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Jesus of Nazareth
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490 of 501 people found the following review helpful
on August 3, 2002
Format: DVD
After more than two decades, JESUS OF NAZARETH remains the greatest motion picture on the life of Jesus Christ -unsurpassed and second-to-none. Beautifully directed by Franco Zeffirelli (best known for his 1968 version of Romeo and Juliet) and featuring a constellation of the greatest international actors: Sir Lawrence Olivier, Rod Steiger, Anne Bancroft, Ernest Borgnine, James Earl Jones, Anthony Quinn (among others, oh my!), this six-hour magnum opus has given flesh and humanity to the people and events of the Gospel narratives like no other movie before or since.
The film begins with the events prior to the Anunciation and Nativity, through the life of Christ, leading up to the Crucifixion and Resurrection, from Joseph's betrothal to Mary (played by Olivia Hussey, best known for her role as Juliet in the aforementioned film.) to the Empty Tomb on Easter Sunday. First-rate production allows us to observe with great detail the customs and daily life in first-century Judaea. The backdrop of Roman oppression and Jewish discontent is masterfully shown and successfully correlated to Jesus' ministry, in particular the political maneuvering of the cunning Herod (wondrously played by Peter Ustinov) and its effects on messianic expectation. Many persons mentioned only in passing or alluded to in the gospels such as Caiaphas and Pontius Pilate are portrayed with great credibility, allowing us to understand the historical figures' motives and intentions more fully.
Among the numerous superlative performances, surely the most notable is that of Robert Powell in his role as the Nazarene, whose performance subtly captures the humanity of the Son of God, neither adding human weakness where none is present (vis-a-vis The Last Temptation of Christ), nor resorting to docetic immutability (Greatest Story Ever Told). Indeed, one senses that Jesus is fully aware of who He is in this film.
In terms of scope, detail and production, this film is a must-see, setting a standard of excellence which unfortunately has not been met since. JESUS OF NAZARETH makes for great viewing not only for the seasoned Christian but for seekers and those interested in an intelligent approach to the life of Christ. SUPERB.
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220 of 225 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVD
Prior to its debut on NBC in April 1977, "Jesus of Nazareth" was the subject of considerable controversy after director Franco Zeffirelli suggested his interpretation of Jesus would veer wildly from previous screen versions of the Gospels. Suspecting Zeffirelli, to say nothing of co-screenwriter Anthony Burgess of "Clockwork Orange" fame, had downplayed or even denied Jesus' divinity, some prominent religious leaders condemned the film, sight unseen, for its alleged blasphemy. One sponsor (General Motors) bowed out, and another stepped in (Proctor and Gamble, years before the company fought off unsubstantiated charges that its logo was Satanic). "Jesus of Nazareth" aired as scheduled, in two parts on two successive Sunday evenings, earning high ratings and praise from critics of all faiths.

"Jesus of Nazareth" is, hands down, the finest dramatic retelling of the life of Jesus to date. As George Stevens did with his 1965 fiasco, "The Greatest Story Ever Told," Zeffirelli recruited an all-star cast, but whereas Stevens could only have hired John Wayne to play a Roman Centurion because the Duke's name would look nice on the posters, Zeffirelli chose his stars because they were gifted actors perfect for their roles.

One doesn't ooh and aah at the sight of Rod Steiger, Anthony Quinn, or Laurence Olivier, but rather marvel at how well they believably bring Pontius Pilate, Caiaphas, and Nicodemus to respective life. As good as they are, the most impressive performance may come from a less illustrious "name," James Farentino, who makes for a very commanding Peter.

It could be argued that the film is too pretty at times (this is, after all, the work of the man who made 1968's lushly romantic "Romeo and Juliet"), bringing to mind the kind of postcard depiction that Mel Gibson's "Passion of the Christ" attempts to counter, but the script and performances thankfully lack the dry solemnity that often drains any semblance of life from most dramatic interpretations of the Bible. Robert Powell's Jesus doesn't merely "quote" passages from the New Testament but speaks the words of Jesus as those words might have been spoken for the first time.

The crucifixion, though not as brutal and bloody as it probably was, also seems to be portrayed more realistically than usual, with Jesus carrying only the beam of his cross to Calvary which history seems to suggest was more likely the case.

Maurice Jarre's score is sometimes moody and always reverent without being pompous, and despite its length, the story never drags. "Jesus of Nazareth" is an outstanding achievement, all the more impressive when one considers it was produced for television.

