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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Godspell (1973)

"Prepare ye the way of the Lord."
- John the Baptist (David Haskell)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: April 16, 2000

Stars: Victor Garber
Other Stars: David Haskell, Katie Hanley
Director: David Greene

Manufacturer: DVDS
MPAA Rating: G
Run Time: 01h:41m:41s
Release Date: April 04, 2000
UPC: 043396224193
Genre: musical

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

It's hard to say what to make of this film, other than that it hasn't aged gracefully. What begins as a musical adaptation of the Gospel of Matthew in modern Manhattan soon turns into a vaudeville revue crossed with an old-fashioned revival run by Henny Youngman. Its theology is confused (John the Baptist and Judas Iscariot are conflated into a single character) and while the disciples act out the various parables, they don't seem to understand what they're doing or what the point of their actions might be.

I am always a sucker for music-hall style music, and Godspell serves that up in heaping helpings. Stephen Schwartz (who 22 years later would win an Oscar for Colors of the Wind in Pocahontas) delivers over a dozen songs that range from sand dance to rousing song and dance complete with canes to sappy worshipful ballads. Honky tonk piano is ubiquitous in the songs and the score. Only in the finale do we get anything that could seriously be considered rock music. Those looking for another Jesus Christ Superstar will be quite disappointed.

The songs are at their best when Schwartz allows the vaudeville theme to really run wild, as in the sultry Turn Back, O Man, and the rollicking All for the Best. The opening theme, Prepare Ye, and the hits Save the People and Day by Day translate nicely to film and are moving and effective without being sappy.

The spoken word portions of the show are deadly dull (some would say "lame"), although the cast gamely tries to liven them up with performances straight out of a Dudley Do-Right cartoon. After a while, their antics simply become embarrassing. The language remains in the style of the King James Version, though the Gospel of Matthew isn't directly quoted most of the time.

Victor Garber (who have seen more recently as the designer of the ship in Cameron's Titanic) plays the lead rather blandly as a Superman-shirt-clad suspendered Jesus Christ. David Haskell is rather more interesting as the John the Baptist/Judas character, the only member of this ensemble who seems to have any connection with reality. Several members of the cast don't have very good singing voices; apparently this was a conscious choice but it certainly grates and makes several of the songs (notably Bless the Lord and All Good Gifts) a little hard to take.

Those with serious religious convictions are likely to be offended by the Jesus Freak sensibilities of the film (not to mention the fact that the film discreetly skips over the issue of the resurrection), while those without will probably be bored by the proceedings that separate the songs.

Thankfully, with DVD we can zip right to the songs and need not spend time with the clear insincerity of the cast as they mouth their platitudes in a pathetic vaudeville pastiche.

Rating for Style: C
Rating for Substance: C-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyesno

Image Transfer Review: Godspell has not aged well in more ways than one; the print provided here is badly faded, with washed out colors and grayish blacks. The picture is generally on the soft side. The opening reel does have good color, although the red of the title seems rather smeary and over-saturated. Perhaps the color was over-boosted in this segment.

The full frame side of the disc is pretty much the widescreen version with the mattes removed; I detected a tiny bit of cropping on the full-screen side, but it was practically insignificant. The compositions work better in the widescreen version though the full screen version is perfectly acceptable.

Image Transfer Grade: D


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Columbia has chosen to present this film only in its original mono (in DD 2.0 format), which is too bad. A more modern, fuller mix in addition to the original would have been welcome. Bass is mostly lacking, and the sound is a little on the shrill side. The music is, however, generally clear and vocals are also clear, if a little poorly synched.

Audio Transfer Grade: C-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 0 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean and Thai with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Other Trailer(s)Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single
Layers Switch: na

Extras Review: Columbia gamely lists nine special features on the package, though in reality the special features are rather meager. No trailer for the film itself is provided; instead two extraneous trailers are included (they are presented in widescreen format, however). The bios on the director and three cast members are rather brief, and only a selected filmography is given for each. Columbia thoughtfully permits one to navigate directly from one cast member to the next, without having to go back through the menus.

The menus, strangely enough for a musical, are completely silent and without motion of any kind.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

This is a rather disappointing presentation of a musical that deserves better. The music, at any rate, is worthwhile even though it could have been presented in a more satisfying manner.


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