The Passion Of The Christ

The Passion Of The Christ (2004)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cast: Jim Caviezel
Extras: Trailer

Mel Gibson’s "The Passion Of The Christ" is a film of great controversy and I’m sure everyone has heard about it. Some hate it, others love it, but ultimately it was a phenomenal box office success and it is now coming to DVD courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. I am not a religious person at all, I want to add, so my observations reflect those of someone on the outside.

"The Passion Of The Christ" chronicles the last 12 hours in the life of Jesus Christ. From the moment he is captured after Judas’ betrayal to the point of his physical death atop of Golgatha. The tribulations of him being accused of blasphemy, dragged from governor Pontius Pilatus to King Herod and back to Pilatus, neither of whom really want to execute Jesus based on the accusation of the Jews. In order to avoid an uprising Pilatus allows to have Jesus crucified on accord of the Jews’ clamor, but symbolically washes his hands and tells them that he has no doing in this. Thus starts Jesus humiliating ordeal to the cross. Being flogged and scourged almost to death, he is the forced to drag his own cross through town and to the crucifixion site on the mount Golgatha. There he is nailed to the cross and left to die, as we all know.

Many people were horrified when first seeing Mel Gibson’s treatment of the material, mostly at the ghastly violence and bloodshed. To me it was not an issue. I had always envisioned it that way and never bought into the romanticized glorification of the events the way the Church presents it. The fact that the Romans took pleasure in seeing people slaughtering each other or being eaten alive by lions in a public spectacles, their "Ludi", always made it very clear to me that this was not a time when human life was of much value and why would they treat Jesus and better than the countless other peasants and criminals they executed on an almost daily basis. So, while I compelled many times to yell at the soldiers to finally stop flogging the man every second of his dying life, it was more for my horror at the pleasure they took in ripping a man to pieces one lash at a time, than at the graphic depiction of it.

"The Passion Of The Christ" is an emotionally charged film through and through. Whether it’s the pain you feel for Jesus going through this ordeal and still showing strength or his mother watching it all. In fact, one of the film’s most poignant moments is hers, as she watches her son stumble and collapse under the weight of the cross. She remembers him falling as a child, crying in pain with her running over to console him. This time she is unable to help him, and it is one of the most heart-wrenchingly painful moments in the film to watch – even more so than Jesus actual passing, which in the end we see more as a liberation than a penalty. Gibson uses flashbacks a lot in scenes like this, to great effect. We see glimpses at the Last Supper, Judas’ betrayal, some of Jesus’ predictions and other things, always as retrospective flashbacks. They break up the incredible tension of the film and thus make the subject more tolerable as they give your mind a few moments to breathe before we are catapulted back to the horrors of the right-now.

Jim Caviezel is Jesus. The star of films such as incredibly heartfelt films such as "The Thin Red Line" once again proves that he is an incredible actor with the ability to pull viewers in. He becomes Jesus. From the first to the last frame you never question him or his character. He is authoritative and authentic and takes his punishment with the dignity and strength you would expect, never flinching, always aware that his suffering is for a greater good. But also the rest of the cast is incredibly powerful, although Maia Morgenstern as Mary is certainly the surprise find in this film. Without much more than a handful of lines to say, she projects her emotions, feelings and agony into her gestures and expression with such power that it could make you cry.

The production design of the movie is also incredible, with lavish settings and authentic backdrops that conjure up this pivotal bible story. Gibson’s direction is sure-handed and he always knows how to frame the picture or when to give us a look into the actors’ souls with extreme close-ups. It’s been a long time since "Braveheart" but Gibson proves that he certainly knows how to make powerful, super-charged films with incredible narrative and emotional depth.

The DVD release features an <$16x9,anamorphic> presentation of the movie in its original 2.35:1 <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio. A <$PS,fullscreen> version is also available separately, but given the film’s wonderful windscreen cinematography it feels definitely blasphemous to even consider watching this film in such a mutilated form. The picture is entirely free of blemish or mars. In some of the dimly lit interiors and nighttime shots a sheen of grain is evident but it is part of the original film and never distracting. The level of detail in the presentation is marvelous bringing out every little bit of information from the most subtle grain of sand to the intricate texture of the line cloths. Colors are meticulously reproduced. Incredibly powerful hues wash over the screen, though never over-saturate the picture. Black levels are rock solid, creating deep shadows that always hold their detail and never break up. No hint of edge-enhancement is evident in the transfer. In a nutshell, the presentation is wonderful to behold.

The film has been completely recorded in Hebrew language and the DVD contains a <$5.1,5.1 channel> audio track that is rich and active. Surround usage is very good with a wide sound field. Ambient noises as well as the almost constant clamor of people is presented prominently in the surround channels as well. Dialogues are well integrated and never drowned out and the subtitles that accompany the presentation are free of typos. The music by John Debney is also reproduced without any detractions, making the most out of the moments where the music help elevate the emotions.

"The Passion Of The Christ" is an enormously impressive film and this DVD release pays proper tribute to this. Without extras, the release lets the film speak entirely for itself, which I think is a very good idea. No doubt, there will be a Special Edition with extras somewhere down the line, but if you want to experience the movie’s power in its most untainted form, here it is. Needless to say that this DVD belongs in every DVD collection.