Jesus (1999)
Trimark Home Video
Cast: Jeremy Sisto, Gary Oldman, Jacqueline Bisset
Extras: Music Video, Featurette, Letter from the Pope

Is it just me, or do television mini-series become increasingly more prolific? I think I have never seen so many great television movies than in the past two years. Trimark Home Video just brings is the latest entry in the genre with their story of the life of Jesus in a production of the same name. While at first it may be easy to dismiss the movie as yet another remake of an age-old and worn out story, a quick look at the credits should get every serious movie fan excited. Jacqueline Bisset, Gary Oldman, Armin Mueller-Stahl and Jeroen Krabbé are only a few of the recognized actors that make their appearance in this movie. But also the approach of the film to the story is rather interesting. But read on.

The film begins when Jesus (Jeremy Sisto) is in a young man, working as a carpenter with his father, Joseph (Armin Mueller-Stahl). His life is that of a regular young man, with one exception – he is aware that he is the son of God, although he has little use for that knowledge. One day, Joseph dies and to overcome his pain, his mother, Mary (Jacqueline Bisset) suggests he’d go out and find his real calling. In search of God, Jesus tries to find his place in the world and soon has a following of loyal believers, who look up to him and worship his words.
As Jesus’ power grows, those in power become intimidated and soon an intrigue is spun to bring Jesus down and to denounce him as a false prophet. With the help of Pontius Pilate (Gary Oldman), local authorities decide to put an end to Jesus – and so they do, as we all know from our Bible teachings.

What I found most interesting about the film is that it is focussing much more on Jesus the man and his internal quest, than on the actual impact he has had on the world around him – which as we all know was significant. Unlike the monumental epics with religious overtones of the 50s, this is the story of a man that is all too human. Eternally tempted by Satan and oftentimes tortured by his visions, we get to see Jesus as a very emotional human being who loses his temper, and one who has nothing but love for his fellow men. There is nothing stylized about this figure and I think it is what makes this film so interesting, even after having seen and heard the stories for the umpteenth-hundred time.

"Jesus" boasts an incredible cast throughout and you will hardly find a weak performance in this rather lengthy film. Jeremy Sisto is Jesus, and his warm voice, as well as the handsome looks, make him a good choice for the role, as he radiates peace and warmth. Is he just a tad too handsome for the part – maybe, I would say, but then again, in a movie we wish to see a romanticized version of the events, and that is exactly what we get. But also characters like Gary Oldman as the politicking Pontius Pilate, Jacqueline Bisset and Armin Mueller-Stahl as Jesus’ parents are priceless. Spiced up by a roster of incredibly committed young actors to make up Jesus’ followers, this film is a magnificently told story that is well paced and yet brings across all the important stages in the life of God’s son.

Running 173-minutes, this DVD brings us "Jesus" on a <$RSDL,dual-layer> disc in its original full screen presentation. The transfer comes from a source that is absolutely clean and without a hint of a blemish. The level of detail on the release is good, but quite some <$aliasing,aliasing distortion> is evident during the presentation. Upon further examination, it turns out that this distortion is mostly a result of the compression of the film material, which exhibits very small <$pixelation,pixelation>. As the compression tries to gloss over the extremely intricate details in the film, these artifacts sadly become exaggerated and create these visible artifacts that can become quite noticeable.

Colors are very well preserved and the transfer creates a very warm and pleasingly looking presentation. Fleshtones are masterfully rendered no matter whether it’s a pale skin color or a weathered sun-tanned tinge. Blacks are absolutely solid and give the image a lot of visual depth that adds to the very natural look of the film. At times, the movie creates a tapestry of images that are highly reminiscent of classic paintings by Michelangelo and other religious motives, and the film nicely captures the impressionist essence of these images to recreate them photographically. It is great to see that these carefully arranged and lit shots too, are coming to life so naturally on this DVD with their warm coloring schemes.

The DVD contains a great <$DS,Dolby Surround> audio track that makes good use of the surround channels. Although not discrete, the surrounds create scope and an audible depth that helps to give the movie grandeur. With a good bass response and crystal clear high end, the track is brilliant and without any distortion. The dialogues are well produced and always sound very natural. The mix gives the dialogues plenty of room to breathe, ensuring that all lines are comprehensible at any time during the film.
A good score accompanies the movie, contributed by Patrick Williams – who has over 180 films to his credit. Working with some nice epic themes as well as more topical motives, the score is beautifully arranged and nicely captures every given moment of the movie. The wide mix creates a sound field that is expansive and also adds to the scope of the movie as French horn sections fill the room with their warm timbres.

The DVD also contains a few extras, such as Leann Rimes’ music video "I Need You," which is followed by a general advertisement of a music CD with music from and inspired by the movie. It has become quite popular it seems to simply slap together a compilation of music titles and make it "Inspired by" a movie, no matter how far fetched it may actually seem. But to make things a little more comprehensible, a dedicated 7-minute featurette gives those artists the chance to explain why they feel their music has any relationship with the movie. Okay… it’s a series of sales pitches to be honest, but who cares.

I was very pleasantly surprised by "Jesus," I have to admit. I did not have the opportunity to see the film during its television broadcast and while I did expect a good production, given the credible cast line-up, I did not expect to see a film that has to offer a lot of new perspectives on the subject matter. As it turns out, "Jesus" does offer just that. Interesting viewpoints about what Jesus may have been like, and most notably the movie presents these ways in a very inoffensive way. I understand that it is always a touchy subject to present Jesus in a way that deviates from the tradition point of view, but I could not find anything in this film that could be considered blasphemous. With interesting visions sequences that bring upcoming events like the World Wars to Jesus’ attention, he is always portrayed true to the ideals of Christianity and above and beyond that, as a sincere human being. If you didn’t catch this show on TV, try to get a hold of this DVD.