The Passion of the Christ (2004)

If you create a user account, you can add your own review of this DVD

Released 31-Aug-2004

Cover Art

This review is sponsored by
BUY IT

Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Introduction
Main Menu Audio & Animation
Menu Audio
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2004
Running Time 121:21
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Mel Gibson
Studio
Distributor

Warner Home Video
Starring James Caviezel
Monica Bellucci
Claudia Gerini
Maia Morgenstern
Sergio Rubini
Toni Bertorelli
Roberto Bestazzoni
Francesco Cabras
Giovanni Capalbo
Rosalinda Celentano
Emilio De Marchi
Francesco De Vito
Lello Giulivo
Case ?
RPI $34.95 Music John Debney


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None Latin Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Latin dts 5.1 (1536Kb/s)
English Descriptive Audio Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.40:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Let me see ... Film only in the cinemas earlier this year, major box office success, challenging presentation of the last few hours in the life of Jesus Christ, has to be chock full of special features so we can understand what the film makers were hoping for and how they brought it to the screen, right? I figure a 2-disc Special Edition at the very least. Well, that's what I thought until the disc specifications arrived in my in-box ready for this review. The bad news: this is a bare disc, missing even the trailer which is on the Region 1 version. For the asking price of $34.95 this amounts to highway robbery in my book. I have no doubt there will be a Special Edition in time for Christmas or next Easter, so you may want to keep your cash in your pocket until then. The good news: the video transfer is good, and the dts audio transfer is stunning.

    The Bible has been a source of inspiration to film makers since the early days of cinema. Cecil B. DeMille almost made an industry out of (sometimes lurid) biblical adaptations. The life of Jesus (or parts of it) have also been portrayed numerous times on the big screen, in a variety of ways, including a DeMille version of King of Kings in 1927 which was nicely remade in 1961. In 1965 we had John Wayne telling us that "Truly, this man was the son of gaaahd". Later interpretations have been even more varied, with Scorsese's 1988 film The Last Temptation of Christ a particularly controversial example (and if you want to lighten up the subject a little there is always The Life of Brian, the Monty Python take on events in the holy land at the time).

    The Passion of the Christ has been brought to the screen by director Mel Gibson, who also co-wrote the script and co-produced the film. My Oxford dictionary defines the meaning of passion in this context as "the suffering of Christ during his last days". This film brings that suffering to the screen in painfully graphic detail. It opens in the Garden of Gethsemane and moves from the arrest of Christ through his trial and crucifixion, closing with a brief glimpse of his resurrection.

    The enduring memory I have of the film after viewing it a number of times is of the extreme violence inflicted on Jesus by his Jewish and Roman captors. This is presented so forcefully that I personally felt it submerged any message the film was trying to present; then again, perhaps this violence was the message, as the opening Biblical quotation suggests: "He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; by his wounds we are healed" (Isiah 53, 700 BC). I know that some deeply religious people who watched the film with me were strengthened in their faith by what they saw on the screen, but I suspect that those who are not so inclined might be feeling that such graphic portrayals of violence are more suggestive of a lack of imagination in the presentation by the director.

    The film also includes some brief moments of respite from the ongoing carnage in the form of flashbacks that Jesus has to earlier moments in his life, such as The Last Supper and The Sermon on the Mount. More controversially the film also includes some moments not in the Bible, including scenes of Jesus making furniture and joking to Mary about the height of a table. The Devil also makes a number of appearances that I don't recall being in the Bible either, though I am no biblical scholar.

    As to the actors on the screen, Jim Caviezel is nothing short of stunning in the title role. He carries a simple dignity in the face of his troubles, and manages to portray both the humanity of Jesus and something much deeper as well - the brief moments of flashback portray a power that would have been nice to see in greater measure. The rest of the cast are good, even though a few of the disciples are a little melodramatic at times. In particular the evil pleasure some of the Roman soldiers take in their torture of Jesus makes a profound impression.

    I am aware that the impact this film will make on the viewer may well be intensely personal. I still find it an intensely unpleasant piece of cinema, and I wish I had the opportunity to hear Mel Gibson on a commentary track explaining what was in his mind when making this film (or I at least would like to have the option to watch the excellent 'Making of ...' feature that was shown on TV). I have deducted one star from my overall score due to the lack of significant extras on this disc. I would also warn parents that this is one MA15+ film which really deserves the rating - this is not a film for a younger audience. I am not going to make a recommendation one way or the other on this film - I think this is one where you really have to decide for yourself whether or not you want to pop it into your DVD player.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

    The video transfer on this disc is very good, except for being a little too dark on occasion.

    The aspect ratio of the transfer is 2.40:1 and it is 16x9 enhanced. This is acceptably close to the original release ratio of 2.35:1 - there is no apparent clipping of the picture on the top or bottom of the screen.

    The transfer is sharp, though with occasionally distracting blurring of the middle distance in close up shots. Shadow detail is good, which is a relief as much of the film is meant to suggest ambient lighting, and at times there is not much of that about. Some minor detail is lost in the opening night shots (around 4:50) as you will notice if you listen to the Audio Descriptive track. There is no low level noise.

    Colours are mostly browns and blacks and fairly muted, no doubt for artistic reasons. The flickering torches in the opening night scenes quite dramatically add colour to the faces of the guards carrying them. Daylight colours seem a little harsh, high contrast film perhaps reflecting the harsh light in the Middle East, though skin tones seemed unnaturally pale (don't these people ever get out in the sun?). Filmed in Italy, primarily in Matera and Rome, this still looks amazingly like the Holy Land.

    There are no significant artefacts on view, with only a hint of minor negative artefacts once or twice. I did not notice any aliasing or other imperfections.

