The Last Temptation of Christ

January 28, 2012 9 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 migrane 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 existance, he starts to realize the reason why He exists in this world.

From it’s rhythmic short and sweet main titles to it’s end, The Last Temptation of Christ is one of the most accessable 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 music great Peter Gabriel).

Like The Passion, the film had only one shot come award time and was given a goose egg for it’s 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?

The Last Temptation of Christ is given the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen treatment and even though it is a fairly recent film with a lot of great scenery and a very good looking print, it misses being excellent thanks to some specks still evident. It captures the colors and the dark scenes beautifully, even down to the slightest of lighting, but in some points in the middle visually, the little bits show and Criterion continues their reputation of the finest of materials resulting in a very good transfer that could use a slight cleaning up but a little more satisfactory all the way through.

Audio: How does it sound?

The Dolby Digital 5.1 track on this feature starts out great and remains so with the outer channels ripe with effects and the great Peter Gabriel score with the dialogue coming out of all channels with great clarity. Some films that come more recently have little problems in terms of surround and preserving the best audibles possible but in this case a film from eighteen years ago (man, has it been that long now that this viewer thinks about it?)) it captures echoes and score and effects in the best light. This disc also has English subtitles.

Supplements: What are the extras?

As almost every Criterion title, The Last Temptation of Christ is given a nice helping of extras and IN THE BEGINNING, it starts with a commentary by director Martin Scorsese, screenwriters Paul Schrader and Jay Cocks and 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 it’s failed start to it’s controversial finish and more. An excellent track indeed.

Next is Scorsese’s Visual research and that retains all the articles and books and films that were researching influence that director Scorsese used to make the picture. It’s a nice addition to peruse.

Next are the many designs costumer Jean-Pierre Delifer used to dress most of the characters of the film using sketches and their final picture with the cast in their costumes.

Next there are production and publicity still galleries and it’s all followed by two nice finds.

One is On Location in Morocco which shows fifteen minutes of VHS tape of Scorsese on the set of the picture and discussing behind the scenes to document making The Last Temptation of Christ in 1987. This is the kind of things the best DVD save for the finish and it’s done very nicely showing a behind the scenes that is not all fluffy and sugar coated.

The other is a video interview with Peter Gabriel discussing doing the score for the film and the different inspirations and sounds that resulted into a fine piece of music and his comments are most welcomed in this twelve minute piece.

What, no trailer? Yes I’m afraid there is none to be found on there and to be honest, this viewer wonders if there ever was one.

Despite the absence of a trailer (doesn’t lessen the quality of the DVD), The Last Temptation of Christ is another fine entry into the Criterion Collection thanks to it’s solid visual quality along with it’s equally solid extras without too much overkill matching the quality of the film with it’s supplements as well and a great addition to all Scorsese fans collection and if those fans have never seen this film, give it a watch especially at this time of year (writing around March).

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