As the only literate Reject, it’s my duty to find the latest, the greatest and the untouched classics that would make great source material for film adaptations. I read so you don’t have to. This week, Print to Projector presents:
Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal
by Christopher Moore
“The angel was cleaning out his closets when the call came.”
With a framing device of an angel bringing a lost apostle back to life wrapped firmly around it, “Lamb” tells the lost story of Jesus’ life from age 6 through the eyes of his idiot best friend and hetero life-mate Biff. They struggle through young love, travel through the wonders of the developing world, and wrap their minds around being the savior of all humanity.
Essentially, this book has two main, competing things going for it that would make it a brilliant movie: it’s an epic journey rooted in an intimate character study. The ultimate journey, the study of the ultimate character.
Since it sweeps across the ancient Levant to Tibet and India and all the way back, it’s a perfect picture postcard waiting for a talented cinematographer to capture. It also spans 30 years of time as we see a young Joshua Bar Joseph grow up to be Jesus Christ, and there’s a challenging balance of comedy and high drama at work that would ultimately translate to a smart flick that has the potential for slapstick and quick dialog.
Because deep down it’s a buddy comedy featuring Christ.
It’s also a coming of age story that zig zags through important parts of the Bible (told from a different perspective of course), filling in the gaps with scenes of young love, questioning authority, and figuring out what it means when a lizard keeps coming back to life in your best friend’s hands.
Spurred by revelations like that, the pair attempts to locate the three wise men that were present at Christ’s birth in order to learn from their wisdom, but it’s done with a very real sense of the danger of the time. The lawlessness. There are bands of marauders in the desert, violent demons hidden in mountain castles, and the child sacrifice to the Goddess Kali in India. So, in a way, it might be Indiana Jones meets Bing and Bob on The Road to….
Or it might just be a buddy comedy featuring Christ.
The non-filmic elements of the novel are pretty obvious. For one, the framing device might have to be scaled down considerably. In the book, it cuts back and forth between the story Biff is telling to the hotel room where a recently-resurrected Biff is trying to write it all down and escape a soap opera-obsessed angel. It works for the book, but it would be far too jerky for the film.
Secondly, the epic, intimate nature of the whole thing would be the biggest hurdle in making a great film. Essentially – it would either be one of the best movies of the year, or it would be an uneven mess. Not much chance for in-between, but with a keen writer and a director anxious to swing for the fences, it would most likely be the former.
Of course, the most potent problem would seem to be the air surrounding the book. When it came out, there was an intake of breath from the religious community until they read it and realized that 1) it treated Christ with unfailing honesty and honor and 2) it’s funny as hell. I imagine that same collective gasp might happen again when a film where a massive amount of Kama Sutra instruction (for Biff and a slew of concubines) is happening in a room down the hall from the Son of Man.
But beyond that, the thing is structurally adaptation-ready. It’s a hero’s journey with a comedic foil featuring adventure and excitement. A no-brainer actually. Sure, a few things would have to be cleanly chopped out for time’s sake, but the overall tone of the book would be easy to capture, and the most exciting parts would bubble up to the top and distilled into the film.
So where do we find a keen writer and an adventurous director?
Writing: My vote for screenwriter is the novel’s author himself. Christopher Moore has struck such a careful balance with the book, that it’s difficult to think of many who would be able to nail down the type of humor being used and the reverence for the character. I’ve racked my brain, and I honestly can’t think of a writer who could handle it as well as Moore.
Directing: This is going to seem off the wall, but I’d love to see Mel Brooks direct this. Going back and watching his comedy/adventure The Twelve Chairs gave me a new appreciation for what Brooks can do if he reigns it in. The danger there is if he doesn’t, but for as much irreverence as he’s shown, he’s also consistently shown a love for religious concepts. Plus, I find the prospect of one of the most famous Jewish directors telling a Christ story particularly perfect. Especially for this particular, reverently irreverent Christ tale.
Starring: Who do you get to play Jesus? And who do you get to play him when he’s 6 years old? You’d need several different actors to play Biff and Christ and Maggie (Mary Magdalene) and Jakan, the bully who grows up to be a political nightmare for Christ. But for their older years, and the greater part of the story, you’d almost have to cast an unknown as Jesus so the role wouldn’t be overshadowed.
But Biff is really the focal point, and it may sound strange, but I think Jacob Pitts is a great choice considering that Biff is a close cousin to his role in Eurotrip. I said it sounded strange, but Biff is sex-crazed, sarcastic and smart despite being a bumbling moron. There are few actors that could pull that off without being creepy, and Pitts is one of them.
On the supporting side, Natalie Portman with red hair dye would make a great Maggie – the love at the center of the whole story. You’d need a serious actress (as well as strong actors all around, considering it’s not a farce) to bring weight to the story (and to be able to cry at the good parts). For Jakan, almost any generic menace would work.
There’s the added bonus here of being able to grab a ton of lesser-known actors and good performers for supporting roles within the sea of disciples that follow Christ. The unbathed Bartholomew, Philip (who was called The New Guy), the zealous Judas. There’s a lot of potential to find and introduce fresh talent alongside notables like Zach Galifianakis, Peter Serafinowicz, and Rhys Ifans.
Who Owns It: As of the latest and greatest intel (way, way back in 2007), Peter Douglas of Vincent Pictures owns the film rights. Douglas was the producer of Rob Hunter’s favorite movie The Final Countdown, as well as films people have actually seen like Fletch and, most recently, Whip It!
Since it’s been on shelves since 2002, I’m tearing out my hair to figure out why it hasn’t been adapted. The thing is a work of genius that deserves to be read by anyone with eyeballs, and deserves to be seen on the big screen for the sake of its fans. It’s funny, sweet, dramatic, crushing, smart, and would no doubt be one of the best films of the year.
It features Christ’s best friend and angel watching Star Wars, and it would give the Catholic League another reason to vote on boycotting a film. Who doesn’t love that?