JULY 21 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : THE GREATEST ADVENTURE STORIES OF THE BIBLE
The Greatest Adventure: Stories from the Bible is a direct-to-video series produced by Hanna-Barbera that tells of three young adventurers—Derek, Margo, and 'their nomad friend' Moki—who travel back in time to watch biblical events take place first-hand.
Foreign exchange students Derek and Margo are college friends who are gaining field experience in their archaeology major by joining an excavation team. While they are with the team, a young Bedouin named Moki befriends them.
Moki, known for his hijinks and huge appetite combined with his high metabolism, is fascinated by these two (apparently) American visitors and gets heavily into pop culture through them. He wears in addition to his beaten, battered clothes a blue hat (which he was probably given by them) that has a generic white letter "D" on it. (This is possibly a Detroit Tigers cap, but the style on the letter is kept generic, possibly to avoid trademark infringement.)
The team find themselves on an excavation site, wherein which they stumble upon a trap door hidden in the sand. They fall into the trap, and end up inside of a large cavern. The opening of each video explains it this way:
"While surveying the site of some ancient ruins, two young archaeologists, Derek and Margo, and their nomad friend Moki find themselves trapped and sinking in a whirling pool of sand. And when the dust settles, they stare up in awe at a vast chamber, filled with giant relics and artifacts from another civilization... And there, at the far end of the cavern, a door with a strange inscription - 'All who enter these portals pass through time!' "
They feel for some unexplained reason that they need to keep the Doorway of Time a secret from the places they visit. In fact, Joseph and Miracles of Jesus are the only episodes in which they either openly discuss or allude to the Doorway of Time in the actual episode. The three apparently time travel between some of the episodes, as evidenced by the span of historical periods they visit, but it is never explained how this is achieved.
By traveling to the past, the three are able to watch biblical history unfold, or, less often, hear it told by someone from the past. Although they sometimes meet famous biblical figures, they themselves neither ultimately have a significant role in nor dramatically alter the scriptural part of the tale in any way.
The side-stories are sometimes humorous, but the biblical story is always gracefully and solemnly portrayed. Some episodes rush the long-stretched events into very short time frames, however, in keeping with the show's time constraints. Some light violence including blood sometimes occurs, notably in "David and Goliath," but this is usually done to avoid marginalizing or rewriting scripture.
The three protagonists journey back to a time in the pre-Noahic flood world, and a storyteller (voiced by Les Tremayne) recounts the events in the Garden of Eden to them. At the same time, they learn their own lessons in honesty and virtue after getting in trouble with a local gardener in the land of Nod due to them having tricked him into letting them eat four apples free of charge.
This episode featured Marc Singer as the voice of Adam, with Stephanie Zimbalist as Eve, and Tim Curry as the Serpent (Satan). This episode does contain backside nudity and concealed frontal nudity for Adam and Eve.
The trio find themselves assisting Noah (voiced by Lorne Greene) and his family in the building of the Ark. They manage to join the crew for the long stay aboard the Ark, helping tend to the animals and keep things in order. They hop aboard the Ark right before the rains come to drown the evil army that is threatening to burn down the vessel.
Along with Esther and the Nativity, this is one of only three episodes where the Biblical characters are confused by the use of modern language (when Moki decides to build a life raft, one of Noah's sons doesn't know what a life raft is).
Joseph and His Brothers
The trio befriend Joseph (voiced by Barry Bostwick) and learn about his coat of many colors. While unable to alter the events in any way, they do learn about the conspiracy of his brothers. As they are pursuing Joseph to find out what he will be doing in his tenure as a slave in Egypt, they find another Doorway of Time portal and jump ahead 13 years. They continue to stumble upon these so that they can, in a glance, be near Joseph for all the events of his significant to his life.
Whilst trying to stay out of trouble, the trio end up back in Egypt to witness Moses (voiced by James Whitmore) and Aaron confront Pharaoh (voiced by James Earl Jones). They remain with the Hebrews throughout the duration of the Ten Plagues and participate in the first Passover. They join the Exodus and even get to see the parting of the Red Sea and the drowning of Pharaoh's army.
