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MOVIE INFO

Director:
Mel Gibson
Cast:
James Caviezel, Monica Bellucci, Claudia Gerini, Maia Morgenstern, Sergio Rubini, Toni Bertorelli, Roberto Bestazzoni, Francesco Cabras, Giovanni Capalbo
Writing Credits:
Benedict Fitzgerald, Mel Gibson

Synopsis:
The Passion of the Christ focuses on the last twelve hours of Jesus of Nazareth's life. The film begins in the Garden of Olives where Jesus has gone to pray after the Last Supper. Jesus must resist the temptations of Satan. Betrayed by Judas Iscariot, Jesus is then arrested and taken within the city walls of Jerusalem where leaders of the Pharisees confront him with accusations of blasphemy and his trial results in a condemnation to death.

Box Office:
Budget
$30 million.
Opening Weekend
$83.848 million on 3043 screens.
Domestic Gross
$370.274 million.

MPAA:
Rated R

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 2.40:1/16x9
Audio:
Aramaic/Latin Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles:
English
Spanish
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
None

Runtime: 126 min.
Price: $26.98
Release Date: 1/30/2007

Bonus:
DVD One
• Audio Commentary with Director Mel Gibson, Cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, and Editor John Wright
• Audio Commentary with Producer Steven McEveety, Visual Effects Supervisor/Second Unit Director Ted Rae, and Special Makeup and Visual Effects Designer Keith Vanderlaan
• Audio Commentary with Director Mel Gibson, Language Consultant and Aramaic/Latin Translator Father William Fulco, and Theologians Gerry Matatics and Father John Bartunek
• Selected Scenes Music Commentary with Composer John Debney
• Footnotes
Passion Recut “PG-13” Version of Film
DVD Two
• “By His Wounds We Are Healed: Making of The Passion of the Christ” Documentary
• “The Legacy” Featurettes
• Panel Discussion
• Photo Galleries
• Two Deleted Scenes
• Trailers
• TV Spots


• Booklet


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EQUIPMENT
Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


The Passion of the Christ (2004)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 23, 2007)

Not that we needed more evidence, but 2004’s The Passion of the Christ proved that I know nothing about Hollywood. Or maybe it didn’t establish anything related to the usual studio goings-on, for although it came from megastar Mel Gibson, the flick offered an experience far from what we’d normal expect from Tinseltown.

So what mistake did I make? When I made my box office predictions I ever-so-slightly underestimated how the movie would perform. And by “ever-so-slightly”, I mean “missed the boat so badly that I never even got within 500 miles of the pier”. I felt sure that Passion would make no more than maybe $20 million in the US. I saw it as a case similar to that of another Christ-centric epic with controversy in advance, 1988’s The Last Temptation of Christ. It only raked in $8 million back then, so why would Passion do much better?

The big difference between the two revolved around the origins of the controversies. In 1988, Christians protested Temptation for its depiction of a flawed Christ and became particularly outraged by its insinuations. In 2004, the Jewish community got upset because of the allegations that Gibson would portray them very negatively and stereotypically and also advance the concept that the Jews killed Christ.

Those ideas didn’t seem to bother the devout Christians in the US, and since this country includes many more of them than Jews or other religions, Passion prospered at the box office. The Christian community embraced Passion in an absolutely unprecedented manner. Churches would buy out entire screenings, and all of this helped take the movie to an amazing $370 million gross in the US. (Hey, my box office prediction was close; the movie only earned 18 and a half times what I figured!)

The (pun-intended) passion the Christians felt for the flick made it a prime topic for discussion, and this turned it into a “must-see” flick for people of all denominations and beliefs. Passion’s status and notoriety meant that folks felt compelled to watch it to discover the cause of all the fuss.

Is it possible to view Passion solely as a film without any other concepts to color one’s opinions? Probably not, but I’ll try. I usually write my own plot synopses but thought I’d just toss out the one from the press release this time, as it sums up the basic story well: “The depiction of the last 12 hours in the life of Jesus (Jim Caviezel) opens with his betrayal by Judas (Luca Lionello), his condemnation by the Pharisees, and his appearance before Pontius Pilate (Hristo Naumov Shopov). Pilate defers to King Herod (Luca de Dominicis), but Herod returns Jesus. Pilate then asks the crowd to choose between Jesus and Barrabas (Pedro Sarubbi). The crowd chooses Barrabas. Pilate washes his hands of the matter, and Jesus is forced to carry the cross through the streets of Golgotha where Roman soldiers crucify him. Although Jesus briefly fears that God, his Father, has abandoned him, he regains his faith, proclaiming ‘Into Thy hands I commend my spirit’. At the moment of death, nature itself overturns.”

