The Message (1976)

Categories: Movie Reviews
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Published on: 2008.05.26

I didn’t learn until after I’d seen the movie that The Message was filmed twice at the same time, once for an English-speaking audience, and once for an Arabic-speaking audience. Different actors portrayed each character for each version, taking turns to act their parts on camera.

That explains, to some degree, the quality of the film and of the acting. It was made in 1976, and so I expected a little better. Remember, this was a year included such films as All the President’s Men, The Bad News Bears, and Logan’s Run. And Star Wars: A New Hope was released just one year later.

Instead, The Message looks like it was filmed in the same year as The Ten Commandments (1956). The acting was artificial and the dialogue was somewhat stilted. There’s an explanation for this, I think, but I’ll get to that.

Some things that were indeed impressive were the sets. The movie, which is something of a biography of the Prophet of Islam, Mohammed, and the beginnings of that religion, was set mainly in Mecca, but Mecca is now a modern city. The film-makers found a small village in the desert and made it up to look like Mecca. Considering they worked completely without computer graphics, it looks pretty good.

Perhaps the movie’s main fault — and I say this from a movie critic’s perspective, not as a religious barb — is that it didn’t picture the prophet at any time. I’m not saying that it should have (because then fundamentalists might try to bomb me), but it was awkward to carry on the story with the camera acting as the prophet of Islam. We never heard his voice, never saw his face.

In fact, we’d gone so long without seeing the prophet that it felt really strange when we actually saw his camel. I thought, “Perhaps if they can’t show me the prophet, then they shouldn’t show me his camel, either.”

But I understand why they did it. The film-makers, many of them Muslim, wanted the full approval of Islamic leaders. And they got it. Part of the opening credits reveal that the “High Islamic Congress of the Shiat in Lebanon” approved the movie’s historical accuracy. When funding was pulled from the project, money was reportedly supplied by Muammar al-Gaddafi, the long-time military dictator of Libya.

Imagine a feature film about Christianity’s beginnings that had full approval from some high-level Christian leaders (I don’t know, perhaps the Pope). That would surely cause some stilted dialogue and artificial acting.

Still, the movie was worth watching for its historical value, and for seeing the other side of things for once. The early history of Islam turns out to be inspiring, good-hearted, and relatively non-violent.

In other words, I liked the film, but won’t go so far as to say it was really good.

IMDb: The Message
Wikipedia: The Message
Rating: PG
(thematic material, violence)
Length: 177 min (2:57)
Director: Moustapha Akkad
Genre: Biography / History / Drama
My Rating: 5 of 10
Family Friendly: It’s family-friendly in the same sense that “The Ten Commandments” and other religious/historical films are.
Anthony Quinn, Irene Papas, Michael Ansara, Johnny Sekka, Michael Forest

  1. S.A.M. says:

    I completely agree with your review. I know it’s against the Muslim faith to show any image of Mohammad, but maybe they just shouldn’t have made the movie. It just leaves you with the feeling that something was missing, like a hamburger but without the meat.

  2. Wil says:

    Good analogy, SAM.

    Try making a movie about Jesus without showing Jesus. It would just be strange.

    By the way, I’ve also heard that Islamic law prohibits images of other prophets as well, such as Moses and Jesus. If so, then why no uproar over their depictions in films?

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