Adapted for the big screen from the History Channel miniseries "The Bible," the new film "Son of God" is essentially a feature-length recut of the second half of the series, based on the New Testament.
The reedited nature of the movie, which tells the story of Jesus from his birth through his preaching, crucifixion and resurrection, might explain why many film critics are saying "Son of God" feels more like a greatest-hits compilation than a cohesive work.
In a review for The Times, Martin Tsai writes, "to its credit, 'Son of God' proves more than a mere watered-down 'The Passion of the Christ.' The epic proportions of the miniseries hold up well on the big screen, save for the digitally composed establishing shots of Jerusalem."
On the other hand, it also has the feel of a "midseason clip show." Tsai adds, "If 'The Bible' was CliffsNotes for the Scriptures, 'Son of God' is the cheat sheet. The two-hour film condenses about four hours of what already was hasty television, and it all winds up a little dramatically static."
The New York Times' Nicolas Rapold says, "'Son of God' runs through the scriptural greatest hits of the Passion with the reliability of a Sunday reader." He continues, "Jesus looks like a tanned model in robes in the person of the Portuguese actor Diogo Morgado. His scenes pivot on teachable moments buttressed by reaction shots to his coterie, undermining the mysteries of Jesus with the blandness of the filmmaking."
Rapold concludes, "'Son of God' may have hit the mark if part of the goal was to create a portrait flat enough to allow audience members to project their own feelings onto the screen."
Peter Hartlaub of the San Francisco Chronicle finds the film a bit chintzy, writing, "Jesus of Nazareth's accent changes frequently," that "Jerusalem looks as if it was built in a few hours out of balsa wood," and that there's "more hair product being used in this movie than in an entire season of 'Dancing With the Stars.'"
However, "the film does thoroughly succeed in one important regard: offering a coherent, viewer-friendly account of the life of Jesus Christ. The movie flies by despite its 138-minute running time, a holy CliffsNotes that packs in all the greatest hits. Never again will a Sunday school student get lower than a C-minus on this material."
The Newark Star-Ledger's Stephen Whitty writes that "'Son of God,' unfortunately, is ultimately just a bit of canny recycling," and "the cuts and compromises show." What's more, he says, "there's little fresh or daring here. As controversial as 'Passion' or 'The Last Temptation of Christ' were, at least they presented very personal visions of this ancient story; whether you felt they were enlightening or blasphemous, they took risks. They dared all. But when it comes to 'Son of God' — well, the film is willing. But its spirit is weak."
And Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post says, "'Son of God' is nothing if not sincere, its earnest retelling of Jesus’s life story resembling a gentle, pop-up book version of the New Testament, its text reenacted for maximum reassurance and intellectual ease."
She ends with an advisory: "To the filmgoers thronging to theaters this weekend: Don't expect to see a great film, or even a very good one. Whether you discover a meaningful channel with which to continue your walk with the film's protagonist, however, is strictly between you and your god."