I first wrote about this movie a few weeks ago. And also about Anthony and Jessica Rondina: the brother/sister pair who have earned widespread praise and official acclaim for their work on the film. Well, after I posted that I got a really nice e-mail from Jessica Rondina letting me know that they would be hosting a free public screening of Jericho: The Promise Fulfilled at StoneBridge Church, their home church, on the evening of July 31st.
Now, some people might think it's a bit crazy to drive two hours one-way just to see a short film starring little yellow LEGO minifigs. But this kind of thing cries out to me like the irresistible lure of the fabled Sirens. So on Friday afternoon I got in the car and set out to see, as I called it when asking if I was at the right place, "the little LEGO movie".
I spent the two hours driving back trying to think up enough adjectives to describe what I had just witnessed. And after watching the DVD of Jericho: The Promise Fulfilled three more times over the weekend, I still can't produce adequate hyperbole to convey my delight about this film!
But first, a little setup about what went down that night. I was quickly greeted by director Anthony Rondina, who showed me the display of some of the sets and "actors"...
Mark and Wendy Rondina - the producers of Jericho: The Promise Fulfilled and the co-producers of Anthony and Jessica (i.e. their parents) - went all-out to create a true cinematic experience for us, even getting a movie theater-style popcorn machine!
A little after 7 p.m. the show began, with the pastor of StoneBridge Church introducing the Rondina family. Wendy Rondina then briefly discussed how Jericho: The Promise Fulfilled has been making the rounds at film festivals.
Wendy Rondina also talked about how Christian filmmaking is starting to really come into its own, with many people now beginning to realize the talents that they have been given in this powerful medium. And I fully agree with her. In fact, in many ways the film we were about to see epitomizes something I've been saying for years on this blog and elsewhere: that the technology has finally become such that anyone can make an excellent film. The opportunity is definitely there. We just need to make the most of it with what God has given us.
And then the film started...
Jericho: The Promise Fulfilled is an unparalleled achievement not just in Christian filmmaking, but for the art of stop-motion animation. I have seen many LEGO-rendered films over the years but if any one of them has approached the technical complexity, the sheer ambition and all-out comedic genius of Jericho: The Promise Fulfilled, my mind is drawing a blank. This was very much a labor of love on the part of the Rondinas and their colleagues at Gideon Production Group and it's only too obvious that they poured, if I might paraphrase from Mark 12:30, all their soul and all their mind and all their strength into this film. Its production took a year and a half: a testimony to the dedication and passion of the people who made it.
Jericho: The Promise Fulfilled is about the epic conquest of Jericho by the Hebrews following their four decades of wandering in the wilderness. Two things that I feel compelled to note about this film from the getgo. The first is the insane amount of research that Jessica Rondina did in writing the script. Like stuff about Rahab which isn't necessarily in the Bible itself, but is still ancient Jewish tradition. The second thing is that Jericho: The Promise Fulfilled never takes itself too seriously! It is a film all too aware of its nature of being done in LEGO, and that leads to some very clever visual gags inspired by the properties of LEGO bricks (but I ain't spillin' the beans, you'll just have to see for yourself :-). Between that and how Jericho: The Promise Fulfilled pays homage to such pop culture icons as The Matrix and Cops, this might be the most offbeat and fun example of Christian filmmaking that I've yet seen. Indeed: the thought crossed my mind more than once during the screening that if they keep this up, Anthony and Jessica and their crew might well become Christian movies' answer to Monty Python!
For its writing and comedic creativity alone, Jericho: The Promise Fulfilled would shine. But in terms of technical production, the film is utterly mind-blowing: a glorious orchestra of stop-motion, in-camera practical effects and cutting-edge computer imaging. Every frame of the film was stop-motion animated by hand, with no looping involved at all. So far as I know from watching the "behind the scenes" feature there is only one effect that was done in real time (watch for the water cooler). The battle scenes are of a scale and complexity that would make Cecil B. DeMille cringe with despair, but that didn't stop these North Carolina kids from pulling off shots guaranteed to drop jaws all over the place. The ultimate downfall of Jericho should be meticulously studied in film schools, it is that amazing. And then there is the Jordan River: easily the most beautiful stop-motion rendering of moving water that I have had the pleasure of seeing.
So, was Jericho: The Promise Fulfilled worth driving two hours to see? You bet it was! And I sincerely hope and pray that as many people as possible will be able to watch and appreciate this wonderful film. At the present time your best bet is to catch it at a film festival or a similar screening. Keep an eye on the Gideon Production Group's website for any that are scheduled.
And y'all also keep an eye on Anthony and Jessica Rondina and Gideon Production Group. This is a team of family and friends that has been gifted with an unbelievable amount of talent, and I have no doubt that God is going to continue to bless their hard work and enthusiasm.