The Last Temptation of Christ - Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review
The Last Temptation of Christ is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Black bars at the top and bottom of the screen are normal for this format. Supervised and approved by cinematographer Michael Ballhaus and editor Thelma Shoonmaker, this high-definition digital transfer was created on a Spirit Datacine from a 35 mm interpositive. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter, and flicker were manually removed using MTI’s DRS, Pixel Farm’s PFClean, and Image System’s Phoenix.
The Last Temptation of Christ has simply never looked this good, even with Criterion’s own remastered 2000 DVD. Coming to Region A-locked US Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion we get an excellent 1080p High Definition video presentation in the movie’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Detail is superior throughout, both on the close-ups and the longer shots, with no noticeable softness irrespective of the lighting. DNR has clearly been applied, but very carefully, leaving a suitably filmic sheen of grain, and there’s no sign of any scratches, print damage or other defects. I did see a hint of ringing quite early on in the piece, but it was negligible and never reoccurred. The contrast levels are superior, allowing the film to stand out irrespective of the setting, although obviously some of the darker sequences do carry slightly heavier grain. The colour scheme is superbly rendered, with the stunning yet blistering desert playing off against the dusty inner buildings, bolstered by ageing pillars. Without a doubt the colours have never looked this good and, indeed, neither has the film. Criterion have once again done an exceptional job.
The 5.1 surround soundtrack was mastered from the original six-track magnetic masters. Clicks, thumps, hiss, and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated workstation.
On the aural front we get a similarly superior DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that works wonders with Peter Gabriel’s stunning score (go out and buy it now!). Dialogue comes across clearly and coherently throughout, dominating the frontal array wherever necessary; taking precedence over the rest of the material. Effects are finely observed, often to highlight the more supernatural aspect of the material, with everything from nails entering flesh, to snakes and fire in the desert, to the wind blowing as if commanded by God’s hand, all coming across through the surrounds which even off up some nice separation. Angry and cheering crowds abound, a wedding party ignites, and some of the more violent confrontations allow things to further expand in aural terms, but the biggest player is still the spectacular score which, right from the outset, bolsters the movie with its rhythmic, bass-inducing beats and authentic, organic feel. Turn this baby up loud, and enjoy the movie as you’ve never had the chance to enjoy it before.
As you would only expect from The Criterion Collection we get a welcome selection of fantastic extras, all of which were present on the original Criterion DVD release in 2000.
Recorded by the Criterion Collection in 1997, this commentary features director Martin Scorsese, actor Willem Dafoe, and screenwriters Paul Schrader and Jay Cocks.
Sprinting from the outset, Scorsese is on fine form here, recounting how he became interested in doing a film about the life of Christ right from a very early age, how he imagined it would come to fruition, and what he thought of the original source novel; how it inspired him to make the movie that we see here. He’s hard to listen to for any length of time because he speaks so damn fast and you can’t help but struggle to play mental catch-up, although that shouldn’t put you off sitting through this excellent accompaniment, even if you ingest it in smaller bit-sized chunks. The other contributors to the commentary chip in occasionally but this is Scorsese’s baby.
The following sketches were made by costume designer Jean-Pierre Delifer.
Here we get a collection of two dozen hand-sketched images with corresponding comparison shots to the characters from the film, ranging from Jesus, Judas and the disciples, to the money changers, Lazarus and the Marys.
Presented here are production and publicity stills by photographer Mario Tursi.
Offering up both promotional stills from the movie itself, as well as some behind the scenes shots of the cast and crew in action, with Scorsese at the helm, this is an interesting look at the production. We get to see Scorsese in frame with almost all of the main actors, as well as getting some revealing glimpses at how they shot key scenes (like the POV crucifixion shot). There are about 80 stills in the first second and they’re all well worth checking out.
To ensure that the look of The Last Temptation of Christ was as authentic as possible, director Martin Scorsese did extensive historical, biblical, and location research, consulting such sources as The Jewish Encyclopaedia and The Biblical Archaeology Review, one of whose articles inspired the design of the Crucifixion scenes. Scorsese was also influenced by numerous artistic representations of Christ, from Pier Paolo Pasolini’s film The Gospel According to St. Matthew to a variety of paintings, including Hieronymus Bosch’s Christ Carrying the Cross (Ghent) and Antonello da Messina’s Crucifixiion (Antwerp).
This excellent little section offers up a half a dozen research images that were used by Scorsese during the production, including a glimpse at the annotated shooting script and some background into the tattoos designed for Magdalene.
On Location in Morocco
Martin Scorsese personally shot Behind-the-Scenes video footage on location in Morocco to document the production of The Last Temptation of Christ. Following are excerpts from his original VHS Video Master.
Although pretty poor quality, here we get a very revealing 15-minute look behind the shoot itself, with Scorsese taking us around the set, looking at the trailers, discussing the progress of the film; with the cast and crew having a reasonably fun time on set and joking with the camera – Keitel in particular reminds Scorsese that there’s another camera that he should be using for the film, as well as asking him to make him a coffee. Scorsese occasionally reflects on how tough the shoot was, particularly in terms of getting the light just right, and this little video diary is well worth checking out.
Peter Gabriel Interview
This interview with composer Peter Gabriel was conducted in 1996 in New York City.
With a text introduction explaining how Scorsese enlisted the help of Gabriel as far back as 1983, and how he intended to get a raw and elemental feel for the score, we get to hear from the composer himself, who spends 12 minutes discussing how he composed the music for the film, the specific cues required for specific scenes, his favourite moments, and the way in which working on this film changed the future direction of his own music making.
Peter Gabriel Photo Gallery
This gallery shows some of the traditional instruments featured on the film’s soundtrack, as well as some photographs from the July 28 1988 sound mix in New York City provided by the film’s editor, Thelma Schoonmaker.
After a half a dozen shots of the instruments used on the film we get to see the editor’s personal collection of stills taken from the sound mix, with Scorsese, Gabriel, Schoonmaker and a number of other crew members (including director Michael Powell) on hand in the mixing studio.
Finally this package is rounded off with a smaller-than-usual booklet, that is merely a four-page fold-out, but which does have a worth-reading essay entitled Passion Project, by David Ehrenstein.
“It is accomplished!”
Martin Scorsese’s breathtaking The Last Temptation of Christ is a film that simply everybody should see. Enshrouded in controversy, its notoriety is unjustified – this film is far more respectful and far more powerfully religious than its critics would care to admit, often because those who condemn the movie (and its source novel) haven’t even seen it. It is, in actual fact, one of the most thoughtful and thought-provoking films ever made, a study of faith, humanity, and existential inner conflict, all rolled up in an epic tale of the struggles between the flesh and the spirit; between good and evil.
Criterion have done a stunning job with releasing this movie on Blu-ray, boasting excellent video and audio as well as a superb set of extras. Indeed, if their back-catalogue wasn’t already enough to justify picking up a Region-A capable player, then this title alone should be.
A masterpiece amidst masterpieces.
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