Opening the Word: New audio Bible brings together Hollywood talent

It's not uncommon for Hollywood to manufacture star-studded productions with award-winning actors, state-of-the-art technology and music by world-renowned composers.

One recently released project, for example, features the talents of Academy Award winners Richard Dreyfuss, Marisa Tomei, Lou Gossett Jr., Golden Globe winners Stacy Keach and Lou Diamond Phillips, as well as Luke Perry, Michael York and Jim Caviezel. What is unusual is that the production is not a movie, but an audio version of the New Testament: ''The Word of Promise'' audio Bible.

Released last month by Thomas Nelson Inc., the 22-hour, 20-CD audio production of the New Testament (New King James Version) was created by Falcon Picture Group. It was the brainchild of Carl Amari, CEO of Falcon Picture Group and founder of Radio Spirit Inc., which specializes in the syndication and distribution of old-time radio programs.

Amari's passion for audio dramas and the Bible led him, in 2004, to seriously pursue the daunting project. Amari spoke with fellow Catholic Caviezel about the project, having gotten to know the lead of ''The Passion of the Christ'' during the filming of the 2004 film, ''Madison.''

Caviezel was immediately taken with the idea. ''I knew how good it could be. I said, 'Of course, why didn't anybody think of this?''' He cites the popularity of audio books, as well as the unique emotional impact of a well-acted, dramatic rendering of the Bible.

Co-producer Raymond Arroyo shares that same belief in the potential of a high-quality, sensitive reading of Scripture. Asked by Amari and Caviezel to work with them in producing the audio Bible, Arroyo put his talents to work by helping contact potential actors about working on the project. The response was incredible, he told Our Sunday Visitor, with some actors initiating contact with him and asking if they could be involved.

The strength of ''The Word of Promise," Arroyo explained, ''is that it puts you in the moment. You feel it and you are there. It's very cinematic, and creates a theater of the mind. It takes you, the listener, back to the first century.'' The production is indeed impressive, featuring a rich tapestry of sound effects -- crowds, animals, water and wind, the creaking of wood and leather -- behind the voices of well-known actors.

Originally, Arroyo notes, Michael York was going to narrate nearly everything. But the producers decided that different actors should narrate the books written by the person they played: John Heard as Matthew, Lou Diamond Phillips as Mark, Chris McDonald as Luke, Lou Gossett Jr. as John, Stacy Keach as Paul, Ernie Hudson as Peter, and John Schneider as James. Caviezel, of course, reprises his ''Passion'' role as Jesus, while Kimberly Williams-Paisley (''Father of the Bride'') is the voice of Mary, the Blessed Virgin. Terence Stamp is the voice of God, Richard Dreyfuss gives voice to quotes from Moses, Marisa Tomei plays Mary Magdalene and Luke Perry plays both Judas, the betrayer, and Stephen, the first martyr.

At the insistence of Caviezel, a beautiful original music score was written and conducted by acclaimed Italian (and Catholic) composer Stefano Mainetti.

Altogether, says Arroyo, ''there is an urgency and immediacy to [the audio dramatization] that I like. It contains an emotive element that we sometimes forget as Catholics.''

Carl E. Olson is the editor of IgnatiusInsight.com. Information about The Word of Promise New Testament Audio Bible, including clips and trailers, can be found at www.thewordofpromise.com.