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Fox Home Entertainment presents
The Passion of the Christ (2004)

Caiphas: Tell us, are you the Messiah? The son of the living God?
Jesus: I AM...and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of power and coming on the clouds of heaven.

- Mattia Sbragia, Jim Caviezel

Review By: Nate Meyers  
Published: June 30, 2006

Stars: Jim Caviezel
Other Stars: Maia Morgenstern, Hristo Jivkov, Francesco De Vito, Monica Bellucci, Mattia Sbragia, Toni Bertorelli, Luca Lionello, Hristo Naumov Shopov, Claudia Gerini, Fabia Sartor, Giancinto Ferro, Olek Mincer, Luca De Dominicis, Pedro Sarubbi, Jarreth Merz, Rosalinda Celentano, Noemi Marotta, Rossella Longo
Director: Mel Gibson

Manufacturer: dvcc
MPAA Rating: R for sequences of graphic violence
Run Time: 02h:06m:26s
Release Date: August 31, 2004
UPC: 024543129752
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A+ A+A+A+ D-

DVD Review

Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ opened on Ash Wednesday 2004 in the midst of the largest cinematic controversy I've ever witnessed; allegations that it would ignite anti-Semitic acts of violence blended with ad hominem attacks on Gibson himself. On the other side, many Christian groups vocally supported the film as a much-needed counterpoint to the purportedly immoral messages coming out of Hollywood. Not surprisingly, the movie became the biggest commercial success of Gibson's career—despite, at best, a mixed reaction from critics—and evoked an astonishing reaction from audiences.

The script, by Benedict Fitgerald and Gibson, roots the dialogue in the ancient languages of Aramaic and Latin, as well as Hebrew. Chronicling the last 12 hours of Christ's life on Earth, Gibson bases his film on the New Testament's Gospels, the Catholic Church's Stations of the Cross, and various accounts of Catholic mystics (namely, the Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich's meditations, and the writings of a Spanish nun, Mary of Agreda). On a purely superficial level, this is a vivid re-telling of the Passion narratives; but the film delves far more deeply into the history and dogma of the Catholic Church than the casual observer might realize. With flashbacks to the Sermon on the Mount and Last Supper, Gibson uses the story of Christ's death and resurrection to expound on the sacraments and the mysteries of the Catholic faith. Much of this likely passes unnoticed by viewers, since Gibson seems resolute in not dumbing down the film to appeal to all audience members. This is a film made by devout Catholics and the closer one is to the Catholic faith, the more the film offers.

As played by Jim Caviezel, Jesus' identity as both divine and human is fully realized on screen. During the excruciatingly realistic scourging scene, Caviezel brings a graceful physicality to the role as well as a quiet spirituality. Unlike in so many of the earlier motion picture accounts of the scourging, the crack of a Roman soldier's cane resonates with authority here. More than at any other time in my own life as a Catholic, I began to realize the importance of Christ's suffering. Gibson doesn't simply show a man being beaten, but forces the audience to confront the principle of Christianity that all mankind is continuously inflicting these wounds on Jesus. When Christ sweats blood in the Garden of Gethsemane, it is as if you're kneeling beside him.

Gibson's direction intensely re-creates the Gospel narratives, such as Peter's denial of Jesus and Caiphas' trial to condemn him, but the most impressive aspects of The Passion of the Christ are the supplementary moments. Take, for instance, the inclusion of Satan (played by actress Rosalinda Celentano); thematically, this is a bold and profound addition to the film. The Devil tempts Jesus as he prays in the garden, but with meticulous blocking Gibson subtly conveys how the Prince of Darkness is involved in the events. Weaving in and out of crowds, mocking traditional Marian poses, and at first appearing attractive, the presentation of Satan is one of the most intelligent of evil's nature. Mixing a woman's face with a masculine voice is seductive on one level and simultaneously unsettling on another—suggesting both the attractive and destructive nature of sin.

