DVD Review HTF REVIEW: The Passion of the Christ

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Michael Osadciw, Aug 31, 2004.

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  1. Michael Osadciw

    Michael Osadciw Screenwriter

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    [​IMG]


    THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST





    USA Release by: 20th Century Fox
    Canadian Release by: Warner Bros./Equinox Films
    Film Year: 2004

    U.S. Rating: R
    Canadian Rating: 18A
    Rated for: Brutal Violence and Gory Scenes

    Film Length: 126 minutes
    Genre: Drama

    Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen
    Audio: Aramaic/Latin/Hebrew DTS 5.1 Surround, Aramaic/Latin/Hebrew DD 5.1 Surround
    Subtitles: English (and French on Canadian release)
    Closed Captioned: Yes
    SLP: $27.90






    Release Date: August 31, 2004



    Film Rating: [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] / [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]

    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)

    Directed by: Mel Gibson
    Screenplay by: Benedict Fitzgerald & Mel Gibson

    Forced Trailers: None, just inescapable studio logos



    There has been much anticipation and discussion about Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ before the theatrical release. The film delivers to us the last twelve hours of Christ’s life. Some hail it as an accurate description and an artistic achievement and other believe it to be distasteful and mongering. The same anticipation was present for the DVD release of this film and there are still a wide variety of opinions about it. This review will not get into all that has been said about The Passion of the Christ. They are in fact other people’s opinions and not my own so I feel no need to discuss them here. There are many posts and articles that discuss the importance of the film and the relativity of it to today’s society and ideals. I’m sure there are just as many articles from those who have a flipside to tell. If you are interested in reading about and in-depth discussion of the film (which I am almost sure by now most readers have received a steady dose of Passionate information and opinions), I suggest looking at many of the other posts on Home Theater Forum. This review will concentrate in the area where almost every other DVD reviewer has failed to deliver in: image and sound quality. This is in fact a DVD review, and that I just what I plan to do.

    As a brief synopsis just in case you don’t know, the story of The Passion of the Christ is about Jesus of Nazareth, born the Son of God from his virgin mother Mary. 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 had many disciples and twelve apostles who followed him during his travels when he taught.

    There were many people 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 crowd 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 from the crowd. He’s at odds: he either crucifies Jesus to appease the crowd or keeps him alive to keep Jesus’ supporters appeased. Either way could bring an uprising from the other side. 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 for cinematography, and much of it reminds me of Gibson’s earlier film Braveheart, but is not a clone of it. The performance for Jesus from James Caviezel is stunning, and 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.

    This review is based on the final product to hit the store shelves. There have been early reviews from others supposedly based on non-anamorphic copies with a 2.0 stereo soundtrack. The official review has two releases in Region 1. There is a Canadian release from Warner Bros./Equinox Films (reviewed here) and the U.S.A. release by 20th Century Fox. The releases are slightly different with Canadian release having the addition of French subtitles and the controversial full-bitrate DTS audio at 1509Mbps.

    As soon as the disc is put in we are ambushed with a multitude of logos from the copyright warning, Equinox, WB, Icon, and a huge 18A rating with what it’s rated for. There is no way to skip these with my Toshiba player. Normally, a touch of the ‘skip’ or ‘menu’ button would do the trick, but this unnecessary minute and a half wait makes it aggravating each time the disc is put in the player.

    The Canadian release will ask you to select English or French before the main menu appears. Even though the cover art has no a hint of French on it on the obverse or reverse, there are full French menus to access the film. Furthermore, those who are French and live in English-speaking cities will be pleased to know that French subtitles as well as French subtitles for the hearing impaired are included on this disc. I found this rather odd since there was no indication on the jacket of French existing on this disc. Flipping the jacket inside out produced no French on the reverse like other titles. Still, those who speak French as their first language will be happy. As an English speaking Canadian, I am very please not to see the English artwork of the DVD congested with French in a smaller font. I find this a distracting practice that’s been happening on almost every Canadian DVD release so I am please to find it absent here. Please know I have nothing against French, heck I love Quebec, but I find multiple languages on cover/poster art to be distracting, unattractive, and cluttered. My guess is that separate French language covers are available throughout Quebec, Manitoba and New Brunswick and is packaged with the same DVD.

    Subtitles, whether English or French, can be turned off completely. The subtitles are not big bright yellow subtitles like Columbia TriStar releases, but they still are big and bright white. I wish the font were a little bit smaller. I understand there are a segment of people watching this on television sets 27” and under, but those with 32” and above might find them too big and distracting. They are about as big as my hand on my 110” screen. Thankfully they are placed low enough out of the film frame. Admittedly I prefer “burned-in” subtitles, but I understand that this film was originally planned to have no subtitles at all – just the language. So in order to preserve that intend on DVD, the subtitle option can be turned off.

