Producer-director Moustapha Akkad made a true labor of love out of The Message
, which seeks nothing less than to tell the story of the origins of Islam. Originally released in the U.S. as Mohammad, Messenger of God
, the film has the appeal of most biblical epics: persecuted true believers, a revolutionary prophet scorned by the powers-that-be, and the miraculous triumph of faith. It also has the cheesiness of many biblical epics, with nose-flaring performances and awkward dialogue, but the whole mish-mash is generally entertaining (and informative for those unversed in the "origin stories" of Islam). Akkad had one major hurdle; he couldn't portray the person or voice of Mohammad himself, as such things are traditionally forbidden in Islam. To say the least, this presents an interesting narrative challenge. Akkad tackles it by having characters address the camera-as-Mohammad, or having disciples step out of Mohammad's tent to repeat what the prophet has just said. It's a weird device, but the surprising thing is how often you forget about it. Akkad is aided by some topnotch technicians, including cameraman Jack Hildyard (The Bridge on the River Kwai
) and composer Maurice Jarre (whose score was Oscar-nominated); Anthony Quinn, Irene Papas, and Michael Ansara lead the cast.
Anchor Bay Entertainment