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Jesus of Nazareth,the son of God raised by a Jewish carpenter. Based on the gospel of Luke in the New Testament,here is the life of Jesus from the miraculous virgin birth to the calling of his disciples, public miracles and ministry, ending with his death by crucifixion at the hands of the Roman empire and resurrection on the third day. Written by
From a motion picture perspective, the "Jesus" film is primitive and flawed for audiences who are familiar with cinematic convention. From a biblical story-telling perspective however, it is brilliant. I'm therefore rating it at just "5" - half-way between love and hate, as I shall explain in this review.
That the producers achieved what they set out to do is indisputable: it's the most watched movie of all time. That the film is clear and truthful to the Gospel account of Luke is indisputable. That we need to consider the intended audience is also indisputable. Released just two years after Zeffirelli's magnificent masterpiece, "Jesus of Nazareth", this film comes across as is a lifeless clone... IF you've seen the Zeffirelli film, that is.
But what if you haven't -- what if you couldn't; maybe because you live in the jungle some place away from TV sets and westernised living? Then some chaps come into your village, set up a sheet between trees, wait for dark and then display these "magic pictures". NOW which film is the most powerful? The tables are turned, and all of a sudden, the "Jesus" film comes out tops. The film is not sophisticated, but it's not meant to be. Its power is not due to the imagery, but due to the Word of God that it illustrates.
Now, what about all the narration? It makes it sound like one of those old 16 mm "Fact and Faith" films that my maths teacher showed in school way back. Like an old newsreel. For a start, narration makes the translators' tasks much easier- it is, after all, the most translated film in history. However, during the climax, we actually loose the narrator altogether - a very unusual device, and I'm still not sure if it works that way or not. If I was cynical, I'd say the narrator went off for a coffee break, but I think they did it that way to help draw the audience, sitting spellbound on the hard earth, more into the story. The idea of any cinematic style has long left the screen, so it probably really doesn't matter, and on the primitive level, it certainly works.
Again, desperately failing not to be cynical, I see this film as perhaps the Protestant answer to the Catholic "Jesus of Nazareth" that it desperately tries to copy in part, and which was released just two years earlier. It reflects the fundamentalist ethos that it's okay to "use" film for religious purposes, but it is not okay to be absorbed by it. Art can be tolerated so long as the message is loud and clear. I don't mean to be cruel or mean; I admire and respect the folks who made this. However, I guess I just fail to understand why the producers were not able to get a few more talented people to guide the project to completion. It is a prime example of blinkered movie vision. In the end, it doesn't really matter, however, because the purpose of the film is to help non-Christians encounter Christ himself in his resurrection power - not to have a great night out.
As a side note, I have figured out a way to really enjoy this movie. Get something useful to do like washing the dishes or painting a wall. Then, put the movie on in the same room, and listen to the soundtrack as you work, and forget it even has moving pictures. The film makes excellent audio, and it has a wonderful added bonus: whenever you get really curious, all you need to do is take a peek at the screen, and low and behold, as if by magic, there's a moving picture of what you've just been listening to! A quite awesome way of listening to the Bible on tape. Because the visuals are almost entirely incidental, you can "listen" to the movie and not miss a thing!
On this film, I'm really sitting on the fence. For achieving what it set out to do, which is basically tell the story of Jesus to primitive audiences, I'd rate it 10 out of 10. As a film, with any depth of artistic talent, I have to be honest and give it a 1 out of 10. So I have to settle for a 5 rating. Which is one higher that the 4 that I hated myself for originally giving it, before writing this review and finding a valid reason to mark it up at least one notch.
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