If nothing else, one must admire Gibson’s decision to tell the story in the manner he chose. Whether or not one agrees with his decisions, he made the movie he desired, consequences be damned. That’s rare, especially for someone as popular and successful as Gibson.

Does Passion have anything to offer to those without a strong belief in Jesus? Maybe, but I can’t say that it did a lot for me. Going in, I knew two things: the people who saw Passion felt it demonstrated a lot of graphic violence, and also they thought it presented a harrowing tale. Perhaps because I expected something absolutely extreme, I didn’t think the violence seemed as horrifying as anticipated. Really, only one scene was tough to take: the extended one in which the Romans initially flayed Jesus. This segment indeed became difficult to watch, as it went on forever and really showed some unpleasant shots.

Otherwise, the movie didn’t depict a great deal of violence, at least not graphic material. Prior to the flogging, the authorities beat up Jesus, and his walk to crucifixion demonstrated occasional unpleasantness, but not to the gory degree expected. Even when the Romans pound nails into his hands, the camera cut away and didn’t depict graphic material. It’s still unpleasant, and I don’t want to convey that it’s not tough to watch, but it’s not the intensely disgusting presentation many indicated.

I’ve heard Passion referred to as pornographic in its display of violence, and also heard it called the equivalent of a snuff film. Both comments seemed off base to me, mostly because they confer a level of realism that I didn’t see in Passion. This wasn’t a documentary-format take on his travails. Gibson made the movie quite stylized, which somewhat defeated the purpose. I thought he wanted to give us a feel for what it was really like, but the frequent use of lavish slow-motion and other cinematic techniques didn’t deliver a feeling of realism.

Indeed, those elements conveyed the impression that Gibson really reveled in the violence. As tough as it could be to watch the initial whipping sequence, Gibson’s self-conscious use of varied camera speeds took away from the impact and became a distraction. These also led me to feel that he almost glorified the violence. I don’t believe that was his intention, but the camera lingered on the gore almost lovingly, in slow, languid shots. I suppose this reinforced the pain, but it also reveled in the agony.

One huge criticism of Passion connected to its depiction of the Jewish folks of the period. Though apparently the vast majority of historical evidence doesn’t support that their involvement led to the persecution of Christ, Gibson clearly disagrees. He strongly pins the blame on the Jews and presents them as narrow-minded and bloodthirsty. By contrast, Gibson lets many of the Romans off the hook. Pilate particularly gets portrayed as gentle and caring. He attempts to block the Jewish attacks and keep Christ alive but can’t resist the public condemnation. Passion tosses out a token Jewish character who protests, but he remains a minor obstacle against the overwhelming tide of discrimination

Why did Gibson choose to do this? God only knows. It’s totally unnecessary to tell the tale at hand. I guess Gibson felt this element was important whether it matched the truth or not, but all it did was detract from the potential power of the tale. It created controversy where it didn’t need to be and turned off many people who otherwise may have taken to the movie.

I don’t think Gibson cared about anyone other than fellow true believers, though, so he likely didn’t worry about the folks for whom the negative depiction of the Jews led to disaffection toward the film. Truth be told, Passion literally preaches to the choir. The film’s enormous initial success and notoriety led a broader population to see it, but I don’t think it was meant for them. Passion intended to reinforce the faith of the believers but not sway anyone on the fence.

Clearly it succeeded in that, for the devout Christians went nuts for Passion, but I don’t think it mustered the same effect for others. Part of the problem came from its lack of context. The movie largely assumed a strong familiarity with the material and didn’t do much to provide the viewer with background or detail. Granted, most viewers will know some basics, but for those who lack greater comprehension of the situations and characters, the movie may seem a bit confusing at times.

That probably won’t be too much of a problem due to the basic simplicity of the story. Judas sells out Jesus, the mob captures him, then they kill him - that’s it. Such a tale didn’t exactly lend itself to much interpretation, and Gibson didn’t want that anyway. Whatever the case may be, some greater exposition would have been nice for those of us without intense familiarity with the situations, but the general point emerged acceptably well.

Much of the fuss about Passion related to the power and impact that came from the depiction of the persecution. For a while, I agreed with this, though I didn’t think the movie packed a punch due to its main character. Instead, it moved me for more general reasons. The film never took advantage of the facets of Jesus’ history and personality. I felt for him because I saw a person unjustly tortured but the fact it was Jesus didn’t add to that concern. Passion failed to deliver an impression of what made Christ special and why this particular act was more reprehensible than it would be for anyone in a similar situation.

