The Book of Esther has many elements making it an obvious target for Hollywood producers: beautiful women, political intrigue, powerful secrets and a shrewd comeuppance for the villain.
Tiffany Dupont as Esther. (Gener8Xion Ent.)
Given all this, it's especially disappointing to see Hollywood adapt this story poorly.
"One Night With the King," which opens on about 900 screens today, offers good cinematography and sets, and generally delivers fine production values. This part is heartening because "One Night" is a FoxFaith film: one of a handful of films with Christian source material that Twentieth Century Fox will release each year.
The script for "One Night" is actually based on the novel Hadassah: One Night With the King by Tommy Tenney and Mark Andrew Olsen. Stephan Blinn adapted the book, much as he did for "The Omega Code." But novel or not, the tightness of narrative in the Book of Esther has been slackened here, save for the last 30 minutes of the two-hour movie.
The story of Esther is stunning, clever, inspiring, and if "One Night" can do anything for you, it will prompt you to go back and read one of the Bible's best yarns. The story in a nutshell: A young woman becomes queen of Persia while concealing her Jewish heritage. When a royal named Haman tries to annihilate the Jews of the kingdom, Esther must decide whether to reveal her identity to King Xerxes and save her own people.
Matthew Crouch, son of Trinity Broadcasting Network's Paul and Jan Crouch, produced "One Night" under his Gener8Xion Entertainment banner. Crouch amassed significant resources: a reported $20 million budget, a location shoot in India, and the involvement of legendary actors John Rhys-Davies, Omar Sharif and Peter O'Toole (the latter of whom receives first billing on posters but appears for only 29 seconds in the film).
Three factors make "One Night" unsatisfying: the loosey-goosey script, some spotty acting and an ill-conceived musical score.
The script doesn't put us in Esther's surroundings; it just shows them to us (though it does so well). Instead of dropping us in a pressure-cooked palace, we have light-hearted moments of girls who puke when introduced to King Xerxes, for example. When Xerxes "falls" for Esther, it doesn't ring true. When Esther decides to approach Xerxes about her identity, her melodramatic entrance to the palace—Big Doors Swing Open!—literally fades away.
The acting is transparent at times, and I question the creative choices for some of the characters. For example, relative newcomer Tiffany Dupont as Hadassah/Esther spends the first third of the film basically flitting around, giving us no real indication of the Esther inside.
Rhys-Davies is always good and his fairly significant role as Mordecai gives him enough screen time to bring added credibility to the film (because O'Toole is hardly there and Sharif has limited, underused scenes). James Callis is particularly good as Haman.
And as for the music, it seems to swell to fever pitch every other minute. While the music in and of itself is quite good, its placement and inability to melt into the background cripple the film. The filmmakers apparently don't trust their own story or audience to become emotionally involved without being hammered by an orchestra.
Now, in all fairness, Fox and the filmmakers seem to have wanted a PG film. So no scene is too tense, no kiss too passionate, no killing too graphic. Melodrama trumps drama.
But herein lies part of the ongoing problem with Hollywood and Christians: When these two crowds get together, they generally seem preoccupied with making that movie everyone could see as opposed to finishing one we all should see because it's just so darn good.
In "One Night With the King," the filmmakers don't let Esther charm us or others on her own; instead, she tries to do it with some sort of Star of David talisman in yet another hallmark of this all-audiences approach.
Surveying my comments, perhaps they're too harsh. After all, maybe Crouch and company did exactly what they set out to do. If so, congratulations are in order.
On the other hand, Crouch said this: "At Gener8Xion Entertainment we're committed to producing motion pictures that not only entertain and inspire, but that will stand up to critical scrutiny. That's why we're so proud of 'One Night With the King.' From the script to the performances, to the cinematography, costumes and production design, we're convinced the film will make a powerful impression."
"One Night" doesn't stand up to critical scrutiny for reasons listed above. And as a fan of epics and Esther, I sincerely wish it did.
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.
MPAA Rating: PG for violence, some sensuality and thematic elements. Reviewer's Note: Nothing intense here.
Director: Michael O. Sajbel
Writer: Stephan Blinn (based on a novel by Tommy Tenney and Mark Andrew Olsen)
Cast: Esther: Tiffany Dupont; King Xerxes: Luke Goss; Mordecai: John Rhys-Davies; Prince Admatha: John Noble; Hegai: Tommy Lister; Haman: James Callis; Jesse: Jonah Lotan; Samuel: Peter O'Toole; Prince Memucan: Omar Sharif.
The movie's official Web site is here.
Major Studio Launches 'Faith' Brand for Christian Consumers