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Movie Renter's Guide - October, 2009

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"The Passion of the Christ" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Eberle

movie-november-2009-the-passionSynopsis

The Passion depicts the final twelve hours of the life of Jesus Christ.  The film begins in the Garden of Gethsemane as Jesus prays to God to be spared the fate he knows awaits him.  He is then captured and taken by soldiers to be questioned by Hebrew leaders in the Temple.  They are quite determined to brand him a heretic for the assertion that he is the “King of the Jews.”  As the Pharisees cannot condemn to death, they bring him before Pontius Pilate, the local Roman governor, to demand his crucifixion.  Despite Pilate’s assertions that Jesus is not a criminal, he is forced to sentence him to death to prevent an uprising of the Hebrew people.  After a brutal scourging, Jesus is forced to drag his cross out of the city and up to Calvary, the place of execution.  The film follows the events written of in the New Testament and will be vividly familiar to anyone who grew up learning about the Bible in school.

Specifications

  • 20th Century Fox
  • 2004, Color, Rated R, 2 Hr 6 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC @ 22.5Mbps
  • Aramaic/Latin/Hebrew 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring:  Jim Caviezel, Monica Bellucci, Maia Morgenstern, Sergio Rubini
  • Directed by Mel Gibson
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Extreme
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

I was curious about this film when it came out in 2004 but after reading a few reviews I though it might be too difficult to watch.  This Blu-ray release is my first experience with it.  I couldn’t help but compare it to Shindler’s List in the category of movies that are important but difficult to witness.  The suffering and death of Jesus is presented in excruciating and graphic detail.  Jim Caviezel’s portrayal is simply astounding to watch.  I have rarely been drawn into a movie as I was with The Passion.  It is not for the faint of heart however.  Crucifixion is a horrible way to die and this film will leave you in no doubt of that fact.  The emotions portrayed by every principal character are quite intense and I was, to put it mildly, quite moved.

As you can see in the specs, the entire film is spoken in Aramaic, Hebrew and Latin.  The subtitles are presented at the bottom of the frame (not in the black bars).  The use of ancient languages really adds to the realism.  There has been some controversy surrounding the historical accuracy of these languages versus Greek which many believe was spoken at the time.  I found it really made the film that much more believable.  My hat’s off to the actors who must have had quite a challenging time acting in such unfamiliar languages.

I need to explain my Entertainment rating.  This film is in no way entertaining; that’s just not the right adjective.  It struck me more as a controversial piece of art.  It was well-crafted and the intent of the Mr. Gibson was quite clear.  He meant to provoke a reaction and stir emotion.  Granted many movies with lighter subject matter do this but no film I have ever screened reached to my very soul like The Passion.  Though gruesome in the extreme, there was no question that I needed to view this film.  I do have a hard time imagining anyone wanting to see it more than once but like Shindler’s List, I’m glad I experienced it.

Technical

Image quality was fair at best.  Resolution wasn’t too bad but it didn’t measure up to the better Blu-ray releases.  I found the color presentation to be average.  I didn’t see the original so I can’t say it’s Mel Gibson’s interpretation or the telecine operator’s.  Darker scenes lit by oil lamps and torches were suitably warm but outdoor locations had a filtered look.  Flesh tones were also lacking in dimension and somewhat cool.  Contrast was fair with occasional crushing of highlight and shadow detail.  The picture was generally flat throughout.

The DTS-HD Master Audio track was of average quality with little to no use of surrounds.  Dynamic range was good with appropriate use of the LFE channel.  Dialog was nice and clear and properly placed within the soundstage.  I really enjoyed the musical score expertly composed by John Debney.  The music earned the film an extra star for audio.

Extras

Disc 1 contains the theatrical version of the film as well as a version “edited for graphic elements.”  I didn’t watch this but I’ll bet it’s a lot shorter!  You can also view the film with Biblical footnotes and audio commentary from Mel Gibson, filmmakers and theologians.  Disc 2 is a standard DVD with a making of featurette and a historical retrospective.  Also on disc 2 is a photo gallery and deleted scenes.