That area depicted the essential difference between Passion and Last Temptation, a much better movie. The latter gave us a feel for Jesus as a person, and we understood his philosophies and his sacrifice. Passion presented Jesus as a symbol and nothing more. He didn’t make choices; he received punishment but was not a character who seemed to have any control over his fate.

That’s an essential distinction. The Christ of Last Temptation actively chose to resist evil and to reconfirm his faith by his decision to sacrifice himself for the good of mankind. The Jesus of Passion, on the other hand, felt like little more than a victim. Yeah, early in the film he stomped on a snake to depict his rejection of sin and temptation, but that was it. Otherwise, folks acted on him and he simply went along with it, though he didn’t seem to have much choice in the matter.

This made the Jesus of Passion a passive and unmoving character. I felt the impact of Christ’s decision in the Scorsese flick, but I didn’t get that from Passion. It lacks the context of Temptation to remind us why Jesus did would he did, as it shows the punishment without the involvement of other elements.

For me, Passion lost power as it proceeded. Much of the second half just showed Jesus as he walked toward his fate. He fell down a lot, which then prompted many shots of concerned onlookers. And that was about it. The occasional moving element occurred, such as the first time Jesus collapsed. Mary (Maia Morgenstern) observed this and flashed back to a childhood incident in which a young Jesus tripped. Passion needed more shots that humanized Jesus and reminded us that despite his holy status, he was still a person with a life and loved ones that he would leave behind upon his sacrifice.

Last Temptation aptly depicted those elements, but The Passion of the Christ failed to do so. The film seemed curiously unmoving, and not because of my lack of religious fervor. I don’t believe in squishy space monkeys but I still cried at ET. Passion clearly had a lot of potential, but I’ve seen it done better elsewhere.


The DVD Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B+/ Bonus A+

The Passion of the Christ appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.40:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Given the project’s prominence, I expected a strong visual presentation for Passion, and that’s what I found.

Just like the conception, sharpness appeared immaculate. At no point during the film did I notice any signs of softness or a lack of definition. The movie consistently looked crisp and detailed. No jagged edges or edge enhancement interfered, but I saw a smidgen of shimmering at times via some of the more complex costumes. Print flaws remained completely absent in this pristine print.

One shouldn’t expect a vivid Technicolor extravaganza from Passion, and it maintained a suitably muted palette. Bleak, arid conditions dominated to give the movie a barren, sandy look much of the time, and the DVD replicated the tones accurately. When needed, the colors became more dynamic, such as through the hues of the outfits worn by the Romans. Blacks were nicely deep and firm, and shadows usually looked clear and concise. The early parts of the film used some fairly heavy blue filters that made the shots slightly dim, but this wasn’t a problem. Overall, I felt very satisfied with the strong transfer of Passion.

Although the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio of The Passion of the Christ lacked substantial ambition, it succeeded in the ways it reinforced the material. A mix made to complement rather than to dazzle, the soundfield rarely become consciously active. It lacked the “wow” moments one would usually associate with a strong modern soundtrack. However, it seemed nicely delineated and gave us a consistently good feel for place and atmosphere. The occasional examples of more prominent involvement kicked to life well, such as when destruction roared toward the end of the movie. Otherwise, the audio was a triumph of ambient sound, for it created a full and engrossing setting for the material.

Audio quality was positive. Speech consistently seemed natural and crisp, with no issues connected to edginess. Effects came across as bold and dynamic. They lacked distortion or other concerns and packed a wallop during the few scenes when that became appropriate. Music worked particularly well, as the often-percussive score pumped out smoothly and concisely. Low-end was a little loose at times but usually seemed acceptably deep and rich. I felt pleased with this good soundtrack.

How did the picture and audio of this 2007 release compare to those of the original 2004 DVD? I thought the visuals looked identical, but the 2007 disc lost some points in terms of audio. That’s because it omitted the old release’s DTS soundtrack. While the current Dolby mix is good – and the same as the Dolby track on the original release - I preferred the DTS rendition and miss it from the new disc.

On the other hand, the supplements of this “Definitive Edition” blow away the extras from the 2004 DVD. That release included absolutely nothing, while the DE comes packed with materials. On DVD One, we find three separate full-length audio commentaries. The first features director Mel Gibson, cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, and editor John Wright, all of whom sit together for their running, screen-specific chat. They discuss sets and locations, actors, characters and story, editing and cinematography, language issues in the film and during the shoot, some effects, and general experiences.