Equally impressive is the portrayal of Pontius Pilate. Played by Hristo Naumov Shopov, Pilate's role in the film is to represent humanity's pursuit of truth. Many critics claimed that Gibson, in effect, gives the Romans a pass due to this character arc, shifting the blame solely to the Jews. A more accurate observation would be to note that the film's depiction of Pilate mirrors the Gospel according to St. John verbatim. (Although one might still question why this particular Gospel was chosen above others for this segment.) Shopov's work is astounding. He taps into the character with impeccable skill, bringing forth Pilate's moral confusion in order to speak volumes about the plight of so many people who have been washed away in a world of relativism. Shopov, along with almost every other member of the cast, benefits from being an unknown actor here in America. By casting mainly Europeans, Gibson avoids the problems of so many previous tellings of Christ that cast recognizable actors in supporting roles. Accompanied by the authentic languages of the era, the cast brings a strong sense of legitimacy to the film.

The two most memorable performances come from star Jim Caviezel, and Maia Morgenstern who plays the Virgin Mary. Caviezel is virtually unrecognizable in the role, especially once the makeup team gets to work bringing realism to Christ's wounds. Caviezel easily outperforms all of the other actors who have tackled the role, and he is not bogged down with silly directorial devices such as backlighting. With integrity and power, Caviezel honors the role by letting the source material guide the performance, which is consistantly and fittingly humble. When burdened with the weight of the cross, the pain seems real for the actor, which makes the events on screen all the more excruciating for the audience. Perhaps the most touching scene in the whole film is when Jesus falls and Mary runs to him. Cutting between shots of the trek to Calvary and those of Mary running to Jesus as a small boy falling down, the scene evokes such a raw human emotion that it is impossible for me not to cry while watching it. Morgenstern inhibits the role with gravitas, bringing the Church's five Marian dogmas to life. Her performance expands my understanding of the Mary with each viewing, especially in the final moments when she stands at the foot of the cross. Morgenstern's embodiment now occupies a permanent fixture in my Catholic imagination.

Aiding the riveting performances is some of the most beautiful images ever placed on film. Cinematographer Caleb Deschanel works as if he's a medieval painter, bringing gorgeous palettes of color and detail to every frame. Rich blues in Gethsemane and the bleached earth of Cavalry put the audience right into the story. The compositions create the feel of an epic, as do the powerful production design and the meticulous costuming. This $25-million independent film looks and sounds as if it had all the resources of Hollywood at its disposal. John Debney's score taps into music of the period and blends it with the sensibilities of today's audiences. Complementing the visuals at every turn, Debney's music beautifully fleshes out the emotional and spiritual core of the movie.

Of all involved in the production, however, Gibson is the one who deserves the most credit for its success. His unflinching, passionate vision is tempered by a surprising amount of humanity. The violence is graphic and prolonged, but there's a transcendence that gives it a purging effect. Roger Ebert called the film, "the most violent film I have ever seen." Many have complained the film doesn't pay enough attention to the "message" of Jesus' life, but I believe such a grievance is theologically unsound. More than perhaps any other work of art, Gibson's film shows us that Christ's true message resides principally in the Passion narratives.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.40:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Since the disc is devoid of supplemental material, the anamorphic 2.40:1 widescreen transfer is the equivalent of a Superbit release. There's a gorgeous sense of depth in every frame that creates a vivid film-like look. The blues in Gethsemane are breathtaking, the detail is striking, and there is not a single flaw detectable by my eyes. Absolutely stunning!

Image Transfer Grade: A+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The film's audio is treated to both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS tracks. The DTS mix is preferable, largely due to having more power and a nice bass. Sound separation and directionality are put to good use, opening up the whole home theater system with impressive dynamic range. When Judas is tortured by demons, rear-channel phantom imagining is especially effective. I didn't notice much difference between the two tracks, though it seems like the DTS mix is slightly more distinct. Regardless of which audio option you choose, the result is enthralling.

Additionally, for the visually impaired, an audio track narrating the events on screen is available in English.

Audio Transfer Grade: A+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:11m:10s

Extras Review: What to say about the special features? There is a total lack of supplemental material here, other than optional subtitles and chapter selections, which is a disappointment. On the other hand, it seems fitting that this particular film would not be accompanied by a glitzy collection of extras. Personally, I hope there will be a special edition with commentaries and documentaries.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

To my thinking, Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ is the most important piece of religious art since Michelangelo's Pietà. This spartan disc beautifully brings the film to DVD, which is a true cause for joy.


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