May 29, 2005

DVD Review: Impact: The Passion of the Christ

Image hosted by Photobucket.comEveryone remembers the varied and numerous reactions up the release of The Passion of the Christ back in February of 2004. Many people were very outspoken on both sides of the perceived controversy. I think that my biggest issue with all of those speaking out were doing so prior to seeing the film. That is always a dangerous game to play, I don't feel that anyone can make such absolute judgments prior to actually viewing the work in question, without doing so invalidates you arguments and makes your stance suspect. That is not to say that you can't have feelings one or the other about wanting to view the material, I often will take critics early word about the order that I want to see something in or whether I want to take the time, that isn't the same as commenting on content which I haven't seen.

I should also say that I am a practicing Catholic who felt that the feature was an incredibly moving experience and the best film I saw theatrically in 2004. I also feel that the besides the content it is also a technical achievement as a pure film. On top of that I also feel that it transcends the Christian aspects of the film, even if you are not a believer I think that it is possible to take something away from it with you. Ok, this is not a review of The Passion of the Christ, it is time to move on to what this column is about.

Writer/Director Tim Chey has made a film to help put on display the impact that the release of he film had on people around the world. The first thing that jumped out at me was that this is not an objective view, it pretty much only shows the positive aspects, or attempts to refute the naysayers. In that respect, I find it to be much in line with a Michael Moore documentary, taking facts and showing only what you want to be seen, or twisting what facts are there to fit into what you want to there.

The film is a conglomeration of talking heads, and despite the lopsidedness of the proceedings, I would be lying if said I wasn't intrigued by the film. We here from Rabbi's, Christian leaders, a Jewish group for Jesus, as well a number of moviegoers. They all speak of how emotionally moved they were after seeing the film, or trying to explain away any criticisms. I have a hard time trying to be terribly critical, it is clear that his heart is in the right place, but I feel that too much time is given to convicted murderer Dan Leach and Norwegian terrorist Johnny Olsen. I am fascinated that these two were moved to turn themselves in following their respective viewings of the film, I believe that anyone, no matter how despicable their acts may be, can be saved, but we linger way too long on these two.

Another issue I have is how the film ended. The last segment was the one with Johnny Olsen, and, in my opinion, this is not where a film should end. There should have been some attempt at a recap of the film, somehow bring the focus back to the film after being sidetracked. There is also the interviews with the parents with one of the victims of the Columbine tragedy, which is a strange connection.

The best things about the film are the interviews with people regarding their reactions to the film, the rang the most true of anything shown. It was also nice to see reactions not only from America, but Japan and India as well, two countries where Christianity is in the extreme minority (although you would never tell based on those interviewed). It reminded me of when I saw it in the theater. I went with a friend of mine and his wife, we sat in what was probably quietest screening with the largest crowd that I have been in, that is except for the occasional sobbing heard throughout. Afterwards, just as many people related in the film, everyone exited in dead silence. It was a very moving experience.

For every nugget that I enjoyed there was something else that came up and smacked with a propaganda like edge. But still, I found it to be entertaining and enlightening in some respects, but does not represent the whole truth. It seemed, and I have experienced this in the "real" world as well, that many people had trouble distinguishing this film, which is a fictional, albeit probably rather accurate, depiction of the crucifixion and torture and an actual documentary which it is most definitely not. Mel Gibson did a wonderful job of recreating the era and crafting a film that was so moving on such a personal level, but reality it is not. Many people exclaimed how they have now seen the truth, how they have seen the reality, which they have not. I believe that this is probably a very good idea of how it was, but it is not real, and people could not separate them. I actually feel fortunate that I, being a "film guy," could view the film through two sets of filters, one being a Catholic allowed me to view it through my own faith filter and be affected on that emotional level, and the other "film filter" allowed me to view it for technical merits and how it could possibly be perceived by non-Christians. That in no way makes my opinion of the film any more or less important than anyone else's view, I am happy that I can make a separation in my approach which is not always easy.

Video. The film is presented in a ration of 1.33:1, which I believe is the original ratio. It serves it's purpose, but it does not look all that good. I am willing to give a little leeway as I believe this was shot on a very low budget. The colors are generally washed out and there is a lot of grain/noise present.

Audio. There are two tracks available, 5.1 and I listened using the 2.0 track through headphones, and frankly I am not sure how much better the 5.1 would sound as there isn't a lot you can do with talking heads. It does the job.

Technical Notes. There are a couple of things that bugged me from a technical standpoint. One thing is HEADROOM!!! There is so much headroom that I was thinking that maybe this was supposed to be matted to :1, but I am not sure, but the compositions seemed terribly amateurish. Another was the mystery of the appearing/disappearing microphones, I think it should be decided beforehand if you want to show these. In some interviews the mics were visible, sometimes not, and occasionally there where the directional boom type mics and the interviewee was holding a lapel mic, please make a decision! Lastly was the audio, I know to expect differences in sound quality based on the variety of locations, but the interviewer's (Tim Chey?) voice is such a different quality, it appears to have been overdubbed in post, because it doesn't synch with the location audio and is rather distracting.

Extras. This is a two disk set with a number of extras, most of which I have perused.
Disk 1.
-Trailer. The first disk has the original trailer for the film.
-Director's Commentary. I have not yet listened to this, but when I do I will revisit here and give my thoughts on it.
Disk 2.
-Travel Around the Globe: In Search For God. A collection of additional interviews from Japan, India, the UK, and the US. I watched some of a few of these. They are interesting, but are just continuations of what appears in the film proper.
-Should "Passion" Have Been Nominated? I found this to be odd, as the majority of it was talking to people at the 2004 Oscar ceremonies, shortly after the film had been released. Many people had not even seen the film yet, much less given any reflection or indication that there was still much left of the year. There were some comments in retrospect about it not being nominated for much of anything, and rightly stating that it is not about awards being won, but the effect of the movie itself, which is true for any movie, although I feel it could have used a little more recognition on the award front.
-Deleted Interviews. More review extensions that did not appear in the film. These included more with the parents in Columbine, and the woman from Jews for Jesus. I did like the portions which actually dealt with the films attendance and box office take.
-Would You Die for Jesus? Some interviews regarding a man named Staines who was killed in India, he had gone there and was working with lepers. Also the concept of martyrdom. Again we get these attempts at paralleling Jesus and the Apostles with the Columbine tragedy.

Bottomline. In the end this is an interesting documentary, although it is clearly targeted at a specific audience, of which I am not sure I am a part of. From an informational standpoint it is interesting for the viewpoint it professes, and there really are some good points, just don't take this as gospel. If anything use it as a jumping off point to find out more information regarding the film, or about the faith.

Mildly Recommended.

The disk is available through the film's site HERE.

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