Judge Kent Dixon examines the hi-def debut of this spiritually moving film.
"This is a movie about love, hope, faith, and forgiveness. He [Jesus] died for all mankind, suffered for all of us. It's time to get back to that basic message. The world has gone nuts. We could all use a little more love, faith, hope, and forgiveness."—Director Mel Gibson.
One man changed the world forever.
Accused of being everything from blatantly anti-Semitic to brutally violent, there's no denying that The Passion of the Christ is the most complete and Biblically-grounded account of the last hours of Jesus Christ leading up to his crucifixion. Ultimately, your view of the film will come down to a basic choice…is the film fiction or fact, fantasy or faith?
Facts of the Case
From the Garden of Gethsemane to the hill the Romans called Golgotha where he was eventually put to death, the last hours of Jesus are conveyed in every brutal detail. Intercut with the brutality and anger are beautiful moments from happier times, showing Christ's childhood and his relationship with his mother and his disciples, as well as key moments from his ministry. Fortunately, there's a happy ending.
Jesus of Nazareth. Biblical writers predicted his arrival hundreds of years before his birth, and he is recognized by many around the world as the son of God, by others as a great teacher and prophet, and by some as just a man who died a cruel death. When the film was released in 2004, that was the question that gripped many viewers…who was Jesus? In the interest of full disclosure, I am a Christian and my faith tells me that Jesus Christ was just as the Bible says he was…a man, but also much more. That said, while I found the film deeply moving and personal, I was no less shocked by the film when I first saw it.
In interviews with director Mel Gibson around the time production began on the film, he spoke of a strong drive he felt to tell this story. Gibson, a devout Catholic, knew the project would not be popular in many circles and that it might spur negative reactions, even among groups who viewed the Biblical account to be true. The Passion of the Christ is not for everyone. The film pulls no punches, nor does it shy away from the brutality of crucifixion, a method of execution that has been compared to the guillotine and electric chair in its degree of inhumanity and brutality.
On release, the critical response to the film was mixed, with many reviewers recognizing the film as powerful and beautiful, despite its graphic depictions of violence. Others found the positive messages of Christ's life and ministry were lost in the nearly unbearably violent scenes that appear throughout the film. One review even dubbed The Passion of the Christ as the most controversial film of all time, followed closely by Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange. Did the film need to be as graphic as it was? Likely not. Recognizing that the film would ultimately be no less powerful, Gibson released a version of the film called "The Passion Recut." Gibson created the edited version in response to requests from around the world from viewers who had seen the film and wanted to share it with loved ones, but were concerned the graphic images and brutality would be too intense. Despite being re-released to theaters in this newly edited form, the film only lasted three weeks before disappearing.
Now available for the first time in hi-def, The Passion of the Christ is both beautiful and brutal. Comparing the definitive edition DVD release from January 2007, this new Blu-ray version of the film is a revelation. In hi-def, the colors are vibrant and crisp but true to life, and the image is razor-sharp from the opening images of the night sky and moon above Gethsemane, to the bleak and sun-bleached hill of Golgotha. In comparison, the DVD release offered an average presentation with a washed-out color palette and soft picture throughout. On the audio front, the DTS HD presentation is truly impressive, delivering both the muted sounds of Gethsemane in the moonlight and the angry roar of the convicting masses with equal impact and clarity. John Debney's powerful and moving score is also given the range and power to match the stunning HD visuals.
After a bare-bones DVD release in 2004, the film was re-released in 2007 as a "Definitive Edition" that included an amazing depth and volume of extra features. Though comprehensive and impressive, the extra features included in this HD release will disappoint those who already own the film on DVD. Disc two of this set is an exact duplicate of the second disc that was included with the 2007 release, and while the first disc includes the hi-def version of the film, the commentaries and other features are also repeats. For a more detailed look into the extra features included on this release, please refer to Judge Dan Mancini's review.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
After waiting two years for an HD version of the film to be released, it's a disappointment that nothing new was added to the offering from the 2007 DVD release. Given the controversy surrounding the film, it would have at least been interesting to include a retrospective showing reactions to the film on release and in the years since.
Without question, The Passion of the Christ is an important film that bears seeing at least once. I will never forget seeing it in a theater filled with people, all sitting in nearly complete silence from beginning to end. As I've said, the film is not for everyone, and it's difficult to categorize it in the way one might classify another film, as it is neither purely historical, nor is it a film that purely preaches.
Regardless of your beliefs, from an historical perspective, Jesus Christ left a mark on history that will never be erased, and his teaching inspired great leaders and thinkers who came after him. If you don't already own the film and are considering it, the Blu-ray version is a real treasure on all fronts. If you already have the "Definitive Edition" on standard DVD, given the identical content aside from the HD feature, it's more difficult to see the value in the upgrade.
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