FILM REVIEW: Prophet Muhammad Subject of Animated Film

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c. 2004 Religion News Service

(UNDATED) To critical nonbelievers, the Quran may seem a blueprint for holy war. But as brought to the screen in the new animated film “Muhammad: The Last Prophet,” it’s honored as a path to enlightenment.

Sometimes the message we hear depends on the messenger delivering it.

“Muhammad: The Last Prophet” has a harder task than Christian films because Islam prohibits the depiction of religious figures, which means this film about Muhammad isn’t allowed to show him. Also, passions among the faith’s factions run high _ a concern that discourages any remotely controversial teaching.

The result is a film about as bland and appealing as cold porridge. Because Muhammad is never shown, we never get any sense of him as a man. Because doctrinal fights have to be avoided, many characters and cultural conflicts remain unclear _ at least to non-Muslims.

The film’s message is almost painfully worthy. Islam, we are told, teaches respect for the old and the poor. Slavery is abhorrent; women are honored. Though the movie’s depiction of martyrdom seems uncomfortably idyllic, the movie is mainstream enough to be shown in Sunday schools.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to imagine many students staying awake. The animation, designed by the same folks who recently gave us the awful “The King and I,” is crude and colorless. The voice actors all sound a little like Ernest Borgnine, hardly the sort of thing to transport you back to ancient Arabia.

The movie may encourage some tolerance and much-needed moderation. But it’s unlikely to entertain anyone.

It’s also unlikely to reach many people. Unable to find regular distribution, the film is being promoted by its distributors, who have rented theaters themselves; tickets must be purchased in advance. For more information, call 1-800-364-2000 or visit finemediagroup.com.

MO/PH END WHITTY

(Stephen Whitty is film critic for The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J.)

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