Jesus Of Nazareth (TV)



Jesus Of Nazareth (TV) follows the life of Jesus from Mary’s (Olivia Hussey) conception to his crucifixion and resurrection, and depicts almost all the defining events and great parables and speeches in the gospels, while adding social and political context from Burgess’ scholarly research.






There have been several attempts to film the life of Jesus, involving some of the cinema’s greatest talents. Notable attempts include "King of Kings," George Stevens’ "The Greatest Story Ever Told," and more recently, Martin Scorcese’s controversial "The Last Temptation of Christ" (not to mention musicals like "Jesus Christ Superstar" and "Godspell"). It is a difficult story to film, since it touches deep beliefs and raw emotions in the audience that demand special handling by the storyteller.

But attempting to reverently follow the scriptural story lines for a screenplay is a tortuous path. The gospels are told from several different points of view (for instance, Matthew the tax collector wrote from a more Roman point of view, he described going up to Jerusalem, while the other Apostles described going down from Jerusalem) by men with different education levels (for instance, Luke the physician wrote detailed descriptions with medical precision). In addition, the gospels were written down several decades after the events they describe, and as a result they contain sparse descriptions of ordinary historical details (like a physical description of Jesus) and seeming contradictions and omissions that are debated by scholars to this day! Add to this the demands of the film medium for a coherent story, a fully defined setting, and well-defined characters that involve the audience. Most of all, the film medium demands accuracy and credibility, even if the events depicted are miracles and the characters legendary!

Thinking about these problems makes the delicate balance between reverence and accuracy that writer Anthony Burgess and writer/director Franco Zeffirelli have created in Jesus of Nazareth all the more impressive, though the film itself is impressive enough by any measure.

Jesus Of Nazareth follows the life of Jesus from Mary’s (Olivia Hussey) conception to his crucifixion and resurrection, and depicts almost all the defining events and great parables and speeches in the gospels, while adding social and political context from Burgess’ scholarly research. The characters come to life both through good writing and outstanding performances from a stellar cast. The music throughout Jesus Of Nazareth is respectful and evocative. We spend time with Joseph and Mary during her pregnancy, we spend a good amount of time with the child Jesus (played by Lorenzo Montet, a part of the story neglected in other film biographies), and we see him learning from his father and we attend his Bar Mitzvah. We also see the story of John the Baptist (Michael York) and depict the baptism of Jesus by John. Robert Powell plays the adult Jesus, his light blue eyes seem to project innocence and compassion, and his voice ranges from soft-spoken, carrying comfort, to shouts denouncing injustice and corruption with instant authority. There is an extraordinary supporting cast including Sir Lawrence Olivier, James Mason, James Earl Jones, Anne Bancroft, Stacey Keach, Rod Steiger, Peter Ustinov, James Farentino and many others.

The only scriptural faux pas I noticed in Jesus Of Nazareth was having the Pharisee Nicodemus (Olivier) coming to Jesus during the day, but John #3:2 states that Nicodemus came by night (as well he should have, since his career and even his life were jeopardized by meeting). Perhaps we should forgive them these trespasses should be mentioned that Anthony Burgess wrote a follow-up script that covered The Acts of the Apostles, which became the miniseries AD.

The two Jesus Of Nazareth DVD’s themselves are less than divinely inspired. They are in 4x3 fullscreen format rather than letterbox (although it was originally filmed on 35mm). I saw occasional small blemishes and scratches in parts of Jesus Of Nazareth, it’s a pity they couldn’t have gotten a cleaner original for the capture or remastered it, although true to its digital format, it is far sharper and clearer than the original TV presentation. The audio is Dolby 2.0 Surround, so I’d recommend turning off 6-channel and using the Dolby Prologic filter the sound instead. Surround gives a nice ambiance to many of the scenes, for instance the many crowd scenes, club scenes and vengeful thunder in the distance. The guide pages are flat interactive menus with a still picture the film, and the features include trailers, scene access, cast and crew information and "living in biblical times" information (instead of production notes).

Review by Ed Bishop, in association with, hometheaterinfo.com



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