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HTF REVIEW: "King of Kings" (with screenshots) (1 Viewer)

Ronald Epstein

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King of Kings





Studio: Warner Bros. (MGM)
Year: 1961
Rated: NR
Film Length: 171 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 16X9 Enhanced Widescreen (2.35:1)
Subtitles: English and Spanish





No matter what your religious beliefs, you can't
deny that the life of Jesus Christ is indeed the
greatest story ever told. The very first movie I
ever saw that portrayed his life story was Jesus
of Nazareth
(Artisan DVD), a film that made such
a powerful impression on me, thanks to the performance
of Robert Powell, who managed to blend both the human
and divine natures of Christ more effectively than
any other actor had before.

You can believe that I wasn't willingly up to
watching King of Kings for the fact that I
knew that no film could live up to the one I felt
was the most definitive portrayal of the life of
Christ.




As a film, King of Kings is a sweeping
monumental epic from writer/director Nicholas Ray
(Rebel Without a Cause and 55 Days at Peking)
who takes us through spectacular vistas and all
the violence and human drama of Christ's life. It's
all here -- his birth, his baptism, the sermon on
the Mount, the crucifixion and resurrection. This
entire story is glorified in a brilliant 70mm
Technicolor film with uncredited narration by Orson
Welles and a moving score by composer Miklos Roza.
I should also mention that this 1961 film is a
remake, originally done as a silent film by Cecil
B. DeMille in 1927.





Where I felt the movie failed was its selection of
Jeffrey Hunter for the title role. Obviously selected
for his good looks and piercing blue eyes (which
are shown in closeups throughout the film), the actor
didn't seem old enough or intelligent enough for
the part. Of course, everyone has a different idea
of what Jesus Christ looked or acted like and this
will be the defining factor in your judgement of
this film. I also felt that the movie lacked the
flavor of its Palestine background. Though it was
filmed in Spain, the locales look more like the
California desert.

Then there are questions about some of the
inaccuracies in the film, mainly that Barabbas is
portrayed as being a revolutionary instead of the
thief he was. Also, the major role of Lucius
(Ron Randell) does not exist anywhere in the Bible.


How is the transfer?


This DVD provides more than just the miracles of
Jesus Christ. You'll be spiritually blown away
by the this brand new digital transfer that is
simply outstanding in every respect. This film
is a Technicolor marvel to behold -- looking
clean and magnificent. You'll marvel at the
images that are sharp and detailed and colors
that seem to be close to the vibrancy of the
original Technicolor print. In fact, I dare say
this is one of the most gorgeous Technicolor
presentations I have seen on the format to date.
There's no film grain - no film noise - and not
a single color misrepresented here. In a word,
this DVD looks "stunning."

The newly remastered 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack
is quite impressive for what it does rather than
what it doesn't do for this film. You won't hear
any fancy effect noises thrown to the rear channels.
What you will get is Orson Welles narration firmly
placed in the center channel with extremely distinct
stereo separation across the fronts. The audio
soundtrack comes across with robust, full-bodied
dynamics. Miklos Roza's epic and dashing film score
dominates the front soundstage as the rears bring
up the chorals. Though the score tries to evenly
divide itself between the front and rear channels,
the fronts often drown out the rears. The beats of
drums provided a surprising amount of bass response.
When taking in consideration of the age of this movie,
the soundtrack is every bit as impressive as the
visual transfer of this film.



Special Features



Cameras of the World is an interesting
original B&W theatrical featurette on the Sermon
on the Mount scene that was filmed on a Olive
grove outside of Madrid, Spain. We watch as
hundreds of extras are brought in on busses. As
make-up is applied and final instructions are
given to the cast, we watch director Nicholas
Ray (under the watch of Samuel Bronston) roll his
cameras as Jeffrey Hunter begins walking amongst
the crowd. This is real neat to watch, despite the
raw quality of the print.
(length: approx. 4 minutes)

King of Kings - Impressive Premiere on two
coasts
is an impressive newsreel that takes
us to the 1961 NYC premiere on Broadway and the
West Coast premiere on Hollywood Blvd. You'll see
red carpet appearances by Jeffrey Hunter, Brigio
Bazlen, Rita Gam and Ron Randell.
(length: approx. 2 minutes)



King of Kings - Egyptian Theater Premiere
takes us to the famous Hollywood theater for a
silent look (aided only by film's score) at the
gala opening event that features Jeffrey Hunter
and an appearance by Jimmy Durante.

A Cast and Crew lists dozens of actors and
crew, but does not offer the ability to click on
any name for extensive filmography information.

The film's original theatrical trailer is
included here.


Final Thoughts



As far as epics go, King of Kings is
breathtaking and majestic. It's grand entertainment,
but certainly not nearly as exciting as watching
The Ten Commandments. All in all, the film
certainly ranks as one of the greatest biblical films
ever made, and for that reason, I would not hesitate
to recommend that it belong in every movie collection.


Release Date: February 25, 2003


All screen captures have been further compressed.
They are for illustrative purposes only and do not
represent actual picture quality
 

SteveP

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What 70MM process was this film shot in?

Shouldn't the proper ratio be 2.2:1 at least?

The specs imply that this was mastered from 35MM printdown elements.
 

Robert Crawford

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The film was shot in Super Technirama 70.

Since I haven't seen the dvd yet, I can only tell you that the film's negative ratio was 2.20:1, but they used a 35mm print in 2.35:1 ratio.
 

Rain

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I didn't even know this was coming out on DVD. Jesus! :D

On to the wishlist...
 

