Look around you, the signs are everywhere! The Armageddon-themed Left Behind books made Christian thrillers hot. The Da Vinci Code created a niche for clue-ridden, globe-trotting mysteries. The Lovely Bones, narrated by the ghost of a murdered girl, was a best-seller. Yes, everything’s in place for the ratingsneedy NBC to launch Revelations, a hit-everything-hot miniseries loosely based on the biblical book of the end-time.
This review is based only on the first hour of the six-part series, which was predictable but occasionally promising. Revelations opens moodily, with a series of end-is-nigh visions: War and famine abound; a mysterious baby is rescued from the Adriatic; Bill Pullman lands a role in which he’s not entirely neutered.
Pullman plays shelled-out Harvard professor Richard Massey, returning to the States after capturing the satanist (Michael Massee) who murdered his daughter. After a phone message hails him as a ”conquering hero,” he opens his child’s door, stares at the utter emptiness, and lies down on her bed in the rain. It’s a sad thunk of a moment, and more effective than Revelations’ attempts at eeriness. For instance…as Massey settles into his lonely home, a Florida girl runs across a golf course under a thundery sky. She’s late for school, she’s just taken the Lord’s name in vain…and pow! lightning blows her out of her shoes. The scene might be shocking were it not for its evocation of Caddyshack, in which a blasphemous bishop also gets a golf-course zapping. (Thankfully, the girl here does not yell ”Rat farts!”)
How are Massey and the girl connected? By beatifically gorgeous Sister Josepha (Solaris’ Natascha McElhone), who leads a rogue order of nuns searching for signs of the end-time. An incredibly convoluted plotline posits that the now brain-dead girl…may be channeling Massey’s daughter…who wants the skeptical scientist to join Josepha in thwarting Armageddon.
Loosely based (just keep repeating that) on the Book of Revelation, the story, from The Omen scribe David Seltzer, relies heavily on supernatural spookiness. The aforementioned cult killer who murdered Massey’s daughter proclaims himself the devil’s helpmate: ”I do not die, for I do not bleed!” To prove it to Massey, he slices off his finger, which bounces to the floor like a baby carrot and indeed doesn’t bleed. (Massey reacts as if the guy had just performed a whoopee-cushion party trick — this hero ain’t easily wowed.)
As our protagonists slip deeper into the cataclysm — that floating baby may be Jesus returned or the Antichrist — Revelations’ contrivances may feel less glaring. Pullman and McElhone certainly maintain an admirable equilibrium among all the gimmickry and mimicry, and the exchanges between doubter and doctrinaire can crackle. McElhone makes a scrappy, firm believer — her grin upon witnessing one miracle is pure satisfied joy — and Pullman seems so exhausted and squinty, he can’t be far from his own CSI series. But are two valiant actors and artsy photography enough to redeem this overloaded, kitchen-sink miniseries? Signs are iffy.