The track starts slowly and briefly becomes engaging after a while, but it soon turns slow again. We get a passable view of the production’s basics but not a whole lot more. We find a little silence along the way and a lot of praise, as the participants seem enraptured by the film and all involved. Enough good nuggets emerge to make the commentary listenable, but it never turns into anything better than that. Frankly, given the subject at hand, it’s a disappointment.

Next we hear from producer Steven McEveety, visual effects supervisor/second unit director Ted Rae, and special makeup and visual effects designer Keith Vanderlaan. All three sit together for their running, screen-specific discussion. The chat covers sets and locations, makeup and visual effects, actors and performances, camerawork, and a mix of other topics.

Unlike the first commentary, this one actually digs into religious issues to a minor degree. The participants discuss how the movie reflected their faith and what it means to them. Those elements prove interesting, but otherwise, this track resembles its predecessor. We get some decent nuts and bolts along with too much happy talk. I prefer it to the first commentary but think it lacks much to make it above average.

Finally, we get a “theological commentary” from Gibson, language consultant and Aramaic/Latin translator Father William Fulco, and theologians Gerry Matatics and Father John Bartunek. All four seem to sit together, though I’m not totally sure about that, as some of the remarks appear to come from a separate session. The conversation looks at interpretation of the movie’s events as well as themes and Biblical issues. We get insight and expansion into the film’s characters and story along with some responses to a few criticisms of the flick.

Of the three commentaries, this one becomes easily the most useful. It proves consistently thoughtful and informative as it digs into the movie’s Biblical issues. My only complaint comes from the lack of an opposing view. The track gives us retorts to the thoughts of naysayers, but it would’ve been good to hear some of those ideas from the critics themselves. Despite that minor flaw, this is an engaging chat.

Composer John Debney provides a Selected Scenes Music Commentary. Debney tells us how he came onto the film and gets into various aspects of his work. He details different musical and instrumental choices, how he decided to illustrate themes, and recording some sections. Debney offers good notes and insight – when he talks. As noted, this is a “scene-specific” track, so enormous amounts of film pass with no comments.

I don’t mind that, but the implementation stinks. The DVD doesn’t skip the dead spots or give us a menu to let us avoid them. This means that you have to sit through a great deal of empty air to get to Debney’s information. That frustrating decision mars an otherwise interesting chat.

Entitled Footnotes, a text commentary accompanies the film. This presents notes about the production as well as Biblical elements. The info stays basic at best and pops up very infrequently. Indeed, the vast majority of the flick passes with no text. It’s not a useful component.

DVD One also offers the option to watch The Passion Recut. This is a “PG-13” version of the film created to allow younger audiences and those with an aversion to gore to see the film. It drops four minutes, 40 seconds of the movie’s most graphic violence. I suspect there’s a limited audience for “Recut”, but I appreciate its inclusion here.

As we shift to DVD Two, we begin with a documentary called By His Wounds We Are Healed: Making of The Passion of the Christ. This one-hour, 40-minute and 15-second piece mixes movie clips, behind the scenes elements, and interviews. We hear from Gibson, McEveety, Fulco, Deschanel, Vanderlaan, Rae, Wright, Debney, producer Bruce Davey, screenwriter Benedict Fitzgerald, makeup/prosthetics designer Christien Tinsley, lyricist Lisbeth Scott, supervising sound editors Sean McCormack and Kami Asgar, supervising sound editor Kevin O’Connell, sound designer Matt Temple, foley artists Vincent Guisetti and Pamela Nedd Kahn, ADR supervisor Renee Tondelli, dialogue mixer Scott Millan, effects mixer Bob Beemer, foley mixer Kyle Rochlin, Motive Entertainment’s Paul Lauer, New Market Films’ Bob Berney, Ross Communications’ A. Larry Ross, and actors Maia Morgenstern, Jim Caviezel, and Monica Bellucci.

“Wounds” starts with a look at the project, its development, and the script, language issues, locations and sets, and visual choices/inspirations. From there we move through casting and performances, costumes and makeup, and Gibson’s style as a director. We also learn about cinematography, visual effects, Caviezel’s suffering on the set and lighter elements, and the end of production. The rest of the documentary covers editing, the score and sound design, marketing the flick and related controversies, and the film’s success.

If you want a good overall look at Passion, then “Wounds” is the place to go. It digs into all aspects of the production that we’d expect and does so in a reasonably full way. Of course, it doesn’t turn over every stone, and some of the subjects don’t receive as much examination as I’d like; for instance, I think a more detailed look at the movie’s publicity and success would be fascinating. Nonetheless, “Wounds” provides a strong documentary.

