'The Passion of the Christ' ***
DVD Review (2003)

The Work = ***
So how does one review a movie that had so much hoopla surrounding it? Well, I was aware of the so-called controversies of the 'The Passion of the Christ' but that didn’t stop me from seeing it and it didn’t make me go into this film thinking I would see something controversial. What I got was a good film. A violent but good film.

Watching 'The Passion of the Christ' I became aware that I was viewing a film of, well, passion. Mel Gibson and co. obviously had something they wanted to get out and making the movie was a release for them. In that regard it reminded me of the similarly fo' controversial 'Last Temptation of Christ' by Martin Scorsese. Both films seemed deeply personal and both films have interpretations of religious events that may be different from the norm.

'The Passion of the Christ' has the benefit of some surprising casting. Jim Caviezel as Jesus somehow seemed like a mistake when I thought about it but seeing him in the film I must say I was wrong. He radiates a certain calmness when onscreen and delivers his lines with gripping assuredness. It is all the more impressive because the man pretty much has to carry the movie by himself.

In fact he has to carry the film while for a large portion of it he is being beaten senseless. Speaking of the beating and the violence and such, this is a very graphic film. Is it the most violent film ever to grace the screen? Well no but it does have startling shots of torture; of flesh literally being ripped off. Some of these shots are indeed the most powerful in the film but for me they were surrounded by too many similar passages.

Let me explain. You know how Jesus was whipped and beaten and such? Well, picture this, not only is the torture depicted in startling reality but so is the torturers actually whipping Jesus. The problem is, all the slow motion shots of Romans whipping and laughing kind of build to the point of comedy, or what would be comedy were there not so much blood spray. If there was maybe a tad bit less slow motion or maybe a little bit less whipping I might not have been so distracted. (I mean come on, how many times can one see the same bald Roman swing a whip in slo-mo' over and over again before it become ridiculous?)

I will say that somehow after all the violence had subdued (at the risk of sounding like a total ass) Gibson and co. managed to make Jesus on the cross look somehow beautiful (from a distance.) Actually the whole film is well shot and I was taken in by it’s shadowy look. The sets and costumes were impressive and I kept wondering how they made the film. (I will go on wondering too, since there are no freaken’ features on the DVD, but more on that later.)

If I had a problem with the film it was the scope. The director of 'Braveheart' here decided to focus on such a narrow part of the life of Jesus that it was hard for me to get into the story. The atmosphere helped pull me in (I loved the portrayal of what I think was supposed to be the devil) but the fact that the bulk of the film seemed to be the abuse of Jesus made it difficult to get engrossed. One thing I kept thinking while watching the film was “Good gravy, some people probably took their kids to see this!” The movie shows how much abuse Jesus took (certainly more than any mere man could) and often does so in such detail and length that it can be at times distracting. If the film as a whole did not really move me than individual scenes did and were often very powerful (and have hung in my memory.)

POSSIBLE SPOLIER WARNING: There are moments where the film flashes back to different events in Jesus’s life and they are so well done that I wished there had been more. I was very, very moved by a scene where a crucified man asks Jesus only that he remember him. I loved a sequence that implied that God was crying a single tear that shook the earth. END SPOILERS

When this film was coming out, some claimed it was anti-Semitic. I am no student of history or theology so how accurate the events of this film are, I cannot speak to. I will say that for oh, the first half or so of the film it seemed like anytime someone did something bad they were a Jew and any time someone did something good they were a Roman. (Almost, again, to the point of comedy.) By the end of the first act that had changed and I had completely forgotten about any supposed anti Semitic undertones. I must say if they are there I missed ‘em. (Certainly wasn’t anything as offensive as say the Charley Chan-esq’ sounding federation trader aliens from 'Star wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace'.)

DVD = ***

The Look
The transfer is my reason for the DVD getting a positive recommendation. 'The Passion of the Christ' gets a great transfer. Excellent detail is visible in practically every shot. The stylized color pallet and deep shadows look great as presented in anamorphic widescreen 2.35:1.

The Sound
The soundtrack is presented in both Dolby Digital 5.1 or DTS 5.1 soundtracks. The dialogue and score came through loud and clear. All those whipping sound effects are strong and sharp. Now a note about the film. What I think is most remarkable about 'The Passion of the Christ's phenomenal box office success is not that it was a religious film. Indeed it was fortunate that it was able to tap into a lot of markets, including those that don’t normally go to the movies, especially in the numbers that they went to see this film. What is most remarkable is that this film had the huge box office success that it did and yet it is subtitled! I cannot tell you how many times, as a film dork, I will be telling someone about a movie and they will suddenly stop me and kind of wrinkle their nose: “What do you mean it’s subtitled? You don’t mean where you have to read those words on the bottom do you? I can’t do thant.” Yeah. If this film goes at least a little ways towards getting people to accept subtitles than it deserves credit.

The Bonus
Hahahahahha pych’! No bonus features for you! Why would you want features? Jesus didn’t have features on his DVDs so why should you? Ok, so seriously, Gibson doesn’t want to do a commentary, fine, how’s about a documentary? With all the hubbub around and money that this film pulled in you’d think he or one of the producers could at least do a freaken’ featurette! Gibson succeeded in creating a wide visual scope on a relatively modest budget. This was a labor of love and it is a shame there is no documentation of it.

All together = ***
There’s a lot I liked in 'The Passion of the Christ', it’s just a shame that the film as a whole seemed only ok to me. I liked the look and was moved by many of the scenes. The casting was wonderful and so were the performances. Gibson and co. should be whipped for not including any features on the DVD. Be forewarned, this is a very bloody film and not one that I think appropriate for children. If you are not easily offended by such violence than you might just enjoy 'The Passion of the Christ'.


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