I may be ambivalent to the content of the film, but there is no arguing with the beautiful way the film is shot. And I am very pleased to say that a superlative Blu-ray transfer really serves the cinematography well. Of course, the disc is presented in the OAR of 2.35:1 and in 1080p resolution.
The beginning of the film is rather subdued, in line with the tone of events on screen. As Jesus is praying in the Garden of Gethsemane at night, the palette is deliberately crushed of all colour. However, the transfer has no problems at all with this scene. Detail is still great, with every tree clearly standing out from the shadowy background. When the devil appears, facial detail is still immense adding a great deal of menace to the scene.
The crushed palette, though, is soon ditched for one of the richest, most evocative recreations of what life must have been like at that time. Colours are simply phenomenal. The red of the Romans uniform and - yes - the spurts of blood are vibrant and rich. The sky is a deep blue, and the sandy desert has every shade of yellow and brown rendered perfectly. Detail is similarly amazing, with every stitch of uniform looking authentic. The depth of the image is similarly impressive and contrast is always impressive.
There is a fine grain over the image, which is more prevalent in certain scenes than others - but this does nothing more than add a pleasingly filmic sheen to the image. Overall, this is a vast improvement over the DVD (I ran a few key scenes side by side to check) and I would have no hesitation in recommending the upgrade.
The Passion of the Christ comes to Blu ray with a DTS-HD MA 5.1 track. This is never going to exhibit the kind of “bang for your buck” soundtrack that will impress your visitors and annoy the neighbours, but it is a very good example of subtlety.
The first thing to mention is the robust and wide front stereo field. This is expansive and really helps draw the viewer into the events on screen. The dialogue is nicely anchored to the front, and the score really soars. The mix is excellent, with a nice dynamic range.
There are, obviously, no great explosions here (at no point does Jesus run amok with a machine gun), so your sub is never going to get a great workout - but the bass on the music in particular is very nicely realised and resonates through the room. Again, subtlety is key - and the moving music is really given the opportunity to soar.
The surrounds, again, are well utilised without being too overbearing. There are subtle sounds used in the rears to underpin key moments such as the Garden of Gethsemane (insects), also in the crowd scenes. Ambience is well created.
The film is presented in a two disc set, and the extras are truly fascinating, if perhaps a little bit weighty. These are about as far removed from your typical studio puff piece as you are likely to get, and add a true insight into the film and the events it portrays.
On the first disc we have a series of Commentaries. There are a whole series of these, starting with a commentary for the visually impaired which is basically an audio commentary describing the visuals of the film for those who are unable to watch them. The second is a filmmakers' commentary. This features Mel Gibson, Caleb Deschanel (cinematographer) and Editor John Wright. This track is surprisingly entertaining with plenty of insight being provided into every aspect of the filming process. The third track, which is of a similar quality is provided by The Producer, The Visual Effects Supervisor and Visual Effects Designer. The fourth track is a music commentary with composer John Debney. He does discuss more than just the music and his commentary does prove entertaining and enlightening. To me, though, by far the best commentary is the Theological Commentary with Mel Gibson, Father William Fulco, and two Theologians : Gerry Matatics, and father John Bartunek. This may not be the most entertaining commentary on the disc, but to me it is an essential companion to the film - providing much enlightenment and background. I have to say that I found this one of the best commentaries I have ever heard on a disc in terms of what it adds to a viewing experience of the film. Finally on disc one is a pop up trivia track which I found rather disappointing as the boxes were unreadable without me sitting VERY close to the screen - which I did for about half an hour until a headache started to pound. The info provided was good but was nothing that is not provided in the excellent commentaries.
Disc Two is a DVD that contains another three hours of extra features. Obviously this has the disadvantages of all the documentaries being in Standard Definition - but you really can't argue when they are of this quality. The extras are split into three overall sections - Filmmaking The Legacy and Galleries. We will start with the filmmaking section.
The stand-out documentary here is the stunning, 1 hr 40 minute 21-part documentary By His Wounds, We Are Healed : Making “The Passion of the Christ”. This is as in-depth as you would imagine, and covers just about everything you would ever want or need to know about the project. Whether it is looking at the staging of key scenes, the suffering of Jim Caviezel, the score, script, marketing, music - absolutely everything. This is no puff piece either, with each key player being interviewed several times - and lots of detailed covered. Only being let down by being standard definition - some day, all behind the scenes documentaries will be made this way. This section is rounded off by two deleted scenes, both of which I would have liked to have seen in the finished film as they add some of the much-needed background that I feel is missing.
The Legacy is made from five discrete segments. Through the Ages looks at the depiction of The Passion in art throughout history, Paths of a Journey looks at The Stations of the Cross, On Language looks at the use of ancient Aramaic in the film, and the disturbing Crucifixion : Punishment in the Ancient World looks at Crucifixion in more detail than you probably wanted to know. Finally, Anno Domini looks at what we have learnt about those who were involved in the events of The Passion. These five documentaries easily live up to the quality of the rest of the disk, providing quality insights and fascinating background to the film. I can honestly recommend every featurette as being near essential to anyone with an interest in the film or in the life of Christ.
Finally, even the Galleries section shows an admirable breadth of focus. This section doesn't just include production photos (although they are here), but also has trailers, TV Spots, and biographies. There is even a section that looks at the biblical passages that inspired the film, and the art images depict the Stations of the Cross throughout History.
As previously mentioned, it is a great shame that these extras are not in HD. But despite this drawback, this is probably the most comprehensive, consistently interesting, most widely focussed set of extras I have ever come across. I am going to have to take a mark off for them not being in HD but in reality the moniker “Definitive edition” is not hyperbole. It is impossible to imagine what else could be included here. A stunning package.
Ok, it is definitely true that I have my reservations about the film. I find that it focuses too much on the suffering of Christ and never really lets us get close to the character (be he man or God). This means that the as we are removed from the character we are also removed from the suffering. The whole movie becomes a kind of detached view of a man being tortured to death without truly exploring the meaning of the sacrifice we are witnessing. The film is certainly beautifully shot, and is acted with conviction - but it is an ultimately Catholic, High-Church view of events. This is not to say that the film is without merit (it portrays his suffering better than any film I have ever seen) but it would be nice if the obvious religious conviction of all involved took a look at other events in Christ's life. The possibility exists for the definitive film of Christ's life in these filmmakers hands - but sadly this is lost in the torture and bloodlust.
What is undoubted however, is the sheer quality of this disc. If you have any slight interest in the story being told, even if the film is not your cup of tea, then this disc is a must have. You can watch the slightly less gory version of the film that is included, and they gorge yourself with a frankly vast selection of fascinating, intelligent extras which feed the intellect as well as offering great insight into the film, and does both of these things in an entertaining way. Sadly, the video extras are in SD (hence me docking one mark) but this is one of the best extras packages I have yet seen on Blu-ray.
In addition to this, the AV quality is exemplary, with both the picture and sound offering a huge improvement over the DVD and approaching the best that the format has to offer.
The bottom line? For fans of the film, this is absolutely essential stuff. Even if you are not a huge fan of the film, but have an interest in the subject matter I would suggest that you pick up a copy of this disc. It really is a benchmark disc in the history of the format. If only that second disc was in HD!
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