Warner Bros. // 2011 // 171 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // April 4th, 2011
The Story of Jesus Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Follow My Savior.
You know, it's only THE most popular story of all time. For those who haven't been paying attention to the Bible (don't worry, I won't judge you...at least not out loud), King of Kings follows the story of Jesus Christ (Jeffrey Hunter, The Searchers), the famous carpenter from Nazareth whose mission is to fulfill His Father's plan to be the Savior of mankind. This journey will introduce viewers to the many people who became a part of Jesus' legendary story, including his gentle mother, Mary (Siobhan McKenna, Doctor Zhivago); Peter (Royal Dano, House II: The Second Story), who would become one of Jesus' twelve apostles; the conniving and ill advised King Herod (Frank Thring, who also starred in the Biblical epic Ben-Hur); the zealously overreaching Pontius Pilate (Hurd Hatfield, The Picture of Dorian Gray); and the traitorous Judas Iscariat (Rip Torn, Men in Black II). Jesus' story unfolds from cradle to the grave and back again as he gives his own life for the sake of saving his people. Narrated by Orson Wells (and written by author Ray Bradbury), King of Kings is an inspiring story of one man's earthly journey towards the Kingdom of Heaven.
After watching Nicholas Ray's King of Kings for a second viewing, I decided to go back and read my previous review from approximately eight years ago (my, how time flies...). I recall reviewing the film but not what my opinion had been (except that I recalled looking upon the film positively). Like some bizarre science experiment, I wanted to see what the old Patrick and current Patrick thought of the same movie. What did I find? What did I discover? What new feelings were brought up? The answer: I felt pretty much the same way as I did nearly a decade ago.
King of Kings is still grand entertainment with a purpose. The movie is a document of the life of Christ (if slightly sanitized) and stands as an epic of a Hollywood era now long gone. Although the film came slightly after the period in time when movie studios released some of the biggest Biblical epics of all time to huge returns (The Ten Commandments, The Robe, Ben Hur), I would argue that King of Kings stands toe to toe with any of those classics from the 1950s. Ray has fashioned a story that is never plodding and serves a moviegoer's needs for both spectacular entertainment and an inspiring message. I've focused on the movie as a whole in my previous review, so for this review I want to focus on three aspects I greatly enjoyed during the course of the movie.
One of the elements that makes King of Kings work as well as it does is Jeffrey Hunter in the role of Jesus Christ. When the film was first released there was much criticism of Hunter in the role; most reviews noted Hunter was like a 'Teen Jesus' with a surfer sensibility. Luckily for Hunter, time has been kind to his performance -- his Jesus now comes off as a natural, quiet man of great power. The only portrayal of Jesus that was more powerful was Jim Caviezel in Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ (although I'm not sure if it was Caviezel's performance or the horrific lashings and flayed skin presented onscreen). The writers of King of Kings are smart and keep Jesus as the main character but never jam him down viewer's throats. The story stays true to its source but allows other characters to come into full focus as well. It's a masterful performance that never tips into the realm of showy or self indulgence.
Secondly, there is Rip Torn. For those who know Rip Torn only from the Men in Black movies (and his real life drunken videos), King of Kings shows the actor as a powerful master of the silver screen. My personal favorite performance in King of Kings is by Torn as the doomed apostle Judas Iscariat, the man who would eventually turn on Jesus and help bring about his crucifixion on the cross for some measly silver coins. Torn finds nuance and conflict in the character of Judas; he's a man who eventually realizes what he has done and pays the final price by hanging himself. Although Torn often skirts between comedic actor and media punchline these days, it's nice to know there was a time when he was a serious actor of great range and depth. Whenever Torn walks on-screen, it's hard to take your eyes off of him. That's the sign of a great performance.
Finally, there is Miklos Rozsa's grand and captivating movie score. Being a film music buff, I can tell you that this is hands down one of the best film scores ever composed -- a lofty statement, but one I think most viewers would agree with once they catch even a snippet of Rozsa's grandly symphonic notes. A movie like King of Kings rises and falls by its film score; you aren't going to feel half of the pomp or grandeur of the film if the orchestral score isn't at the same level as the visuals. The moment when Jesus is finally nailed to the cross (as dark, ominous storm clouds come rolling in to usher out the final breaths of God's Son), Rozsa's score is breathtaking and truly underscores the finality of Jesus' life on earth. Interestingly, you can hear some of the influences that would resonate down the years on such composers like John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith and Danny Elfman. This element alone would make King of Kings a great film.
King of Kings is one of the best depictions of the life of Jesus ever put on film and is a lot more 'family friendly' than something like The Passion of the Christ. Although it's not a perfect film -- the runtime feels padded with a few scenes of filler -- it's the last of the great Hollywood Golden Age epics and is worth tracking down.
Now go unto thy people, my little sheep, and spread the good news of King of Kings!
King of Kings is presented in a gorgeous 2.35:1 anamorphic 1080p widescreen transfer that is almost as awesome as the story it depicts. Warner has gone to great lengths to make sure this classic tale has been gussied up for Blu-ray, and fans of the epic will not be disappointed with how it looks. Even after hundreds of hi-def viewings I still am impressed with how some of the older catalog titles can look. The image in King of Kings nearly jumps off the screen with vibrant colors and astonishing clarity. This is the way to do a hi-def transfer and I give Warner high praise for giving fans what they were clamoring for.
The soundtrack is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 in English. The sound mix is almost as impressive as the transfer, benefiting most from composer Miklos Rozsa's simply marvelous film score (most likely the highlight of the entire film, in my humble opinion). Though the surround sounds aren't overly bombastic, there are plenty of moments when the front, rear and center speakers are all engaged (mostly during the Roman's attacks or conquests). Overall this is a great soundtrack complimenting a great film. Also included on this disc are English, French and Spanish subtitles, as well as a Dolby 1.0 mix in French.
For a movie with such a high class title as "King of Kings," King of Kings doesn't exactly overflow with bonus features. The best is a four minute featurette titled "The Camera's Window of the World" that looks as the behind-the-scenes location work of the film. The Premiere Newsreel footage is just that -- bland footage of the opening in New York City and Los Angeles. Finally there is an entertaining theatrical trailer for the film.
King of Kings is a great film and a worthy buy for this coming Easter Sunday!
Review content copyright © 2011 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (German)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Portuguese)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 171 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Vintage Featurette