Brian W. Fairbanks
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301 of 322 people found the following review helpful
on February 28, 2000
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
To date, "Jesus of Nazareth" is most certainly the best Jesus movie ever made. Director Franco Zeffirelli presents the story of Jesus Christ in a very authentic manner. This film sticks pretty much to the script, the Holy Bible. This historical account of Jesus starts before the birth of Christ and runs through His life, His substitutionary death for all our sins on the cross, and His reappearance afterward. Much time is spent on our Lord's three-year long mission preaching and performing miracles as an adult on earth, and many scenes are genuinely touching, leaving not a dry eye in the audience. We've first seen this movie when it was released back in the late 70s, and since then we've watched it a few dozen times. The nearly six and a half hours running time are not a bother for those interested in the life of Christ. This picture comes across as a very well funded production and much care has been given to detail. We're certain that most viewers will be touched, aided by Robert Powell's realistic performance and portrayal of our Savior Jesus Christ. This movie will make you think about your personal relationship with God, while you'll enjoy an exceptionally well-made motion picture.
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134 of 142 people found the following review helpful
Format: VHS Tape
It is inconceivable that on Amazon there are only 90 reviewers for Franco Zeffirelli's masterful and inspiring masterpiece as opposed to over 2000 for "The Matrix," a less-than-monumental piece of fluff from 1999.
"Jesus of Nazareth" sports a cast of Academy Award-winners (Lawrence Olivier, Anne Bancroft, Ernest Borgnine, and Peter Ustinov, to name a few) and nominees (James Earl Jones, James Mason, Christopher Plummer) as well as a support from an international group of performers. Olivia Hussey brings just the amount of warmth and humanity in the role of Mary; Rod Steiger deftly portrays Pontius Pilate as a man torn between duty to his country and awe of this man called Jesus; Michael York is stunning as John the Baptist.
Robert Powell brings to the movie the definitive portrait of Jesus. His passionate performance is the stuff of legend. Prior to this motion picture, there had been few instances wherein Christ had been seen; it is as if the screen was awaiting the right man for the part. Powell proves that to be true; he is perfect!
If I have motivated even one soul to purchase this masterwork, then I have accomplished the goal of this review. Money could not be better spent.
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45 of 45 people found the following review helpful
on May 26, 2000
Format: VHS Tape
I was five years old, when I saw "Jesus of Nazareth" at first. Since then I saw roughly fifty times. Zeffirelli' movie is really "The greatest told in the world". The fascinating Jesus-movie, with fascinating actors, with fascinating Maurice Jarre (the best), and with fascinating Zeffirelli. Robert Powell is the embodiment of Christ.The best Jesus in the filmhistory.(And of course Willem Dafoe) Olivia Hussey (oh my God!)is the perfect Mary.(And She was the perfect Juliet) Rod Steiger as Pontius Pilate is brilliant. Anthony Quinn as Caiphas is powerful. And Laurence Oliver(Nicodemus), and Anne Bancroft(Mary Magdalane), and Michael York(John the Baptist), and James Mason (Joseph of Arimet),and...but!the greatest is Ian Holm as Zerah. Simply gruesome. Zeffirelli, who directed the "Brother sun, sister moon" and "Romeo and Juliet", made the masterpiece. A six-hours Jesus-biography: wonderful, touching, and large-scale. My second favourite film.
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60 of 63 people found the following review helpful
on April 26, 2003
Format: VHS Tape
Jesus of Nazareth, a British production, directed by Franco Zeffirelli debuted on network television (NBC, I believe)in the spring of 1977--as a miniseries!--and was a ratings success. Needless to say, television producers would not try to duplicate the feat today.
I watched Jesus of Nazareth Easter Sunday on the History Channel...not all of it, about 3 hours of it. It is such a tremendous achievement of script, portrayal, performance that I wonder why IT is not the broadcast standard of Biblical themed films in the televised media (and why the Ten Commandments is).
This assembled cast cannot be equaled--Olivier as Nicodemus, James Mason as Joseph of Arimethea, Ian McShane as Judas, Ian Holm as the fictional creation (and successfully done) of a Sanhedrin leader named Zara,Christopher Plummer as Herod, Stacy Keach as Barrabas, Anne Bancroft (kudos) as Mary Magdalene, Rod Steiger as Pontius Pilate, and Robert Powell (an unknown actor at the time transforms himself like DeNiro did as Jake Lamotta) in an amazingly unrecognized performance as Jesus.
Not all the performances are noteworthy--James Farentino as Peter, Anthony Quinn as a Sanhedrin leader, and the actress who plays Herod's wife are flops.
The most exceptional scenes---when Jesus narrates the story of the Prodigal Son (which brings Matthew and Peter together), the Last Supper ( a supreme accomplishment of filmmaking), the raising of Lazarus, the judgement of Jesus by Pilate, the dialogue between Jesus and Barrabas at the baths, the passionate lecture Jesus dispenses on the Pharisees, and the overwhelming, incredibly moving cry of Jesus to the prophet Elijah as he perishes---
no matter what one believes, recognizes, adheres to--this is an unparalleled, historic story of a man who displayed conveyed behaved as the most perfect embodiment of a human being could...to achieve his destiny as deity.
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50 of 52 people found the following review helpful
on April 21, 2003
Format: VHS Tape
