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