Blu-ray Disc Review
Release Date: February 17, 2009.
Film Rating: /
Starring: James Caviezel (Jesus), Monica Bellucci (Magdalene), Francesco De Vito (Peter), Hristo Jivkov (John), Maia Morgenstern (Mary), Hristo Naumov Shopov (Pontius Pilate), Luca Lionello (Judas), Mattia Sbragia (Caiphas), Rosalinda Celentano (Satan)
Screenplay by: Benedict Fitzgerald & Mel Gibson
Directed by: Mel Gibson
By His wounds, we were healed.
There has been much discussion about Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, a controversial film delivering the last twelve hours of Christ’s life. It is hailed as an accurate description and an artistic achievement. It is also accused of being distasteful and mongering. I’ll continue to avoid that discussion and focus primarily on the presentation of this disc (you know the biggest no-no is religion and politics!)
Jesus of Nazareth, born the Son of God from his virgin mother Mary, was raised as a carpenter. Jesus spoke in the temples teaching the truth about God, healing the sick and resisted being tempted by the devil. He gained many disciples and eventually chose twelve apostles to spread “the word” in their travels.
Even though Christ was loved by man, there were others who hated this man from Galilee. The Pharisee’s believed him to be blasphemous when he said he was the Son of God. Eventually, Jesus would be betrayed by one of his close followers and be turned in to them. That is where this film begins.
The high priests want him dead, but neither King Herod nor Pontius Pilate could find guilt in Jesus. They see no reason to crucify Jesus as the crown demands. But Pilate, who is the Roman Governor or Palestine operating the post for the Caesar, is afraid of another uprising after spending twelve years fighting to keep it quiet. His life could be on the line if there is more bloodshed. He’s at odds: he either crucifies Jesus to appease the crowd or keeps him alive to keep Jesus’ supporters from uprising. Either way could bring disaster. The way history tells it, Pontius Pilate decided to give satisfaction to the high priests. Jesus’ crucifixion was set after the severe flogging he’s already received, and we see the horrors that man does to man during his crucifixion and setting the course for the future to do good.
This film is an achievement in cinematography and the performance from James Caviezel as Jesus is stunning. All other actors deserve large credit for pulling off such difficult roles. Religious or not, I think you’ll get something out of this film. Each of us will take it in a different way, for many it may give you a new insight about Jesus’ story.
There are no forced trailers, just your friendly message from the FBI and other warnings. There are very few chapter skips, the first an hour long, each aligning somewhat to what Catholics know as the “stations of the cross.”
VIDEO QUALITY: 3.5/5
I think it would be safe to say that the source for this BD is the same for what was used for the DVD. The image is different from what I remember in theatres. The image is slightly cooler for its transition to home video, but the dominant tints remain blue (for night), orange (for day), and beige (outside). These tints affect all other colours on the screen and often it is pale and slightly blown out. It made me wish that BD offered video depth greater than 8-bits since contouring was noticable as the opening shot of the moon was established. The disc seems to offer some more resolution beyond what DVD can offer and does not suffer from edge enhancement. Visual depth has improved over the DVD as well as compression; no compression artefacts noticeable with this release, a positive aspect of the BD medium (when done well) that DVD can’t match no matter what.
The BD has a good problem of revealing all. What I once thought was a fantastic DVD, the format was limited enough to obscure other elements in the picture. This BD reveals a lot more and I was less than impressed much throughout my viewing. Now, let me be clear here, if what I’m about to say is 100% artistic intent, then so be it and I’m not usually one to nit-pick things apart, but I’m following my gut feeling on this and I hope someone can prove me wrong. Grain appears to be mostly eliminated and it no longer feels like the film I saw in the theatre. Sure, the print I saw probably wasn’t the best around but the feel of film feels gone here. There is a slight slick look to the image as well that gives flesh a little bit of an airbrushed look. The scenes with Jesus being judged by Pontius Pilate and the crowd in chapter 2 are ones that come to mind. The crowd even looks bleached.
There were two other things I caught this time around. First, and probably part of the final look of the film, a bit of a sloppy job regarding controlling black levels in dark scenes. At the 15:15 mark when Jesus his hanging at the side of the bridge and sees Judas, there was an attempt to “lighten up” the area in and around Jesus’ eye for the audience, just so we know he’s looking at Judas. Unfortunately this make’s his eye look very artificial, a gray dot in black space. Secondly, at about the 37-minute mark when Judas realizes the path he must take, the image looks electronically blurred and the whole scene takes on a smeared appearance that doesn’t feel like part of the original photography. Regardless, most people will probably be very happy with this release as it is a few steps up from the DVD.
