - colour illustrations brought to life by camera movement and jump cuts from one position or facial expression to another. Each has a different artist, and the styles vary. Jonah and Noah are painted sumptuously and traditionally. The Saviour is Born, the Christmas story, is done extremely effectively as a series of stained-glass windows, and David is illustrated with hard-edged, stylised figures of the kind which give Goliath something of the appearance of Darth Vader.
The text is very well written, filling out the bare Bible narrative while engaging seamlessly with it. It also manages to stay close in feel and style to traditional translations while using accessible language. Take this example from David, where the young David is facing Goliath. The King James Bible says: "Then said David to the Philistine, Thou comest to me with a sword and with a spear and with shield: but I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied."
In the video narration, we have: "'You come to me with a sword and a shield and a spear', he shouted in reply, 'but I come to you in the name of the Holy one of Israel, the most High God of Heaven and earth, whom you have cursed. '" The readings are professionally done, in suitably measured tones. Jason Robards, gives a superb account of the Jonah story, with its fast-changing range of experience and emotion.
Each story is accompanied by music of a different, and appropriate style. The stained glass windows of The Saviour is Born has the choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, for example, while Jonah and the Whale has George Mgrdichian providing atmospheric support on the oud, an ancient Eastern instrument. The videos are all about half-an-hour long. Each audio cassette has the same sound track as the video on one side, with a complete performance of the music alone.
RE syllabuses and advisers agree that at least some attention must be given to Bible stories which not only underpin Christianity but are also part of our cultural heritage. This resource gives teachers a means of bringing some of the stories to life for their pupils.