Hm, do you reckon John Huston really wasn't a religious man? Hey, as much as he's tossed in religious overtones all throughout his career, it was only a matter of time before he adapted the Bible. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the only book adaptation that makes the tag, "Based on the Best-Selling Book" somehow sound less impressive, which is saying something, because, nowadays especially, most everything seems to be based on some kind of book, and every other one of those books are best-sellers. Huh, and they said that the advancement of filmmaking would leave people to read less, yet here we are reading and prufe reedang az mutch as wee allweighs have. I don't know about y'all, but I'm that kind of guy who likes to wait for the film adaptation to come along (I'm a writer, and yet I'm not all that big of reader), so you can imagine my excitement when I heard that they finally got around to adapting the Book of Genesis, yet sadly, it's only the first 22 chapters, though I do look foward to the rest of the trilogy. Granted, this film is over 45 years old, so usually, I wouldn't expect them to round out the series, but hey, it did take them a couple of countless generations to finally get around to making this film, so it probably shouldn't be too much longer before we get that sequel, and considering how much he's into beautiful and naturally trippy imagery, meditative narrating, religious overtones and, of course, actually taking a couple of countless generations to make a film, it will probably be Terrence Malick who directs the sequel. Yeah, that's what we need, a Terrence Malick film with even less of a plot, for although this film is an enjoyable one and not even close to a Terrence Malick level of boring (Of course, what is?), all style and nearly no story is a formula that is bound to get about as old as the New Testament (1,687 years old; Yeah, brand-spanking-new).
Of course, a storyline is set, yet there is, in fact, very little actual plot, because where many religious dramas of this type go tainted by glorifying meditation upon the source material to where dramatic effectiveness goes diluted, this film is built upon it, being not so much a narrative interpretation of the Bible, but a narrated interpretation. By that, I mean that this is a straight, stylish visual and audible translation of the Bible, with little dramatic atmosphere, and by extension, actual plot, yet there are occasions in which John Huston finally shuts up and lets traditional dramatisation unfold, and it's a storytelling style transition that's fairly uneven to the general tone and themes of the film, making it somewhat off-putting. The unevenness is certainly exacerbated by the fact that the dramatisations and visualizations are not only considerably different in storytelling style, but in level of subtlety, with the visualizations being made a little bit too meditative and the dramatisations being sometimes laughably blatant, partially because there's still a bit of too much glorification left over during the dramatisations. Sure, certain bits of writing and acting are a cheesy mess no matter what way you look at it, yet such aspects as biblical behavior and dialect go overly pronounced through very matter-of-fact glorification that leaves it to come off as pretty cornball and emotionally ineffective. Still, what leaves the non-dramatic meditation to do the most damage is, well, its simply being left, rather than fought back or even accompanied by a terrible amount of dynamicity or plot oomph. At nearly three hours - a runtimes achieved partially through momentary redundance -, this film runs well past the point where it goes all but clean of steam, losing what momentum it has, little by little, due to the messiness of the non-plot, and thus, for all extents and purposes, by the end, it should have fizzled down to mediocre, at best. However, through all of its faults and messiness, the film keeps together as an ultimately enjoyable watch, quite decidedly not on the level you would hope for out of an adaptation of such a worthy anthology, yet still to where you can give it some respect, especially as a form of art.
If only stylistically, the film is admittedly pretty phenomenal, boasting brilliant, almost naturally surrealistic imagery that captures both your attention and imagination, and is complimented by Giuseppe Rotunno's cinematography, which is nothing short of breathtaking, playing with lighting and staging in a sweeping and radiant fashion that, when at its best, is near-impossible to turn away from. The overall art direction is stunning and immersive, with the aforementioned fine style and nifty production designs really establishing the environment and pulling you into it. As for Toshiro Mayuzumi's, score, it's not terribly original, yet it is very well done, with livliness and versatility that really catches your attention and further establishes the tone, while keeping the film from getting a little too slow. Of course, another aspect that fights back dullness is simply the fact that the subject matter is just so compelling, and while the stories would have been more effective if they were to use the visualizations for the sake of plot, rather than to simply have the stories told, with little dramatic emphasis, they remain immensely fascinating and it's neat to see them filmed, especially with such inspiration at the back of these interpretations. True, it is, in fact, John Huston's overambition that actually means this film's downfall to an underwhelming state, as Huston takes too much time to meditate on the subject matter, rather than really bringing it to life, yet there is an intense charm from his inspiration, and he backs it up with such stellar stylistic choices that keep his from becoming disengaging or, well, boring. It's almost all style over substance in this film, with scarce plot and much stylish meditation, and those are the ingredients to a bore of an overly artsy film if I've ever heard any (Ah, Terrence Malick, I like most of your films, but come on, just make an actual movie!), yet Huston was one of those handful of people who knew what to do in that situation, maybe not to where he could shape a genuinely good film through his missteps, yet still to where he can sustain your attention. There's no escaping the occasional, yet still inevitable dry spell in this bloated meditation piece, yet with fine style, charm and fascinating subject matter, the final product is, if nothing else, thoroughly entertaining.
In the end (Ha-ha, do you see what I did there?), John Huston meditates far too often on the subject matter, rather than actual narrative, and far too intensely, leaving the film with a scarce amount of actual plot and plenty of stylistic overwhelmingness made worse by glorification that not only makes the occasional transition into what plot there is uneven, but makes some of your more serious moments that focus too much on dated behavior and dialect come off as silly and makes the already weak moments in writing and acting (George C. Scott was particularly pretty good, though) near-laughable, thus making for a final product that should be a mediocre bore of an overambitious misfire, yet miraculously manages to keep itself afloat, thanks largely to the remarkable art direction, breathtaking cinematography and nifty score work, as well the overall default intrigue-value within the subject matter that John Huston executes with enough, albeit detrimental, yet palpable passion to create the intense charm that helps in ultimately making "The Bible: In the Beginning" an aesthetically commendable and thoroughly entertaining experience, rather viscerally dissatisfying though, it may be.
2.5/5 - Fair