    The menus have limited animation, and for the first time that I’ve seen, the sound has been encoded in DD 3.0 using only L, C, R. It’s odd, but interesting nevertheless.

    Moving on now, how does the film look?


    VIDEO QUALITY
    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] / [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]

    This film is presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1 and is anamorphically enhanced. It's on a DVD-9 (dual-layered disc) and has its layer change at 1.03.23. I think the image is excellent. I know there are a few of you out there who will disagree with me on this, let me tell you why before you crucify me: there is absolutely no edge enhancement on this title. This has got to be one of the smoothest titles I’ve seen in a long time. Too many times I review titles with a little bit of edge enhancement giving that false impression of detail, depth and sharpness. Edge enhancement is what some people think is the cure to the simple fact that DVD is only a standard definition format and its not HD. There seems to be no attempt to sharpen this image up. An excellent decision, I must say. With our high-resolution displays, we are in fact seeing the limitations to the DVD format all of the time, especially when comparing it to the mediocre HD broadcasts by cable or satellite. I think also that many people put their expecations beyond the format's capability because of the high-profile nature of this title.

    I find little fault of the image of this DVD. The only trouble I see is a small amount of compression artifacts during the first two chapters in the garden. Some distance shots have compression artifacts around Jesus, and there are other compression related artifacts in the background. Checking the video bitrate, these night scenes have the lowest bitrate on the disc averaging about 5Mbps. Interior and daylight scenes average around the 6-6.5Mbps just as FOX mentioned to me.

    On my eight-foot wide screen (110” diagonal) the image is blown up quite a bit so the smallest problems tend to show. This disc shares the same compression issues that I’ve seen even on the best titles from other studios and CTHE’s Superbit titles. These artifacts relate to background images. When the camera focuses on the subjects in the foreground, its only natural for the background images to be slightly out of focus. I find that DVD doesn’t like background images all of the time, and when there are stationary objects compression noise can be evident. I haven’t seen a release with a total absence of this and it’s just a side effect of this video compression system. The quality of one’s scaler also has a huge effect regarding noise. I think sometimes people get compression artifacts and scaler artifacts totally mixed up so be careful of criticism. Not to mention, how many of these critics have had their display properly calibrated?

    The image does look slightly different from what I remember in the theater and this is a slight shift towards blue. Though this is normal to me since the colour temperature of film in the theater is about 1100 degrees warmer that what this DVD would be colour timed for and what our televisions/projectors would be calibrated (or uncalibrated) to. Thus interior shots lit with fire such as when the high priests judge Jesus in the night seem slightly pale to me from what my memory tells me. But of course, the theatrical presentation is a much different experience and is set on different rules than video.

    The dominant tints in this film are blue, orange, and beige, each representing night, inside and outside shots. These tints can reflect on all other colours in the image and are artistically done so. There is never a moment when colour looked ‘wrong’ or noisy.

    Detail is also exceptional. The close-ups of Mary or Pilate’s face reveal their skin textures well. As mentioned before, there is real detail in this image rather than artificial enhancement. Those who appreciate fine video will like the look of this DVD. The only distracting artifact relating to depth perception would be related to the original medium of film. Film grain from this 35mm picture can be noticed in darker scenes. I see no extra digitization and see no reason not to give this image a high recommendation. While not perfect, it’s pretty darn close.

    As a reminder to you, this is an evaluation of the Canadian Warner Bros. release and not the United States FOX release. It's NTSC, the same as the U.S. television system so you can order this disc for yourself if you wish. I am hoping that I’m able to obtain a FOX version shortly to see if in fact there is any real difference between them. The U.S. FOX release has an average video bitrate of 6.1Mbps on layer 0, and 7.3 Mbps on layer 1. This is average for most higher-profile titles. In time, look for a note at the top of the review indicating if the comparison has been added.

    Oh yes, and a full screen edition does exist as well. Be not tempted by it - avoid it as if it were Satan.


    AUDIO QUALITY [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] / [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]

    This is an excellent 5.1 presentation spoken in Aramaic, Latin, and Hebrew. It will immerse you in the events on screen with creative use of all channels appearing on a scene-by-scene basis. 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 not directional as in classic films such as It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World or a semi-recent Toy Story.

    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 screen (as a well-recognized logo-certification company tries to tell you), 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 theater.

    It is 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 so 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 very effective. It’s an original soundtrack by John Debney and its 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 that it would hold up well on its own.

