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DVD Review: Charlton Heston Presents The Bible

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When Homer Simpson ate improperly prepared fish and thought he only had 24 hours to live, he spent some of his final hours with The Bible.  Specifically, a book-on-tape version of The Bible, read by Larry King.

King did all rright, I guess, but he was no Charlton Heston.  In the 1992 video series Charlton Heston Presents The Bible, featuring the Ten Commandments star reading from and commenting on the King James Bible while exploring the Holy Land, Heston absolutely tears into his glorious, scenery-chewing recitations from Genesis, Exodus, and the New Testament.  If the Lord really did speak to people back in the day, this is indeed probably what it sounded like.  (Well, maybe He toned it down a little.)

People who know Heston best for his conservative political views may be pleasantly surprised by his commentaries, which do not take a completely literal view of the Bible but instead offer some historical context for its most famous passages.  (Example: why did God reject Cain’s offering of grain while accepting Abel’s offering of a lamb?  This probably reflected the early Hebrews’ disdain for the Canaanites, who were farmers instead of shepherds.)  The acting legend concedes that he’s no theologan, but the clerics and professors who helped him put this together clearly knew what they were doing.

The series also offers some spectacular scenery from Israel – sadly, it was filmed in the old 4:3 format, so it doesn’t look as good as it should on a newer, flat-screen television – and highlights many Biblical details I must have missed from Sunday School.  (I never knew rainbows allegedly originated from the aftermath of the Great Flood, for example.)  I’m not a particularly religious person (though I was raised Anglican and have “Christian” listed on my Facebook profile), but you don’t have to be particularly religious to find this stuff interesting.  Special features are slim – there’s a half-hour making-of documentary (included on every disc, curiously), but not much else.

Charlton Heston Presents The Bible was co-produced with the A&E network, which once specialized in fascinating and well-made documentaries (many produced and/or hosted by the iconic Bill Kurtis) before turning to reality shows that make Jersey Shore look like the works of Errol Morris.  When the reality bubble inevitably bursts, hopefully they’ll start making programs like this again – though there may never be another actor more suited to the material.

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