What a splendid ending to the greatest dramatization of the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ ever made for television. I was thoroughly moved to tears and a great sense of hope. This film is superior because of its tremendous scope. It allows viewers to experience a great deal of the scriptures and, indeed, the life and times of Jesus Christ. The cast is marvellous especially Robert Powell who is the definitive "Jesus." What a wonderful display of acting. His expressions, his glances, his pauses, every little nuance he uses to portray the savior is superb. He transcended the role and became the character he was playing which is the mark of true acting. The actress who played Mary Magdalene was also quite good. This is, perhaps, the best acting I have ever seen in any film - ANY!
It is hard to imagine a movie with at least one poor scene. This movie, the exception, was flawless. Scripture is quoted word for word often and Franco Zefirelli created an atmosphere one imagine existed during the life of Christ. The musical score is haunting!
I applaud Franco Zefirelli for creating this 4 day/8 hour epic for television as film could never tell this story in such great scope and detail. It will be the standard by which all films about Jesus are judged.
This is very powerful film-making and film-making at its absolute best. Truly THIS is the greatest story ever told.
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52 of 55 people found the following review helpful
on April 8, 2002
Format: DVD
STORY:
This is a story that's been portrayed numerous times. Even so, this one is special in many ways. Covering the lives of Jesus and the accompanying main characters of His time, this film stands-out for Franco Zeffirelli's masterful directing, a great cast, and splendid acting. Some of the actors are virtual unknowns, however all delivered memorable performances. Robert Powell is stunning in his role as Jesus. Anne Bancroft, as Mary Magdolin, is wonderful as well. Though nearly thirty years old, this film still sets the standard for all films in the genre.
DVD TRANSFER:
Because it's such a great film, Artisan should have put much more into this DVD set. By far the flagship of the Artisan line-up (if you don't believe me, try finding it for less than [money]anywhere), it's disappointing that they've obviously hurried this film's transfer to DVD. The transfer looks no better than what can be had on VHS, and with today's technologies at hand, at least an attempt at "cleaning-up" the film somewhat should have been in order. Also, the only extra's you will find on the two disks are short biographies and filmographies of the major actors. It would have been nice to have some commentaries from the director or actors, a "Making Of" section, and perhaps some behind the scenes footage. At [money], this is no budget-release DVD. For the sake of the film, Artisan should go back, rework it and give it the kind of TLC it deserves. After a decent transfer has been made, they could then add some of the extras consumers have come to expect when ponying-up [money] for a DVD title. If they did, you would then be able to purchase this film on DVD knowing that you're getting a TRUE 5-Star Family Treasure.
RECOMMENDATION:
If you already own the VHS version, watch it until Artisan releases something better on DVD. If you don't own a copy yet, get it on whatever format you like because there's really no quality difference.
RATING:
3-Stars overall. 5-Stars for the story, directing, acting, costumes, photography, etc. 1-Star for the horrible transfer to DVD. Film transfer quality and DVD feature set is no better than what you'd find in a [money] bargain basement DVD.
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43 of 45 people found the following review helpful
on April 15, 2000
Format: VHS Tape
If you're feeling soiled these days by the hate, violence and filth being relentlessly churned out by Hollywood in the name of money, watch this film. It's full of dignity and beauty. You'll feel washed clean and reminded of something that the TV and film industries seem to want us to forget - that we're not animals, but holy spirits trying to find our way back to the light. And that money and achievement can never feed the soul. The cast is incredible and their performances flawless. The costumes, attention to period detail, the scenery backdrops all plunk you right down in Biblical times. But most unforgettable is the performance of Robert Powell, who shows Christ to be what he surely must have been - not only divine, but deeply human, full of zest, life, and humor. A guy you'd want as a friend, someone who loved to tell stories, who felt sad, tired, lonely, and angry just like the rest of us. He also reminded us of our own capacity for love. When at the end he told his frightened disciples (and us) not to be afraid, that he would be with us until the end of time, I don't recall ever seeing such a look of exaltation on an actor's face- almost as if the human had stepped aside to let the Christ shine through. I was floored. Watching this film is always a renewal for me - and a reminder of what's best and highest in us all. When an agnostic buddy of mine saw the film, he said, "JEEZ, it makes you wanna get down and pray!" That it does.
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40 of 42 people found the following review helpful
on February 23, 2000
Format: DVD
This great TV miniseries directed by Franco Zeffirelli is one of the best, if not the best, dramatic renditions of Jesus Christ life. The performances are excellent. Often moving, this sensitive retelling is highly recommended. Its good to have the 6 hr, 20 min tele-film availble on a 2 DVD set. However the DVD transfer itself is very disappointing. Often resembling poor VHS video quality, the images are blurry, with washed out colors. Also, the images are inconsistent and marred by markings and streaks. There are no extras to speak of (an indepth interview with Zeffirelli and some of the cast members would have been wonderful). This DVD deserves a permenant place in your library for its great content. But be forwarned, the quality one would expect from a DVD transfer is greatly lacking. Perhaps given the age of the material(it first aired over 23 years ago)and the nature of its "TV past", we may never get a quality release of this program.
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