AUDIO QUALITY: 4.5/5
This BD will eliminate two DVD debates of the past with this title:
1. “which is better, Dolby or DTS” debate
2. “does is sound any different? Full bit-rate DTS on the WB Canadian release vs. the half-rate DTS on the Fox U.S. release?”
Like all other Fox BDs, The Passion of the Christ benefits from a lossless audio soundtrack that blows all previous lossy audio encodes to hell. This is an excellent 5.1 presentation spoken in Aramaic, Latin, and Hebrew. My impression of it today has not really changed much from how I felt about it five years ago.
You will be immersed by sound because of the creative use of all channels. There is not a moment when the sound is stuck in the center speaker only - and that applies to both sound effects as well as dialogue. Dialogue can be fairly directional to point out off-stage characters, but sometimes the ADR isn’t well integrated. It doesn’t seem to have much environment around it, which is a pity considering this film was never intended to be dubbed in any other language, so the sound designers could have chosen to spread dialogue ambience among more channels than one.
Sounds of animals, insects, and people are always coming from all five channels with excellent fidelity. These sounds are never distracting to the events on, but rather they work very well with all five speakers to create a seamless sense of space around you. This is what I enjoy about audio as an art for film and playing it back in my home theatre. It’s quite a complex soundtrack. There are so many sounds happening to get the viewer emotionally involved. That is the goal here. All sounds effects and placements help to make the events on screen as unsettling as possible. I haven’t heard the crack of the whip as disturbing as I’ve heard it on this film. Time must have been taken to ensure the right sound elements were used for scenes such as the flagellation.
The music is also greatly effective. Years later, I believe it’s a stand-out. It’s an original soundtrack by John Debney and it’s very moving. His use of voices in chorus, traditional instruments and percussion carry the film from beginning to end and will most certainly determine your mood. It is recorded utilizing the whole frontal soundstage that extends well beyond the main channels. Much of the background music could not be located as a pinpoint sound, but diffused in the room opening up an enormous soundstage. The opening scene in the garden in chapter one has a long and drawn out single note to haunt us knowing evil is around. It keeps us glued to the screen in suspense even though many of us know the events to take place. The sounds of congas with a mixture of other traditional instruments introduce a Middle Eastern soundscape. I find this soundtrack so involving, I purchased the CD soundtrack. I think that’s my second soundtrack purchase, following only Basil Poledouris’ excellent work on Conan the Barbarian.
The resolution of the soundtrack is also very good. A lossless encoding should reveal all in the printmaster, and this soundtrack is clean and dynamic, with low background noise. I did use re-EQ, but it would be nice to know if I didn’t need it. Several frequencies are readjusted for home playback giving the sound a different life altogether. Many times it’s a guessing game. If it sounds too bright and aggressive without re-EQ I turn it on. The midrange is never congested and even the bass is used sparingly. My only wish would be that the thunder had a bit more weight to it in the rear channels. I run full range towers in my back channels with each having their own sub to extend below 20Hz, yet the thunder sounded like it was coming from small, limited range speakers. Since most films are mixed with smaller monitors for the surrounds, the sound designers could have chosen to cap bass at a certain level.
TACTILE FUN!!: 2/5
TRANSDUCER ON/OFF?: ON
I found the subtle enhancements brought about by the LFE channel to be mildly effective for this film. Most of the bass is contained in the main channels. This film is carried on by the music, and that extra deep, but hardly noticable rumble does enhance the experience.
SPECIAL FEATURES: 4/5
This BD is a 2-disc set with the feature on disc one and a supplement DVD as disc two. My assumption will be that most, if not all features on disc two are identical to those released in 2007. From what I know, those features were well done and quite detailed.
Disc one features audio commentaries for the original cut only. Seem's like they've got everyone on board for this one!
I believe the commentaries are translated into different languages as well. There are a total of 21 subtitle options for this film. It appears to me that the discussions in the commentary are available as text in those languages on this disc.
Disc one also features an enhanced viewing mode that brings up historical Biblical footnotes as well as film facts. I was a bit disappointed that it was used sparingly. The low number of pop-ups doesn’t complement the high amount of history in this film.
Disc two (SD-DVD) contains the rest of the goodies, or..dare I say it? Easter eggs…
The main menu is split among three categories: Filmmaking, the Legacy and Galleries. I found the material on this disc to be excellent. I love history, stories, etc., so it felt like a few hours of History Channel around Easter.
IN THE END...
The Passion of the Christ is a very good catalogue film Fox has brought to Blu-ray. I’m happy Fox chose to release the definitive edition rather than a movie-only edition on the first go. Audio and special features are excellent, but I still have reservations about the video. Make no mistake, this is a large step above DVD, and in the end, it’s about preserving all of history – story and filmmaker’s intent.
February 26, 2009.