Joshua and the Battle of Jericho
Jumping through time again, the travelers witness Joshua (voiced by Edward Asner) and the Israelites as they seek to defeat the evil city of Jericho and secure a passage into the land of Canaan. At the beginning Moki is captured by the army of Jericho as a suspected Israelite spy. Derek and Margo find refuge in the Israelite camp. The two rescue Moki just before the Israelites take Jericho.
Samson and Delilah
Derek, Margo, and Moki find themselves witnessing the time of the Judges, the tenure of Samson in particular. They learn about Samson (voiced by Perry King) as the strong man and how he eventually fell to his enemies because of a woman named Delilah (voiced by Linda Purl).
David and Goliath
The three jump through time yet again and find themselves lost. As they search for information, they are threatened by wild animals. A young shepherd arrives on the scene and rescues them. They learn that this shepherd just happens to be the future King David (voiced by Robby Benson). They follow David to Jerusalem, where they watch as he tries to help mend Saul's ill temper. Finally, they witness the defeat of Goliath (voiced by Herschel Bernardi).
Some time later, the travelers find themselves in Persia in the city of Susa (Shushan in the video). The king Ahasuerus (also known as Xerxes I of Persia) has returned from a humiliating defeat against the Greeks, the battle of Platea and decides to throw a party. Esther and her elderly cousin Mordecai befriend the time travelers and try to help them fit in with the party, providing them clothes. The travelers routinely confuse their ancient hosts with 20th-century slang and technological terminology.
When the queen, Vashti, blows off a request by the king complete with an insult, he grows angry with her and calls for a divorce, sending her into exile. Without making it an official law, the king decrees soon afterwards that out of respect, those beneath the king should bow before Haman out of respect, as he also gains favor from the king. He immediately starts a contest all throughout the Persian Empire in search of a new queen. Esther and Margo are chosen to be among the contestants, in spite Margo's initial defiance towards Tarsik, whom she labels "Buster."
Esther ends up winning the king's favor and Margo becomes one of her honored palace guests. When Mordecai realizes the abusive implications behind Haman's desire for others to bow before him, Mordecai refuses to bow routinely, irritating Haman. Mordecai's justification is that men should really only bow before God.
Haman, feeling insulted by Mordecai's defiance, formulates a plot in an attempt to get revenge. To win legitimacy for his plot, he tricks the king into signing into law a decree giving him power to eradicate all the Jews living in the kingdom.
The three travelers do their part to help Esther and Mordecai formulate a plot of their own, to expose Haman's deception to the king. Their plan succeeds, and when the king learns that Queen Esther herself would be a target of Haman's plot, the king has Haman executed for treason. The travelers leave soon afterward.
Along with The Nativity and Noah's Ark, the Esther episode is one of only three in which the travelers' usage of 20th-century terms leaves the ancients utterly confused. In most episodes, the confusion revolves exclusively around the protagonists' lack of understanding of the ancient world, combined with Moki's implied lack of understanding of nearly everything.
This episode featured Helen Slater as the voice of Queen Esther; with Dean Jones as King Ahasuerus, Werner Klemperer as Haman, and Ron Rifkin as Mordecai.
Daniel and the Lions' Den
The trio of time travelers find their way into Babylon. Immediately finding themselves standing out in the crowd, they are suddenly befriended by the prophet Daniel (voiced by Gavin MacLeod). He takes them into his house and gives them clothing to help them better fit in. A servant of the king offers them jobs, however reluctantly. In spite some hesitance, King Belshazzar and the party-arranging servant agree to use cups stolen from the Temple of Solomon for the celebration.
An angry hand of God intervenes after the king uses the cups to engage in blasphemy, and writes on the wall the words "Mene Mene Tekel Parsin," vowing an end to Babylon. Daniel warns about the meaning of the writing, and the implication that Persia and Media are about to co-conquer the region. The warning is ignored. Belshazaar is assassinated and the Mede King Darius replaces him.
Daniel quickly gains favor with the new king; but jealous, evil conspirators want revenge. The time travelers try to intercept the plot, but end up being chased away. Darius, foolishly acting out of pride, accepts the challenge of the conspirators. Daniel is arrested and thrown into the lions' den, for refusing to give up his prayer life.
