Dogma (1999)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Cast: Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Linda Fiorentino, Salma Hayek, Chris rock
Extras: Theatrical Trailer

I find it very interesting that movies that stir up the most fervent controversies the fastest, are films that touch upon religious subjects. As soon as a filmmaker suggests a different view on theological issues, the moral-apostles of the Catholic church are quicker to respond to it than anyone else – many times, even without having seen the actual film. It is a commonly known fact that the Church has always been rather militant in imposing their belief system upon others in the past through Holy Wars and the Inquisition. But even today the hypocrisy is visible on a daily basis, while the Church preaches goodness, to help and to support the poor and needy, while itself taking from the poorest of our society without scruple, enriching itself in growing splendor every day.

As such it came hardly as a surprise that "Dogma" quickly became the target of many churchgoers. Writer and director Kevin Smith is not known for his tactility, but more for his outrageous, subversive sense of humor that is very observingly commenting on our society. What I find astonishing – if not simply mind boggling – is the fact that the film speaks more for the church than it does against, and yet it is a piece of heresy in the mind of many. While I do not want to get into any religious discussions, I think the film’s approach to show that is irrelevant what you believe in as long as you have belief, is a message that is not only accurate, but also very poignant. Beliefs transcend classes, races, colors and social statuses and it should be the Church’s foremost interest to nurture the thought, but as we all know, change and modern thinking are not parts of the Catholic vocabulary.

Enough of that, let’s check out the movie. Loki (Matt Damon) and Bartleby (Ben Affleck) are two fallen Angels. They have been banished from Heaven by God and are forced to walk the Earth for all eternity. One day they find a loophole in the Catholic dogma that would allow them to sneak back into Paradise through a backdoor, but they don’t realize that by doing so they would undo the fabric of the universe.
While Azrael (Jason Lee) is giving the two fallen Angels his support, Metatron (Alan Rickman), the voice of God, turns to Bethany Sloane (Linda Fiorentino) for help to avoid the destruction of all earthly existence. Bethany is the last Scion, a direct descendant of Jesus Christ, and only she is able to stop the two Angels from re-entering Heaven. Aided by two very unlikely prophets (Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes) she’s soon on her way to find the gate Loki and Bartleby intend to us for their return. She is soon accompanied by Rufus (Chris Rock), the 13th Apostle who was removed from the Bible text because he was black, and Serendipity (Salma Hayek) a muse with writer’s block in a race against time. Will they be able to get stop the two Angels before they destroy everything in existence?

After watching the movie, quite honestly I do not really understand what the fuzz is about. It is radical and it is violent, yes, but no more so than many other contemporary films that spur less controversy. The film is a very intriguing and thought-provoking story that allows viewers to reevaluate their own position on Catholicism and their own beliefs. Since it breaks with literally every preconceived notion the Bible has been associated with, it is a refreshing and inspired new approach. Covering so many aspects that we just take for granted as a result of the cleric teachings, it is easy to see that they lack some fundamental proof. Every open-minded Bible scholar knows that the text is interpretable – needs to be interpreted in fact – to be of any viable value, especially since the interpretation inflects everyone’s own hopes, wishes, experiences and world views. In that light, "Dogma" is a very modern interpretation of the subject matter, done by a very talented and imaginative young filmmaker.

The second most important thing about he movie is its integrity. As a result of the controversy surrounding the film I was expecting an utterly respectless film, only to be surprised by the result. While the film is respectless in its comedic terms, it is never so in religious terms. Every suggestion the film makes – no matter how far-fetched it may appear in the spur of the moment – is done in a manner that offers alternate ideas. It does neither ridicule, nor thematically change existing dogma, but rather provoke new ideas.

On the other hand the film is not nearly as funny as I had hoped. There are a great many very funny scenes in the film, but is does not have the wall-to-wall radical black humor that films like Monty Python’s "Life Of Brian" offer. The material of the film has so much more potential that the final film appears a bit thin at times with large gaps between laughs, which could certainly have been filled. One thing I did find a bit out of place however was the language used throughout the film. While it may be hip to have a lot of cussing in contemporary movies, I find it distracting, especially since it is entirely superficial for the most part. Especially in the case of "Dogma" I found that the film did not need the strong language and many characters would have played off better without the constant involvement of cursing. All the characters are so carefully crafted that the language becomes distracting and obtrusive. I also found "Dogma" very dialogue-heavy in moments where actions could have replaced the lengthy dialogues. It makes the film a little hard to follow in every detail, as the dialogue is oftentimes dissipating and flat.
Nonetheless, Kevin Smith shows that he is an extraordinarily imaginative, inventive and rebellious filmmaker with a great nose for refreshingly black humor. I can’t wait to follow his career to see how future projects will turn out. On a nice side note I also noticed that Smith did not credit himself for his acting part as "Silent Bob" in the film neither on the packaging nor in the movie’s end credits. It is a nice understatement that adds to the young filmmakers’ likability in a time when agents and lawyers spend more time and money negotiating credit-listing orders than actually helping to get movies made.

Columbia TriStar Home Video is presenting "Dogma" in an <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> presentation on this DVD on one side and an open-matte transfer of the movie on the other. The transfer is razor sharp and without grain or noise. The source print from which the transfer is taken is clean and in perfect condition, helping to make this a first rate presentation. Framed at a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, the transfer is highly detailed, creating a very pleasing look. Colors are finely delineated, restoring every hue and shade of the film in delicate detail. A slight hint of edge-enhancement is evident in a few shots to enhance the image contours but it is never distracting or truly noticeable. Blacks are deep but never lose definition and highlights stand out bright and bold without overpowering the rest of the image. Overall, this is a top-notch video presentation as you would expect from such a new movie, especially in the hands of a potent publisher like Columbia TriStar Home Video.

The disc contains a <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> audio track in English as well as a French <$DS,Dolby Surround> track. Especially the <$5.1,5.1 mix> is very expansive, creating a wide sound field that is immersive and very active. The track makes good use of the split surrounds, although for the most part it is used rather subtly to create engaging ambient surroundings. When fully engaged however, the discrete surrounds create a very aggressive surround environment for the track. The bass extension is good and generally unobtrusive. Very well balanced with the rest of the mix, the low frequency channel gives the audio a solid bottom end that firmly roots the sound effects and music. Dialogues are well produced and integrated, always remaining on top of the rest of the audio and hence always clear and understandable.
Selected talent files and the film’s theatrical trailer are the only extras found on this release.

So what’s the bottom line, you wonder? If you are open minded enough that you can take a revolutionary rethinking of Catholic dogma, this movie is a funny and exhilarating experience. If you are sure you can not take the supposedly blasphemous approach of the film, do yourself a favor, lighten up and watch the film nonetheless. I am sure you will find plenty of seriously thought-provoking material in there that is convincing and highly entertaining. Unless we want to be stamped as complete knuckleheads, I think we all should allow ourselves enough latitude that we can laugh about things that are unconventional and different, no matter how radical and far-fetched they may seem. After all, it’s only a movie, one that has been made for entertainment purposes, not to reinvent Christianity, and as such does not pose a real threat to the Church – unless someone wants to make it one, that is.