Thursday, April 19, 2012

Jesus (1979)

Created by such ardent true believers that the story is identified onscreen as “the public life of Jesus, a documentary taken entirely from The Gospel of Luke,” this routine drama is hard to criticize because its intentions are so plain. A no-nonsense recitation of the Messiah’s time on Earth, Jesus features generic actors and mid-level production values but not a whit of artistry. Melodic-voiced narrator Alexander Scourby (speaking as Luke) provides informational nuggets that connect blandly staged scenes featuring Christ’s rise to prominence, his performance of miracles, his preaching of the gospels, and, of course, his crucifixion and resurrection. Eschewing the grandiosity of most Hollywood movies about this subject matter, and existing a universe away from the gory extremes of Mel Gibson’s euphoric visions, Jesus presents Biblical episodes as matters of fact, so actors never get particularly excited and the camerawork feels clinical. The lack of melodrama should be a relief, but the flick is so enervated that a little flamboyance every now and then might have been welcome—this is less The Passion of the Christ and more The Politeness of the Christ. Playing the Son of Man, workaday British actor Brian Deacon displays a lovely speaking voice and a reassuring physical presence, but he’s so subordinate to the role that it’s difficult to remember anything specific about him even moments after the movie concludes. In fact, the whole cast is filled with anonymous players, some of whom wear robes that seem to have come straight from the drycleaners—although the picture has good-looking locations and plenty of extras, there’s a veneer of “Hey, let’s put on a show” artificiality. All of these gripes are moot, however, since viewers who are only marginally interested in the story of Christ will probably never watch this movie, while the faithful are likely to overlook narrative shortcomings given the picture’s unabashed reverence.

Jesus: FUNKY

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