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The Last Temptation of Christ [Criterion Collection] Blu-ray Review

  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Video Codec: AVC/MPEG-4
  • Resolution: 1080p/24 (23.976Hz)
  • Audio Codec: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz/24-bit)
  • Subtitles: English SDH
  • Region: A (Region-Locked)
  • Rating: R
  • Discs: 1 (1 x Blu-ray)
  • Run time: 163 Mins.
  • Studio: Criterion Collection
  • Blu-ray Release Date: March 13, 2012
  • List Price: $39.95

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Criterion Collection: Last Temptation Of Christ -

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Overall
[Rating:3.5/5]
The Film
[Rating:3.5/5]
Video Quality
[Rating:4/5]
Audio Quality
[Rating:4.5/5]
Supplemental Materials
[Rating:2/5]

Click thumbnails for high-resolution 1920X1080p screen captures

(All TheaterByte screen captures are lightly compressed with lossy JPEG at 100% quality setting and are meant as a general representation of the content. They do not fully reveal the capabilities of the Blu-ray format)

The Film

[Rating:3.5/5]

Revisionist religious history, lore, and belief can make a slippery slope equally able to illuminate as to offend.  The screen adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis’s novel, The Last Temptation of Christ by Martin Scorsese and Paul Shrader premiered nearly 25 years ago.  The plot elements include a period of time when Jesus dropped out of society until his baptism and reappearance as a spiritual leader.  The film then works its way through the rest of his apparently short life.  The depiction of  Jesus as a human being with frailties and self doubts as well as his “ carnal relationship” with Mary Magdalene will certainly make some viewers uncomfortable, particularly given the graphic nature of how it is portrayed.

The cast is a who’s who of character actors of this era: Willem Dafoe (Jesus), Harvey Keitel (Judas), Barbara Hershey (Mary Magdalene), Harry Dean Stanton (Paul), David Bowie (Pontius Pilate). The original score issued from the pen of one of pop music’s greatest stars of the ‘80’s, Peter Gabriel. The odd man out in this equation is director Scorsese, best known for his New York street films and rough-hewn characters. For one thing, there is an obvious disconnect between dialogue and action.  For a quasi-biblical epic, The Last Temptation features very contemporary dialogue, often uttered with unmistakable New York accents.  The attempt to update the text clashes continually with obvious efforts to provide era-specific sets and costumes.

This film’s restoration effort is mostly successful in terms of detail recovery and color. A good bit of grain is seen in some of the outdoor scenes which apparently could not be completely eliminated in a film of this age.  The soundtrack is sounds as good as the 1988 recordists could manage and was very well received by the public and critics alike.

(For a different take, read our The Last Temptation of Christ [Criterion Collection] Blu-ray Review by Brandon DuHamel)

Video Quality

[Rating:4/5]

The set designers and cinematographers attempt to recreate an authentic biblical backdrop as was done in predecessors like The Ten Commandments. Since the filming was done on the fly (58 days!) in Morocco, there are some inevitable rough spots. The print used in this restoration lacks occasional clarity and detail, particularly in the nighttime scenes.  While a number of sections have better resolution and facial detail (particularly the close ups of Dafoe in the crucifixion scene) as hard as the video restoration crew might have worked, the final product still has the look of an older movie.

Audio Quality

[Rating:4.5/5]

Peter Gabriel created a genius soundtrack and, thankfully, the audio engineers got this entirely right. The score’s intrinsic middle eastern flavor seems period authentic. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 version is excellent and highlights some of the instrumental details. There are occasional surround effects, such as during the wedding scene, but for the most part, they are discrete. Dialogue is clear, although, as I have noted this may be also a liability, as this script is not all that compelling, given the subject matter.  This latter issue surprised me since both director Scorsese (an uncredited co-writer) and screen author Shrader have put forward some mighty good efforts in the past.  The original Kazantzakis novel (which I have read) has some beautiful and powerful language attributed to the protagonists. If only the script writers had incorporated more of it into this film.

Supplemental Materials

[Rating:2/5]

There are limited still photos of the making of the film, some videotapes from Scorsese’s camera, and featurette on Peter Gabriel. Relatively slim fare for Criterion reissues.

The Definitive Word

Overall:

[Rating:3.5/5]

The Last Temptation of Christ rises or falls on how well filmmakers have realized the intent of author Kazantzakis. The author undertook a tremendous task and personal risk to re-explore the Christ story, telling it in powerful language. Unlike the novel, the script has some of the same corniness that is seen in other biblical epics, The Ten Commandments, The Robe, and Ben-Hur. In an attempt to move away from that genre, the writers have tried to make the dialogue more contemporary. Since there are no recorded examples of speech from the original period of the story, we don’t know how the characters would have conversed- probably not with New York accents.

More critical to how this movie is viewed is the acceptance or rejection of its deliberate attempt to humanize Jesus, his doubts, inner feelings, personal struggles with spirit and flesh, and final assumption of his messianic role. The film’s release generated a tidal wave of controversy that resulted in keeping it off many screens. From the standpoint of its reception, and with some obvious resemblance, The Passion of the Christ was also a film that, due to its explicit nature, also generated considerable controversy. In this latter case, the focus and time frame was tighter and the presentation more effective dramatically.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle that such a film must surmount is its alternative  ending that gives Jesus’s life a far different outcome than that recorded in the Gospels. This ending is conceived as a temptation visited to Jesus on the cross by Satan in the guise of a child. Thus, The Last Temptation of Christ has had as many supporters as detractors. We must remember that this is a film and, as such, is intended  to entertain. Whether this particular movie works for you will depend on your acceptance of a director and writer’s intentions to go with the Kazantzakis version of the Christ story and your willingness to overlook some obvious liberties taken with a time-honored account accepted by most true believers without question. A moving cinematic experience, at some times incredibly so, and yet at other times, frustrating for what the director, writer, and camera and casting crew could have accomplished with more time and attention paid to its source.

Additional Screen Captures

[amazon-product]B006ML50R4[/amazon-product]

BestBuy.com:
Criterion Collection: Last Temptation Of Christ -

Purchase The Last Temptation of Christ [Criterion Collection] on Blu-ray at CD Universe

Shop for more Blu-ray titles at Amazon.com

Overall
[Rating:3.5/5]
The Film
[Rating:3.5/5]
Video Quality
[Rating:4/5]
Audio Quality
[Rating:4.5/5]
Supplemental Materials
[Rating:2/5]

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