A Panel Discussion entitled “Below the Line” lasts 13 minutes, 49 seconds and includes participation from Deschanel, Wright, Debney, Rae, Vanderlaan, McCormack, Asgar, and O’Connell. If you know the jobs held by these folks, then you’ll have an idea what they cover. Really, we get a lot of repetition from the commentaries and “Wounds”. The “Discussion” runs through the topics pretty quickly and adds little to the package. We’ve already heard most of this material elsewhere.

Five featurettes appear under the banner of “The Legacy”. Through the Ages fills 11 minutes, 57 seconds with notes from IMAGE Journal editor Greg Wolfe, icon painter Alfonse Boryscwicz, and authors Wayne Forte and Mitchell Merback. “Legacy” examines religion as manifested in works of art. We get general thoughts about the subject as well as details of a few works related to Christ and the artists who made them. This is an intelligent and insightful view of the subject that opens up the topic well.

For the nine-minute and 24-second Paths of a Journey, we take a tour of historical locations. These go through the path Jesus followed on his way to crucifixion and gives us information along the way. The show offers a nice little look at these areas and compliments the movie.

Next we get On Language. This 12-minute and 45-second piece features notes from Father Fulco. He tells us how he came onto the flick and discusses his translation work. Although we learn a little of this elsewhere, “Language” nonetheless acts as a satisfying view of the issues Fulco confronted.

Crucifixion: Punishment in the Ancient World goes for 17 minutes, 27 seconds and includes remarks from crucifixion historian Dr. David Terasaka, Excavating Jesus author Dr. Jonathan L. Reed, and The Crucifixion of Jesus author Dr. Frederick T. Zugibe. “Punishment” looks at the history of crucifixion, its use in the Roman Empire and elsewhere, elements of the procedure, and other connected subjects. A studious look at a brutal subject, the featurette digs into its material with gruesome detail. It provides a surprisingly solid discussion of crucifixion and puts Jesus’ method of death in historical perspective.

Called Anno Domini, the last featurette runs 10 minutes, three seconds. It gives us a look at what may have happened to those connected to Jesus after his crucifixion. The program offers a decent little historical postscript.

The Galleries split into five areas. “Production Art” goes into “Costume and Set Design” (30 frames), “Technical Drawings” (15), and “Storyboards” (78 across four scenes). “Historical Texts” presents 142 screens of Biblical material, while “Art Images” breaks down into 14 “Stations” for a total of 151 shots). “Characters and Their Actors” presents biographies for James Caviezel, Maia Morgenstern, Monica Bellucci, Mattia Sbragia, Hristo Naumov Shopov, Claudia Gerini, Luca Lionello, Jarreth Merz, Francesco De Vito, Rosalinda Celentano, Sabrina Impacciatore, and Hristo Jivkov. Lastly, “Unit Photography” gives us 33 shots from the set. All of these are quite good, and I especially like the “Art Images”, though I wish they came with annotation to let us know more about the works.

We find two trailers. There’s “Theatrical Trailer G” and “Theatrical Trailer R”. The latter is more graphic and not meant for general audiences. We also discover two TV Spots.

Two Deleted Scenes run a total of four minutes, 33 seconds. We find “Pilate” (2:08) and “Don’t Cry” (2:25). The first shows a little more after Pilate condemns Jesus, while the second displays extra footage from Jesus’ march to crucifixion. Neither adds anything.

Finally, we find a six-page Booklet. It features some production notes and info about the movie’s success. It doesn’t contribute much to the package but it’s an acceptable piece.

For those who came to The Passion of the Christ as part of the base audience, obviously the film worked for them. It didn’t do much for me. The flick seemed more elegant than I expected, but it lacked a substantial emotional impact and came across as curiously bland and ineffective. The DVD presented excellent picture, very good audio and an impressive array of extras. I think Passion has become too much of a phenomenon for me not to recommend a rental, and those with a zeal for the subject matter will feel pleased with the DVD’s presentation, but the flick clearly isn’t for everyone.

Fans who don’t own the old DVD should definitely get this new one, but does it merit a “double dip” for those who already have the original disc? Yes, if the fans in question dig supplements. Picture and audio are identical to the old platter; actually, the sound was a little better on the original since it included a slightly superior DTS track. However, the “Definitive Edition” packs a ton of new extras, so it’s the way to go for viewers who want to learn more about the production.

To rate this film visit the original review of THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST

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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main