Movie Review: "Jericho: The Promise Fulfilled"
Posted by Jason McIntire | Jan 28, 2014
About four years ago, two homeschooled kids in North Carolina decided to make a movie. They wrote a script, prepared a plan, and sent out a casting call. Then, they gathered together all their Lego people, bricks, and accessories. You see, this was a brickfilm - a movie where the actors and sets are Lego toys animated frame-by-frame. The masterminds, Anthony and Jessica Rondina, had produced two shorter films already, and they were ready to tackle a a full-blown treatment of Joshua and the Battle of Jericho. The resulting movie is entertaining, good quality, and - most importantly - quite faithful to the biblical account.
Note: Shatterpoint Entertainment is in no way connected or affiliated with The Lego Group, manufacturer of LEGO® brand building blocks.
As real as it can be
Watching Jericho doesn't feel like watching a bunch of plastic toys go through the motions of a Bible story. It feels like watching people - people who happen to have some unusual attributes such as interchangeable hands. There are natural facial expressions (computer-animated), close-ups, voice inflections and personalities. There's even a little romantic subplot, insofar as one can be developed in 30 minutes of story.That 30-minute length limit is the only major gripe I have with the production. I wanted it to be longer, so the characters could be more fully developed. But I also understand the realities involved. With their present resources, it took the Rondinas two years to complete Jericho. I'd rather have a good half-hour feature now, than wait till 2016 for a two-hour epic.
Biblically accurate and tastefully funny
I was skeptical when I saw the word "comical" in the promotional blurb for Jericho - skeptical, and a bit apprehensive. What could possibly be funny about the destruction of Jericho? This was a deathly serious, take-no-prisoners military campaign, not a weekend frolic by the Jordan River. The jokes, I feared, would either make biblical elements seem silly, or detract from the story with wacky asides.
As it turns out, I underestimated the creativity of the Rondinas. While keeping the core narrative solidly biblical, they expanded certain plot points to make room for completely appropriate and tasteful humor. Some of the jokes - though not all - are Lego-based gags any brick-lover will appreciate. I wouldn't describe Jericho as a comedy by any means, but it never feels heavy.
Brickfilming = Work with a capital W
If you watch the making-of feature, you'll quickly grasp the amount of labor that went into this production. Physically animating little mini figurines doesn't sound particularly easy on the surface. When you get an idea of what's involved, it sounds even harder.
Picture this: you're animating a scene with fifty "Israelites" advancing toward Jericho. You rush about nudging a foot, a hand, a head, a weapon on each and every one to create motion. Click goes the camera shutter. Now do all fifty adjustments again. Click. Repeat this entire process a total of fifteen times - that's seven hundred and fifty individual character moves - and congratulations! You now have the basis for one second of the finished movie. And in case you're keeping score at home, there are one thousand eight hundred seconds in the thirty minutes of Jericho. That's twenty-seven thousand individually animated frames.
But we haven't even touched on set-building (plus set destruction in the case of the city), lighting, post-production, effects, and sound. Sound was particularly "fun" for the Rondinas and their friends. They recorded the audio in a small acoustically deadened room - essentially a padded cell, which made a fairly appropriate environment for the oxygen-deprived voice actors after the first few hours. If you doubt me on this last point, watch the blooper reel.
The walls fell down flat, but the industry is just getting started
If you let your kids watch Jericho - particularly the special features - don't be surprised when they get out their own Legos and ask to borrow the family camera. There's something mysteriously alluring about this medium, particularly for Christian homeschoolers. I expect we'll soon see a raft of Christian brickfilms, both from the Rondinas and from a freshly-inspired younger generation.
Would-be brickfilmers can look for guidance from no less qualified a source than Shatterpoint Entertainment itself. Since making Jericho, the Rondinas have begun to focus on sharing their expertise with others. Currently their website markets a book and a magazine, in addition to a selection of "minifigures" and accessory packs to use in your own films. You may also see the family at a homeschool convention near you, speaking or doing a workshop. If not, a full-length instructional DVD is on the way; no firm details on that as yet.
Right about now, I'm wishing I still had my Legos - and the free time I enjoyed when I was fifteen.
Disclosure: I received a free DVD copy of Jericho in exchange for my honest review.