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Revelations

The following two reviews are intended to cover a number of different aspects of the television mini-series Revelations. Both Cole Wassner and I, Gary Wassner, watched the preview together. But both of us watched it from very different angles. My review is conceptually based and his is more technical. After we completed our written reviews, at NBCís invitation, we prepared a series of interview questions for both the two lead actors, Bill Pullman and Natascha McElhone as well as David Seltzer, the writer/creator. The questions were designed to answer some of the issues that were raised in the two reviews. Unfortunately, NBC has just informed me that the actors and writer are currently in Europe filming the final episodes, so the answers to the interview questions will have to be posted at a later date.

Gary Wassners review below, for Cole Wassners review click here.

Revelations, reviewed by Gary Alan Wassner

Many people of faith may believe that the signs of The End of Days appear to be in place in this crazy world of ours, but the subject matter of the first episode of the NBC mini-series Revelations airing on April 13 is still shrouded in Hollywood sensationalism and surely not derived from empirical evidence. We donít have incontrovertible, documented experiences of children in comas speaking Latin, credible scientists having discussions with their dead children, or the Devilís surrogate knowing things about people that are impossible to know without supernatural intervention. Yet, these are exactly the types of things we are exposed to during the first hour of this show. So what is this series all about? Is it intended to be fantasy or a lesson in scripture? Are we meant to take it seriously or is its purpose simply to entertain?

Stress can lead us to believe many different things, and our world is most certainly a stressful place. It seems to be more dangerous today than ever before. We here at Science Fiction and Fantasy World, who are authors and avid readers of science fiction and fantasy, have explored the issues that Revelations deals with over and over again. Why do we read and why do we write fantasy? If you examine some of the threads on SFFWorld relating to this subject you will find so many different answers to these questions, but you will also find that often the quest for personal meaning in an increasingly impersonal world is frequently one of them. So, fantasy readers should easily relate to the ostensible motives that inspired the show Revelations. Though it is set in our world, not a fantasy world, the elements are fantastical. Reason is not what rules, and from the very beginning of the show, the scientific perspective is clearly not going to be the one to shed light on the evolving circumstances. It is quite clear though that the director and the writer would like us to believe that Bill Pullmanís character is a scientist through and through, a non-believer in that sense. Nevertheless, early on in the first episode he begins to have visions, and despite his obvious desire to remain cold and impartial, they are so personal and compelling that they pull him inexorably down the path of faith. From the very beginning of the show as well, the devilís role is manifest. But unfortunately, it is not as subtle as it should be. It seems too obvious and too blatant, making the show seem less realistic and more fantastic than I would have preferred. The limits of reason are tested early on and the perspective that you must assume if you are going be moved by this series is one of faith. You cannot be a scientist and a skeptic and watch a show that begins with a serial killer snapping his fingers and stopping a plane from shaking, and then asking you whether you believe it to be coincidence or not, without smiling to yourself. Yet make no mistake, it is chilling nonetheless.

Watching Revelations made me wonder whether the writer is a deeply religious person who truly does believe in a literal interpretation of the bible, or rather a person who has another agenda with regard to the nature of the real political and environmental dangers that face us today. We know what damage we have done to the environment. We know how difficult peace is to attain and to maintain. We are all worried about nuclear proliferation and terrorism and war. It is not hard to exploit this situation and incite the person who is already a believer, who has forsaken reason and science for faith, into a frenzy. Fear is a great motivator, and people need to believe in something larger than themselves. Science does not often fulfill the longing that belief in God does. It is not meant to. Science can often isolate us and strip us of meaning in its cold and detached analysis of cause and effect. Religion provides us with answers beyond the scope of science, ready made answers that are unassailable, incontrovertible and not subject to reasonable critiques. But canít we still be moral people with a deep concern for the earth, and yet not believe in miracles? Is it productive to frighten us with apocryphal pronouncements so that we might recognize the peril of our ways? If there is a message in the first episode of Revelations, it most definitely requires a suspension of reason and a leap of faith. That would not bother me quite so much if this was meant to be a fantasy. But since the most sacred western book of all time is being invoked as reference throughout, the water becomes quite murky. How are we supposed to reconcile this storyline with our lives, if not as a call to faith? Is faith being taken advantage of here in order to foster a socio-political perspective? Are we being emotionally and spiritually manipulated by the constant references to scripture?

I think itís dangerous to confuse this kind of sensationalism and appeal to fear and mankindís emotional needs with a more productive way of confronting the problems that face us today. That is not to say that I did not enjoy the episode very much. It was exciting and interesting. The acting was superb, particularly for a network television series. For those who appreciate science fiction and fantasy, it was quite sufficiently eerie and imaginative to remain a nail-biter throughout. As entertainment, it exceeded my expectations. My real question though is what are the producers and directors trying to accomplish with Revelations? Is there a separate and distinct motive for this project or do they truly believe in God and the devil, and do they want the public to recognize the signs and believe as well? Is this meant to be more than just a television show? Are they attempting to make us concede that biblical prophecy is realistic and something we should take seriously?

In Epic Fantasy, much of what we write is metaphorical. We often use the classic tropes to create a world that is immediately identifiable and to write an interesting and commanding story, but we also use them symbolically. Epic Fantasy is often ethical in nature, in that it tries to compel the reader to think about some issues that remain below the surface of consciousness under ordinary circumstances. Since the worlds we create are imaginary, anything is possible. But, many traditional Judeo-Christian concepts such as sacrifice, honor, courage, humility and loyalty can be idealized and thus be a source of emotional inspiration. Issues of good and evil are paramount in fantasy, but we make no pretensions as authors to be writing something real. We recognize that our worlds are fantasy worlds. A television show like Revelations seems to be asking us to cross that line, to take what anyone but the most fundamental religious person would consider fantasy and science fiction, and believe it. Unquestionably, there is a wealth of wisdom in the bible and it is a source of inspiration for millions of people. But in my opinion, Revelations is using the emotional aspects of faith, combined with the references to the bible, the book that so many people in this world hold sacred, to foster a point of view regarding what mankind has done to its world. The biblical references force you to think of this as more than a television show. The blending of scripture and the fantastic results in a dangerous and toxic mixture. I am disappointed when I think that perhaps those responsible for this show are intentionally leading people to believe that they are making something more than a television show. It very savvily taps into the fears and uncertainty that threaten to consume us today, and to what purpose? Should we now start teaching Revelations in the classroom? Should we be looking for the signs all around us? What exactly should we do if the end of days is upon us; start attending church?

Reviewed by Gary Alan Wassner

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