Eric Paddon

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I didn't know this was coming out either, but thanks for the info on this! "King Of Kings" is never going to be as good as "Jesus Of Nazareth" and also is not as good as "The Greatest Story Ever Told" but it boats outstanding costumes, sets, cinematography and Miklos Rozsa's greatest score next to "Ben Hur". I can remember my frustration over the initial LD for leaving off the Overture/Entr'acte/Exit Music and how the second LD rectified that, but now I'll be happy to discard that for good!

It's also significant that at last one of the Bronston epics of the early 60s is at last on DVD and I always thought given the Warner control that this would be the last to come out and not the first. Now that this hurdle's been cleared, bring on "El Cid," "55 Days At Peking", "Fall Of The Roman Empire" and "Circus World"!
 

Robert Crawford

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Eric,
I disagree about "King of Kings" not being as good as "The Greatest Story Ever Told". I thought George Stevens did a mediocre job with that film and it is one of my least favorite biblical movies for it's many star cameos and being slightly overlong in my book.





Crawdaddy
 

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Then there are questions about some of the inaccuracies in the film, mainly that Barabbas is portrayed as being a revolutionary instead of the thief he was.
Not trying to turn this review thread into a religious discussion, but, according to the Bible, Barabbas was a zealot, imprisoned for murder in an insurrectionist uprising. So Barabbas was indeed a revolutionary. You're probably confusing Barabbas with the two thieves between which Christ's crucified body was hung.

By the way, great review!
 

Thomas T

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You're giving directorial credit to the wrong man, Ron. It's Nicholas Ray, not Samuel Bronston (the producer) who directed King Of Kings as well as Rebel Without A Cause.

King Of Kings remains an underrated and underappreciated biblical film and the best of the Jesus biographies. Though far from perfect, especially in its casting of the title role, Kings is certainly superior to the numbingly reverential Greatest Story and Saint Matthew, both of whom confuse boredom with artful movie making.
 

Eric Paddon

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GSET is clunky in a number of spots (though I for one would love to see it in its longer version of over four hours that would fill some gaps in the narrative) but because it sticks closer to the actual text that in the end makes it better than King Of Kings by default from my standpoint. King Of Kings' worst error from an historic standpoint is having Pilate's wife be the daughter of Emperor Tiberius which has zero historical basis whatsoever.

Barabbas is indeed described in three of the Gospels as taking part in the insurrection or rebellion. The film's license would be making him the ringleader of such a movement.
 

DaViD Boulet

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In all fairness to Ron, Barabbas is also noted in the gospels as having stolen from the disciples' petty-cash supply (indicating that he was a less-than-nobel character even before the final betrayal)...

dave
 

Robert Crawford

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Barabbas is mentioned in several sources as being a bandit which is closer to being a thief than a revolutionary and particularly, a revolutionary leader.





Crawdaddy
 

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Barabbas is mentioned in several sources as being a bandit which is closer to being a thief than a revolutionary and particularly, a revolutionary leader.
See what I started??:D

Actually Dave, the gospels never mention Barabbas as having access to the disciples petty cash. You're thinking of Judas, specifically the story of the woman who annointed Christs feet with an alabaster box of pure nard. Judas self-righteously procalims that this was a severe waste - at least a year's wages - that would be better used as a gift to the poor. The account then goes on to tell how Judas really didn't care about the poor, but was responding hypocritically since he was the keeper of the moneybag and often helped himself whenever he wished. But as for Barabbas, he wasn't a disciple of Christ.

Robert, I assume you're referring to other historical sources other than the gospels?

I'd better quit before Ron has to close his own review post...;)
 

Eric Paddon

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Three of the Gospels describe Barabbas as being part of the "insurrection" which can reasonably be inferred to be part of the Zealots. Only Matthew does not have this description describing him as a "notorious criminal".
 

Robert Crawford

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Yes, we kind of hijack this thread so to keep from editing several posts out of this thread let me just say that Barabbas's role as an insurrection leader was somewhat embellished and leave it at that.

Sorry Ron back on topic in regard to your review.



Crawdaddy
 

Craig S

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This wasn't even on my radar, but those screen grabs are stunning!!! Onto the list it goes!!

Ron, the studios really should be paying you commissions. ;)
 

DeeF

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I like "King of Kings," probably better than all the other versions of the story, despite its obvious failings and the unmistakable veneer of Hollywood sentiment. It presents a very modern take to the story (which is wildly diversive even among the gospels, admittedly written several generations later). In this movie, Jesus is seen as a political threat to the well-being of Palestine and Rome (the Judas/Barabbas conspiracy scenes are Hollywood inventions), and this was probably true of him, leading to his ultimate downfall. Jesus himself wasn't in the business of leading a revolution, and didn't worry about how his leadership position made him appear dangerous to the governing bodies -- he had other important matters to attend to. Perhaps he manipulated Judas into betraying him, for Jesus may have purposefully chosen to end his life as a martyr. This is presented quite splendidly in the movie.

The movie is full of incident, and thus never boring, unlike "The Greatest Story Ever Told" and the acting is uniformly good (the only one I'm not terribly crazy about is Robert Ryan). Jeffrey Hunter is very pretty, but exactly the right age (Jesus was crucified at 33, the same age as Hunter when he made the movie) and he combines human kindness with dignity and reserve, basically pulling it off despite the temptation to ham it up. I think he does a great job and I'm happy to see the movie so beautifully rendered on DVD. I'll be getting it post haste.

P.S. Hunter died young, age 42, from a brain hemorrage after he fell down in his house. He's a bit of a martyr himself.
 

Mark Zimmer

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Not to pick nits here, but the observation that there is absolutely no film grain leads me to believe that there has been excessive digital cleanup. Doesn't Robert Harris chide us for wanting grain-free presentations of film?
 

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