Universal // 2004 // 44 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // September 29th, 2004
The Passion of the "Cash-in"
Universal releases this DVD version of a one hour special that NBC News and Stone Phillips ran earlier in the year, tracking the historic final days of Jesus. This doesn't have anything to do with that little Jesus movie that came out in February, does it?
With Phillips in the driver's seat, this special moves through the last week of Jesus's life on Earth (round one, at least). Utilizing four scholars of varied beliefs and trainings, the show anchors itself in the musings of academics and the story of the gospel text, obviously the primary source for the history of the event.
From the Triumphal Entry to the Last Supper to the betrayal by Judas, then on to the torturous march to Golgotha, the special walks the viewer through the events in Jesus's life, while sprinkling in theories and observations from the scholars and repetitive shots of Renaissance paintings.
It should be noted that Phillips, from the outset, asserts that the purpose of the special is to track the history of the man Jesus of Nazareth, and to not dwell on the mysteries of faith -- though, as I will explain, I think the disc is marketed mainly to believers.
For the most part, I think two types of people will have a reaction to this slick, but unfilling, NBC special. Out of the folks who may potentially invest their time and money into The Last Days of Jesus, I'm going to divide them into two groups: those who know their Christian stuff, and those who don't, but might still be interested.
For folks who have heard the Passion narrative and are intimate with the details of Christ's final week, what you get here is 40-odd minutes of stuff you already know. For the Passion neophytes, NBC does a good job of telling the detailed story, though I couldn't escape the feeling that Stone Phillips was holding my hand throughout, explaining Christ's march to crucifixion as an adult would to a ten-year-old.
The inclusion of scholars was a nice tactic to add credibility, but not much new was said. The only contentious theories posed by any scholar -- believer or no -- was the role of Pontius Pilate and the angry crowd that called for Christ's execution. This comes as no surprise, as these events are perhaps the most controversial of the Passion (the movie and the scripture).
I think in the end this boiled down to a 45 minute jaunt through waters already charted, with nothing new being offered. Again, no surprise; as this event may be the singularly most analyzed and debated of human history. I wasn't expecting Phillips to pipe up with, "This just in! New archaeological evidence reveals that Jesus in fact was Pontius Pilate!!!"
Four faith-based NBC stories accompany the feature in the bonus section, leading me to believe that, taken overall, this disc is probably intended for Christians and the like-minded. All the stories are positive, and non-combative. In fact, a few were quite moving (specifically, the story of a man who lost his wife and daughter in a car accident, then asked the judge to release the boy who was responsible for their deaths; today the two men travel together, telling their story and offering a faith-based message of forgiveness).
The full-screen transfer looks nice enough, really defining those same paintings and exterior shots that we see over and over and over and over again. A 2.0 digital mix is your aural representative for this viewing and holds its unspectacular own.
A concise, well-put-together analysis of Christ's last days, with nothing you haven't heard before. The bonuses are nice and interesting.
Guilty of timely "reporting," but let off the hook for a snappy presentation and some excellent peripherals.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 44 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
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* "Living Faith"
* "God and the Brain"
* "Servant Leadership"