The Last Temptation of Christ: Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)

March 15, 2012 7 Min Read

Review by: Christopher Bligh

Plot: What’s it about?

Before the controversy a few years back that was The Passion (of the Christ)[added after another project had the same two word name], one other movie treading the waters of the son of God was being made at the tail end of the eighties and had caused such a ruckus that one theater chain didn’t want to put it out. It shook up the system in its limited release, but today it remains a solid piece of filmmaking and the end of a eclectic decade for a great director. It is Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ.

Jesus (Willem Dafoe) is a struggling carpenter. Whenever the Romans need crosses to be made, he is the one to come to. However in his hard work he suffers from migraine headaches that don’t seem to go away at any time. Some around him believe that he’s going mad but Jesus believes that the headaches are a message from God. As he continues his painful existence, he starts to realize the reason why He exists in this world.

From its rhythmic short and sweet main titles to its end, The Last Temptation of Christ is one of the most accessible takes on the last few years of the life of Jesus. It’s given the Scorsese touch with the zoom in cuts and the solid flow throughout and with the smart move in the beginning of not revealing any of the cast members of the film until the end title credits.

From then on, Scorsese takes the risky road and succeeds wonderfully thanks to his great eye for casting and the direction that he takes this movie into and his nomination in 1988 was well deserved (if it wasn’t for being the only nomination, he would’ve won).

As Jesus Christ, Willem Dafoe plays him like no other kind giving not the Christ that is a giant in the epics of classic cinema but rather as a human being with a lot on his mind literally and the many problems that plague him throughout. Once again, editor Thelma Schoonmaker makes this tale a quick cutting but solid mix of some voiceover and the booming score (done beautifully by Peter Gabriel).

Like The Passion, the film had only one shot come award time and was given a goose egg for its effort. For what it’s worth however looking at it today it still remains a well made non-epic that tells the story from a viewpoint from a more flawed being than others give credit for. The Last Temptation of Christ is the last film of the eighties for Scorsese and this viewer is happy to say in that decade, he scored five for five giving us a tremendous body of work (Raging Bull, The King of Comedy, The Color of Money, After Hours) that started with a huge body blow and ended with a controversial knockout.

Video: How does it look?

Criterion does a superb job with their releases and The Last Temptation of Christ is certainly no exception. The 1.85:1 AVC HD transfer was supervised by cinematographer Michael Ballhuas and Scorce’s long-time editor, Thelma Shoonmaker. The film is nearly twenty five years old, so some errors do persist but by and large this is a step up even from Criterion’s previous DVD release. Colors are bold and contain a lot of reds, with the backgrounds being earthy tones. Detail has been improved as we can tell from some improved visuals and detailed textures. Contrast tends to lag just a bit, but it’s not consistent and the overall image quality is certainly worth noting.

Audio: How does it sound?

For the first time this film has a DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack which sounds surprisingly robust. The mix was supervised by sound designer and editor Skip Lievsay. The entire sound field seems more immersive and broad than the previous DVD issue. While the majority of the sound is located in the front stage, surrounds are used rather sparingly. Dialogue seems strong and consistent throughout. Peter Gabriel’s score sounds nothing short of amazing and while not packing the punch one might expect, does have its moments. Like the video presentation, this has been given a nice upgrade from the standard DVD.

Supplements: What are the extras?

Unfortunately those that own the standard DVD won’t find any new HD exclusives here. The same supplements are included starting off with a rare commentary track by director Martin Scorsese, screenwriters Paul Schrader and Jay Cocks joined by actor Willem Dafoe. If there is a track that covers all grounds from the reactions, to the origin, to the results and to the motivations throughout this picture both on and off the screen, this track does it more than very nicely with all comments combined (some of which viewing the film as the audience hearing the track is watching it too) and a variety brought up from its failed start to its controversial finish and more. An excellent track indeed. “On Location in Morocco” runs around fifteen minutes and contains some behind the scenes footage filmed by Scorcese while on the shoot. “Peter Gabriel” is a look at the noted musician, his approach to the score on this film and we get a nice little introduction to boot. Lastly there’s a Photo Gallery ranging from sketches to production and publicity stills.

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