A superior ‘Superbook’
DVD Review: ‘Superbook.’ CBN.
CBN has redone the “Superbook” TV series after a quarter-century, and it’s way better. It still has a magic book zapping kids into Bible stories. But with computer-generated imagery, and better writing, it’s more realistic and fluid.
How much better? You can see for yourself. Every “Superbook” DVD has the new version, with its lifelike shading, believable dialogue and swooping camera movement. The DVD also has the “classic” version of the same story, with its stiff animation, crude sound and shallow writing.
The theme is the same: Chris Quantum and Joy Pepper stumble onto a problem or shortcoming; then “Superbook” opens up and teleports them into a Bible story. They meet Bible characters and see how the heroes dealt with similar problems. Then the book zaps them back to the present, and they gain new understandings of how to deal with their issues.
But Chris and Joy have a more contemporary makeover. They’re now middle-school kids, not preteens. He skateboards and plays guitar. she likes her cellphone and excels at trivia games. He’s less apt to throw tantrums. She’s more thoughtful and expressive, unlike the simpering earlier version who was always tee-heeing into her hand.
Gizmo the wind-up toy is remade into a full-size robot, though with the same chubby build and red-and-white color scheme. He also speaks with a little boy voice instead of a metallic monotone. And he’s apt to sprout rocket shoes or telescoping arms when they’re most needed.
The video uses all the shadowing and texture mapping you’d expect from modern CGI, and the audio does music and thunderous effects equally well. Listen through headphones and hear how the sound moves as people walk.
One quibble: The new theme song, by sweet-voiced folksinger Debbie Scott. Her style may appeal to preteen girls, but boys? Doubtful.
To their credit, the “Superbook” makers don’t shy from some of the Bible’s tougher stories. One, “The Test,” retells the Bible story about God telling Abraham to sacrifice firstborn son Isaac on an altar. Another, “Roar,” retells the story of Daniel in the lions’ den. A study guide with each DVD helps you talk through each lesson with your own children.
Besides their more textured look, the videos hint at some decent research. The Abraham story shows the kids learning to use an abacus. In the Daniel episode, you get a glimpse of the Ishtar Gate of ancient Babylon. It has the blue-painted bricks and golden bulls and dragons that archaeologists think it did in the sixth century B.C.E.
The videos also do some interpretation, though. In the Bible, three mysterious men visited Abraham and announced his wife Sarah would bear a son. In “The Test,” one of Abraham’s visitors is Jesus. That dovetails comfortably with Christian theology, but of course it’s not specified in the Old Testament story.
Each episode ends with a pop song about the theme, with key scenes from the story as video fill. I say “fill” because after all, you just saw it all. Not sure it adds much to the DVD.
You can find more about the series on superbook.tv. The site includes games, character rundowns, wallpaper-size pictures from the episodes, and a free 52-page devotional book for kids in .pdf format.
James D. Davis