The Bible – in surround sound
A number of audiobooks bring cinematic effects to readings of the Scriptures.
When actor Garrett Morris visited a studio to record his part in an all-African-American audio production of the New Testament, everyone assumed he'd do a fine job as King Herod. That is, until the original "Saturday Night Live" cast member found himself dethroned.Skip to next paragraph
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"He got through one half of a sentence, and I said, 'Garrett, I love you, but your voice is not King Herod,' " recalls senior director Chip Hurd, who promptly fired Mr. Morris from his part.
But Ms. Hurd, a veteran television actress, had some good news, of a sort, for Morris: "You know what your voice does sound like? Satan." An agreeable Morris gained a new role, and hundreds of thousands of listeners are now associating his voice – if not his name – with one devil of a character.
While his role is more villainous than most, Morris has plenty of company in Hollywood and beyond. Dozens of prominent actors, singers, and other celebrities have lent their voices to two new dramatized audio productions of the Bible, and their work is finding a large audience among those who listen on their iPods while cleaning house or in their cars while commuting.
Michael York, Marisa Tomei, and Luke ("Beverly Hills 90210") Perry, among others, star in an audio New Testament called "The Word of Promise." Released in October, it's been selling at a fast clip; the Old Testament is due next year.
Meanwhile, an all-black version of the New Testament, with a cast and crew of 400, including Denzel Washington and Eartha Kitt (as the Serpent), has sold a reported 350,000 copies. Listeners have snapped up another 100,000 copies of a full Bible version, released last year in time for Christmas.
"There's been realization that this really brings the Bible to life in this vivid manner and provides a whole new context to understand the Scriptures," says Brian Scharp, vice president of marketing at Zondervan, publisher of "Inspired By ... the Bible Experience," the all-African-American Bible. "Part of our hope is that this version brings people back to the Bible."
The style of the new audio Bibles may come as a shock to listeners accustomed to recorded Bibles read by stentorian narrators. The dramatic Bibles are sophisticated cinematic productions, complete with elaborate sound tracks and a variety of vivid sound effects.
In "The Word of Promise" audiobook, for example, the spectral voices of demons in the Book of Matthew sound as though they belong in a Stephen King movie, while the letters of Paul are accompanied by sounds of a quill dipping into an inkwell, the sipping of tea, and a fireplace. Biblical scenes of chaos, such as those in Revelation, are especially intense.
The performers themselves often act with gusto, no surprise considering that many – but not all – are devoutly religious. According to "Word of Promise" producer Carl Amari, actors Stacy Keach and Richard Dreyfuss, who played Paul and Moses, respectively, were thrilled because they had long studied and admired their characters. And Jim Caviezel, who played Jesus in "The Passion of the Christ," returned to the role in "Word of Promise."