    The resolution of the soundtrack is also very good. Even though I have no reference to the original, when I compare it to so many other soundtracks I hear, this one is very clean sounding. The noise floor is very low thus offering wide dynamic range. There is no background noise and I am so pleased to tell you this soundtrack is not bright sounding at all! The sounds of Judas’s coins dropping to the stone floor emit a nice ringing sound that is sparkling clean. It’s very smooth on top, almost too smooth. There is no need to engage any re-equalization circuitry in you pre/pro or receiver or it may sound overly dull to you.

    The midrange is never congested sounding when all sounds are engaged at once. Even the bass is used sparingly (thankfully) and doesn’t sound bloated (unless you’ve decoded it using Dolby Digital). My only wish would be that the thunder had more body 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 and limited range speakers. Like many films, it could be the case that rear-channel full range speakers were not used for the making of this soundtrack as surround bass seems to be cut off already. There was also a minor crackle on the left channel for a split second during one scene, and a strange buzzing in the center channel during the whole flashback scene around 1.02.00. It sounds like a fluorescent light, but of course there are no light bulbs in the days of Jesus.

    The soundtrack decoding options are both DTS and Dolby Digital for both FOX and Warner Bros. releases (a rarity for WB as well). This is one release where you can tell a difference between the two decoding formats. The DVD allows you to switch the soundtracks on the fly using the ‘audio’ button on your remote control. When decoded on my preamp, the volume levels between the two formats sound identical. I had no need to volume correct them, and surround levels are the same volume as well. When listening to them and without trying, it is clear that the dialogue using Dolby Digital decoding is much more up front than the DTS decoding. It also sounds thicker in the lower voices, as well as bass heavy overall. The DTS decoded bass sounds much punchier and tighter in comparison, say for example, when listening to sounds of drums in the main channels.

    There is also a more noticeable seamless soundstage between speakers as well as more “air” (us audiophiles love that air) when using DTS. There seems to be more “holes” between speakers when listening to the Dolby Digital soundtrack. These added bits of resolution are consistent with other comparisons of releases with dual soundtracks, it’s just that its more noticeable here because The Passion of the Christ has a very good soundtrack. I think you’ll appreciate the sound of both versions, but if you have the choice my recommendation is choosing DTS. A soundtrack this clear makes me unable to wait for lossless audio on DVD and better DACs in pre/pros. It’s my never-ending search for higher fidelity…

    Its also been mentioned that my Canadian disc features full-bitrate DTS at 1509Kbps rather than half rate at 754.5Kbps on the U.S. version. My DVD player doesn’t let me see the audio bitrate so I can’t confirm that with you, but others on the forum have shown screenshots of their software detecting full-bitrate DTS. For those of you concerned about the video quality being sacrificed in allowance for full bitrate DTS audio, let me tell you that even if my release is at full bitrate DTS, it did not sacrifice the video at all. For some reason there is a nasty rumor always going around saying there isn’t enough room to put full bitrate DTS and DD for a 2 hour film. I disagree, as do many others.


    SPECIAL FEATURES ZERO / [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]

    There are no special features on this disc. It’s been speculated that an elaborate two-disc edition will arrive in time for Easter 2005. Who knows, maybe we’ll see a longer cut with the controversial scenes that were forced out of the film? (Which part of the movie wasn’t controversial?).


    THOUGHTS…

    A very moving and special film has been done justice on DVD. This disc provides the best video and the best audio for The Passion of the Christ at full bitrate. While some may find the lack of features to be a downside, I never do. Personally, all I care about is the best quality the movie can be presented to me because the movie is the main attraction. Features rarely get watched again. The feature presentation does. As I mentioned before, I will try to get a FOX disc to do a performance comparison. Until then, if you haven’t seen it, The Passion of the Christ is another one of those rare instances of good filmmaking delivering what many believers see as an accurate vision of man’s sin on God’s only son. While it may never be a movie you’ll watch again, you’ll be satisfied with the film, and I say its Highly Recommended.

    Michael Osadciw
    04.08.31
     
  2. Dan Rudolph

    Dan Rudolph Producer

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    Typo.
     
  3. Tino

    Tino Lead Actor
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    Excellent review Michael.[​IMG]

    I watched the Fox version on my 65" SONY and I thought it looked and sounded great. Looking forward to your comparison.

    A fantastic transfer of an awesome film.
     
  4. Manendra

    Manendra Stunt Coordinator

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    Thanks Mike. Great review. Please do try to make the U.S./Canadian comparison soon.
     
  5. Tino

    Tino Lead Actor
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    I just saw a report on CNN that by mid-day yesterday, The Passion Of The Christ DVD had already sold 2.5 million copies.

    Amazing.
     