    This is one film where even those of you who dislike subtitles will be forced to put up with them, unless you speak flawless Latin and Aramaic. Mel Gibson chose to make the film in the original languages of the time (a very courageous choice in the modern cinema climate) and there is no English dub on the DVD. You can watch the film with either English or English for the Hearing Impaired subtitles, or watch it without either (good luck to you if you choose the latter). I can't comment on the accuracy of the subtitles, not speaking Aramaic and knowing only a few words of Latin. I have seen it suggested that one controversial (allegedly anti-Semitic) line is not translated in the subtitles, though I am unable to confirm or deny the rumour.

    If you have not watched a film with subtitles before; as a hint I suggest that the first time you watch the film you just scan the titles for meaning and don't take the time to read them all completely, as otherwise you might miss what is happening on the screen (perhaps not a bad thing if you are squeamish). You can then read them more closely the next time you watch (if you can bear to watch Jesus suffering again). The Hearing Impaired subtitles are good, including prompts such as "muttering softly" and "bird crowing", but they are not comprehensive - they do miss one or two audio cues which might have been better included.

    There is a short layer change at 51:10. It is a little disruptive on my equipment though its impact may differ on yours.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The dts audio transfer on this disc is stunning, and it is backed up by a very good Dolby Digital effort. Either will surely please even the most critical listener. My memory may be failing me, but after 70 DVD reviews this may be the first time I have given an audio score of five stars - it is fully deserving in this case.

    There are three audio tracks on the DVD. I listened to the dts 5.1 soundtrack (encoded at a bitrate of 1536 Kb/s) in its entirety and to extensive segments of the Dolby Digital 5.1 track (which is encoded at 448 Kb/s). While the Dolby Digital track is very good, the dts track has a crisp quality, and a greater surround presence, which the former cannot match. Don't get me wrong though - the Dolby Digital track is still very good and will give you great pleasure if your equipment won't manage dts. The rest of the comments in this audio section refer to the dts track. The third audio track on the disc is discussed in the Extras section of this review.

    The dialogue is clear throughout and the actors seem to be doing a very good job of handling the languages they are speaking. As far as I can tell (not being able to speak the languages concerned) audio sync is just fine (it certainly is for audio effects).

    I have not previously noticed the name of John Debney in the music credits for a feature film, though of course when I looked up his name on the web I found that he has been extremely prolific as a composer, with credits which include Spy Kids 1 & 2, Inspector Gadget and Liar Liar, as well as numerous television credits. With this film he seems to have taken his work to another level; this is a haunting and powerful soundtrack (as one example try the moving music around 27:50). While it has elements reminiscent of Braveheart and Gladiator it is nevertheless an original and moving piece of work which adds significantly to the impact of the film. The volume level is perfectly balanced with the other audio elements in the soundtrack.

    The surround channels see extensive activity for ambient sounds, music, and occasional effects. Directional sounds are placed precisely in the soundfield and you feel as if you are in the middle of a nicely balanced cocoon of sound full of rattling chains, the noise of the crowd and the lash of the whip. I was particularly impressed with this level of surround activity which shows that you don't need a film full of flashy explosions to justify your expenditure on your audio equipment. This immersive surround activity is nicely supported by some excellent use of the subwoofer, both in the music and for the effects (as when Jesus steps on the snake at 8:46 or during the storm at 103:20).

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    As I noted in the opening paragraph of this review, there is a dearth of added material on this disc. I have included the English Descriptive Audio track in this section to have something to talk about here (and it is apparently listed on the packaging as an extra; I wouldn't know as the distributors have not seen fit to provide the DVD cover to assist in my review).

Menu

    The main menu is animated, with audio, and is 16x9 enhanced. From it you can Play the film, go to the Audio Option screen to select your audio preference from the three available audio tracks, go to the Subtitle screen to choose your subtitle track (or turn subtitles off), or go to Scene Selection (where you have 15 chapters to select from).

English Descriptive Audio

    Available from the Audio Options screen this track is an English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono effort encoded at a bitrate of 192 Kb/s. It consists of a male voice describing the onscreen action in painstaking detail and a female voice reading the subtitles. I assume it is the 'Hard of Sight' visual equivalent of the Hard of Hearing subtitle option. The narration is a little like listening to a National Geographic documentary but this is the place to come if you want every raised eyebrow or nervous tic described in loving detail. A curious item, but no doubt of great value to those who need to make use of it.

Censorship

    There is censorship information available for this title. Click here to read it (a new window will open). WARNING: Often these entries contain MAJOR plot spoilers.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 1 version includes the theatrical trailer but appears similar otherwise (I have not been able to confirm the Descriptive Audio track but it seems likely to be included in the release). The Region 4 version is preferred due to the PAL picture.

Summary

    This is a powerful and challenging piece of cinema with a level of graphic violence which is a challenge of its own. The video transfer is very good and the audio transfer even better, with the dts track in particular being quite stunning. The lack of extras is particularly disappointing as this is a film which cries out for discussion and alternative interpretations against which to judge your own. In the final analysis this is a deeply emotional piece of cinema superbly presented on DVD (apart from the lack of extras, of course) which almost demands your attention.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Tony Robert Davison (read my bio)
Wednesday, August 18, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba SD-K350, using Component output
DisplaySONY VPL-HS10 LCD projector, ABI 280cm 16x9 screen. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderKenwood. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationKenwood
SpeakersKenwood

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
John Wayne - Jesus Christ! -
Amazing Foresight??? -
re: Amazing Foresight - tiggers (bio...organism?)
Re: Amazing Foresight??? -
English Descriptive Audio -
"English" audio? - REPLY POSTED
Moving and Brilliant - James O
The Director's Recut -- any thoughts ? - Bran (my bio, or something very like it)