The hand of God once again intervenes, forcing shut the jaws of the lions. When Darius finds Daniel still alive, he learns of how he was deceived. He immediately has Daniel rescued from the pit and instead feeds the conspirators to the lions. After Moki is saved from nearly falling into the pit himself by accident, the three time travellers decide to leave.
Jonah (voiced by Alan Oppenheimer) recounts to the three his attempts to escape his calling and how he eventually wound up witnessing for God in the city of Ninevah anyway.
Whilst getting themselves into some manner of trouble in the marketplace of Jerusalem, the three protagonists learn about the arrival of the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary (voiced by Helen Hunt). They know that the time of Jesus' birth will be soon. As they are doing their thing, King Herod (voiced by Vincent Price) is going hysterical over the notion of a new king arriving. He passes his time meanwhile by taunting others with his monkey.
Along with the story of Esther and Noah's Ark, The Nativity is one of three episodes in which the travelers' use of 20th century terms leaves the locals confused (Margo makes a reference to "soft drink cans", which the camel-owner questions).
When the Magi arrive at Herod's palace, he tries to trick them into giving away the location of the baby Jesus. The plan fails when the Magi decide not to return to Herod. The time travelers follow Mary and Joseph (voiced by Gregory Harrison) from a distance on their way to Bethlehem. They do not get directly involved in the manger scene until all the potential threats to Jesus have left.
The Miracles of Jesus
The time travelers jump a few years ahead, and encounter an elderly version of the young man raised from the dead in the city of Nain. He recounts to them the events surrounding the various miracles of Jesus' life.
The Easter Story
The time travelers' final stop before being sent back to the 20th century, they encounter Mark (voiced by Richard Thomas) as he is gathering material to write the Gospel of Mark. He informs them of the events surrounding the Garden of Gethsemene, Jesus' numerous trials before Annas, Caiaphas, Herod, and Pilate, as well as the Crucifixion and Resurrection. He finishes by telling them of the Ascension. The travelers finally walk away, thanking Mark for the information. Jesus was voiced by Joe Spano.
Production and Distribution
The series was first produced in 1985, with the final episodes being released in 1993. Joe Barbera tried to get support for the project for 17 years. Bill Hanna did not even support it during that time. Finally, Hanna-Barbera's owner, Taft Broadcasting supported the project. Turner Home Entertainment assisted with production when they bought Hanna-Barbera in 1991. Sparrow-Star Song assisted with distribution. Kay Wright, a classic Disney animator, was among the many who contributed to the animation production team.
After Hanna-Barbera was bought out by Time Warner in 1996, distribution of the series on DVD fell to the discretion of the Warner Brothers studios. The series was originally released directly to VHS under the Sparrow-Star Song era.
Similarities to other programs
The series at times seems to bear remarkable similarities in both plot elements and actual content that suggest other programs which were airing at the time the videos were produced. While some of these similarities may have been deliberate, many others could have been purely coincidental.
The Greatest Adventure came out just two years after the Japanese shows Superbook and The Flying House had both finished their respective runs. However, for being an animated Bible walk-through series featuring time travelers in the plot of each episode, Greatest Adventure is unique to the genre in the fact that it is NOT anime. Also, instead of a robot and young children going back in time with the aid of a doctor, the travelers appear to be college students with a comically clueless Bedouin companion, all of whom find a way to time travel on their own.
The animation style bears similarities to that of Captain Planet, which may have been due to the influence of Ted Turner on the production of the episodes. The Creation episode is the only one to feature non-animation clip frames in with the animation, in a style similar to that often seen on Muppet Babies. Numerous computer and film solarization special effects were used to generate the images of the earth being formed before Day 3. The computer animation supervision team behind the Creation episode consisted of Paul B. Strickland, Ann Tucker, Marc Levoy, Chris Odgers, Bruce Wallace, Bennett Leeds, Jim Mahoney, John Haskey and Donald Greenberg. Greenberg is credited as "Dr. Donald Greenberg" in the end credits, and he was the Graphics Tech Consultant.