  6. Chuck Mayer

    Chuck Mayer Lead Actor

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    Excellent review, focusing on the technical with a smattering of film review. Perfect for such a title as this. Happy to see high PQ and AQ scores.

    Thanks for the review,
    Chuck
     
  7. Michael Osadciw

    Michael Osadciw Screenwriter

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    Dan: typo fixed - thanks!

    Guys, thank you for your kind comments. I'm glad you enjoyed the review.

    Regards,
    Michael
     
  8. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    Michael,

    A beautifully written piece.

    As a point of reference, and although your comments in comparing the films theartrical look to the DVD are likely on target...

    Please keep in mind that for the most part, we get a much more accurate representation of a modern film (ie. new thetrical release) on DVD than one can in a normal theatre.

    With changes in color and density due to daily drift in processing, and those printing banging away creating 35mm prints at ungodly speeds upwards of 5,000 ft / minute, the majority of prints out there are not truly representative of the look of the approved answer print.

    If it is, its generally by chance.

    What I'm trying to say here, is that if the DVD of a new release looks different from the theatrical experience, it the most likely the DVD which is the more correct.

    RAH
     
  9. Ron-P

    Ron-P Producer

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    Great review Michael.

    I watched this last night, what a beautiful looking and sounding DVD.
     
  10. Jay Mitchosky

    Jay Mitchosky Producer

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    Very well done review Michael. [​IMG] I rented this last night as I had not seen it in the theater. When it was over I quietly shut down my system and went to bed. Very moving.
     
  11. Bill Williams

    Bill Williams Screenwriter

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    Excellent review, Michael. Very well written and researched. My wife and I have discussed getting the Special Edition with all the extras when it comes out, but based on your review and how it is selling at this time, I may decide to go get it after all.

    As for a possible expanded version of the film, while it would certainly be nice to see, Mel Gibson went on record and said that he wouldn't revisit the film as an expanded version.

    This is one of those very few DVDs that is more than just standard Friday or Saturday night fare. It is, very simply, an experience.
     
  12. anthony_b

    anthony_b Screenwriter

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    Great review, my wife and I watched it last night and we thought it was great. I couldn't believe two hours went by so fast !!...when it was over I said "that was short", not realizing how long we had been watching it !!
     
  13. Herb Kane

    Herb Kane Screenwriter

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    Absolutely fabulous review Mike.

    And a special note of thanks for taking the initiative to purchase the copy for the forum review, after Fox and WB (Canada) refused to send out screeners. Thank you.

    Herb.
     
  14. Mitch Stevens

    Mitch Stevens Supporting Actor

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    That was such a great review Michael.

    I watched this movie on my 65" Widescreen HDTV upscaling the image to 1080i. I noticed no compression artifacts at all, not even in the scenes you mentioned. My guess is that they came from your Full-Bitrate DTS track that is eating into the video quality. I watched the US version (with only half-bitrate DTS) and the picture was absolutely gorgeous at ALL TIMES.

    I also agree with you about no edge-enhancement....not even a tiny little bit. There is NONE on this release. It's so rare to see no edge-enhancement on a title these days. There's only like 5 DVDs in the world that don't have any. This is by far the most beautiful looking DVD I have ever seen on my HD Display. Absolutely reference in every single way possible.
     
  15. anthony_b

    anthony_b Screenwriter

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    I could easily tell it was going to be a good transfer from the begining scene when they were in the dark and with foggy scenes I didn't notice any digital artifacts/compression at all....the rest of the movie was just as good.
     
  16. Scott Merryfield

    Scott Merryfield Executive Producer

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    Wonderful review, Michael. I have not seen this film yet, but am looking forward to watching my copy when it arrives.


    Pun intended? [​IMG]
     
  17. Harold Southard

    Harold Southard Stunt Coordinator

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    Great review. Thanks.
     
  18. Michael Elliott

    Michael Elliott Lead Actor

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    Excellent review and I especially agree on the V/A section.



    With so many different types of projectors, TVs, DVD players and surround systems, it's really no shock different people are hearing or seeing different things. It seems every release has someone seeing something that others don't so I'm started to suspect that equipment has a lot to do with these issues.
     
  19. Mitch Stevens

    Mitch Stevens Supporting Actor

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    Certainly not. I too was bored to tears, and I even hated this movie with a "passion." But it looked so amzing on my TV, I just couldn't get over the beautiful image quality. It's certainly one of the worst movies I've ever seen, but alas, we can't really discuss the film in this thread, because this thread was made mainly for the technical aspects of the DVD, where as if we want to discuss how bored we were by it, then we must do so in the "movies" sections of this forum.
     
  20. Philip Klein

    Philip Klein Stunt Coordinator

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    yes, but did you like the image quality and sound?
     

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