on May 14, 1998
"King of Kings" was my favorite religious motion picture when growing up, and I believe it still is. When MGM first released it in 1961, movie critics irreverently dubbed it "I Was a Teenage Jesus", since the role of Christ was given to teen idol Jeffrey Hunter. In hindsight, it was an unfair appraisal. Unlike other actors who have played Jesus in the more sublime, "stained-glass" manner that appears to be the norm, Hunter's portrayal showed a very human, energetic Messiah whose divinity still could not be denied. Interestingly enough, "King of Kings" was directed by Nicholas Ray, who six years earlier had directed James Dean in "Rebel Without a Cause". This time around, our "Rebel" has a well-defined Cause which places Him at odds with the religious and civil authorities of His day. The film's international supporting cast consists mainly of lesser-known character actors whose performances are mostly able. The great actor/filmmaker Orson Welles gives an uncredited performance as the film's narrator; curiously, the narration was written by science fiction author Ray Bradbury, who is also uncredited. The film's stirring music was composed by Miklos Rozsa, who was no stranger to religious epics (the soundtracks to "Quo Vadis?" and "Ben-Hur" stand out among his other works). Beautifully filmed in Spain, "King of Kings" is an intelligent and reverent profile of He who has been the Way, the Truth, and the Life to hundreds of millions for almost 2000 years. END
on September 29, 2002
Here is the life of Christ depicted in the political climate in which He appeared. In fact, the first few minutes of the film will make you wonder if you are watching the right movie, as it reviews the Roman invasion of Judea. The Romans, the family of Herod, the Sanhedrin and Barabbas with his Zealots all play roles in the trajedy.
Samuel Bronston, a producer whose production center was located outside of Madrid, envisioned a shorter movie along the artistic lines of "The Gospel According to St. Matthew," simple and reverent. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer saw the movie as a threat to its' current blockbuster hit, "Ben-Hur." Bronston needed some additional financial backing and MGM stepped in, so that the release could be delayed until after "Ben-Hur" was finished with its' usual one year playing engagement. At the same time, the tremendous audience response to the spectacle of "Ben-Hur" convinced MGM to expand the film and make it more spectacular. At least an additional 45 minutes was tacked on the planned running time.
I find the film a great success. By giving us the political milieu, it provides us a different slant on the well-known story and invokes interest with sub-plots.
Jeffrey Hunter took a lot of unnecessary abuse for his portrayal. This was the first portrayal of Jesus by an actor who was around the same age as Christ during the events, but he was criticized as too young (???). His piercing blue eyes added a sharp edge to his appearance, making him symbolically stand out as unique. He depicted an accessible Jesus. This was certainly in evidence during the Sermon on the Mount scene. In no other movie, I feel, does Jesus come down off the lofty pedestal and talk directly to you. The Sermon on the Mount scene starts with the Beatitudes but becomes a conversation between the audience and Jesus, at times, questioning Him directly on who He really is. Here, Jesus becomes human, and it is thanks to Jeffrey Hunter's heartfelt performance. To contrast the human element is some of the most incredibly moving miracles ever filmed, establishing his Divinity. The healing of the crippled boy never fails to elicit a tear.
The other performances are just as good. The political and action sequences around the sacred story are interesting and exciting. The sets and the photography are appropriate for the spectacle but not terribly overdone. And, last but not least, is Miklos Rozsa's incredible music score, one of his best.
Although lambasted when it first appeared during the media backlash against spectacles (although the audience disproved the critics by making this one of the best grossing films of the year), this film gains in reputation as the years move on. One of my personal favorites! We need this on DVD!
on October 7, 2000
'King of Kings' features Jeffrey Hunter's finest performance, as a young, dynamic Jesus of Nazareth, and his intrerpretation, open and earnest, is the best part of a movie both uneven and flawed.
Produced by many of the people responsible for 'Ben Hur', the film utilizes some of the same sets, actors (Frank Thring appears in major roles in both films), and composer (Miklos Rozsa, whose score for 'King of Kings' was one of his finest). The cast was fleshed out by respected actors (Robert Ryan is too old but charismatic as John the Baptist, Siobhan McKenna is a glowing Mary, Brigid Bazlen, a deliciously wicked and oversexed Salome, Harry Guardino, an 'over-the-top' Barabbas, a VERY young Rip Torn scores as Judas). While the cast didn't have the 'star power' of 'Ben Hur', or many other Christian epics, the actors, by and large, perform credibly in their roles, particularly Hurd Hatfield and Viveca Lindfors, as Pilate and his wife, Claudia, and Ron Randell as Tribune Lucius.
The film was a MUCH less expensive project than 'Ben Hur'; the budget restraints show most glaringly in recreating Jesus' ministry (most of Christ's miracles are only referred to, not shown), and extras casting (Spanish townspeople, overdubbed with some truly RIPE dialogue!).
The film works best when focusing on Jesus; unfortunately, it veers off into distracting subplots about Barabbas and the zealots, and the decadence of Herod's court. These stories consume a LOT of screen time, and damage the overall impact of the film.
Yet rising above all this is Jeffrey Hunter's interpretation of the Savior. Easily the most audience-friendly of all the actors who have assailed the role, Hunter took a lot of flack for his 'matinee idol' good looks, and piercing blue eyes, but his kindness, his sincerity, and the complete believability with which he delivers Christ's words overcome any qualms about his appearance! The Sermon on the Mount is a film high point, and magnificent; the Crucifixion and Resurrection have the kind of power that can bring a lump to your throat, even after repeated viewings!
While 'King of Kings' lacks the big names and budget of 'The Greatest Story Ever Told', or the emotional core of 'Jesus of Nazareth' or 'The Last Temptation of Christ', in Jeffrey Hunter, the film presents possibly the most compassionate of all screen Messiahs, and makes this film a MUST for the holidays, and your collection!
I first saw this when I was young and was thrilled to find it out on DVD. I believe this is Hollywood's best portrayal of Christ despite some innaccuracies. Jeffery Hunter did an awesome job of acting, giving us a dignified, majestic, powerful version of Christ. His piercing blue Angelo-Saxon eyes (much criticized over the years) are key to conveying an other-wordly demeanor about Christ, even if they are historically inaccurate, and who cares? The scenery is lush with many extras and costumes; there is much drama and spectacle without the use of computerized graphics. The acting is all well done and the casting perfect. I must comment on the music, also. It is spectacular, well worth an Oscar in my opinion.
"King of Kings" is somewhat tame compared to many other films on the life of Jesus, but is still nevertheless well worth watching. It does not have the grandeur and visual beauty of the George Stevens "The Greatest Story Ever Told" (1965), or the intensity of the silent Cecil B. DeMille "King of Kings" (1927) that it is supposed to be based on, but it is always reverential towards its subject matter, even if at a rather slow pace. Many of the events told in the Gospels are simply read, rather than depicted, and this job goes to a Roman named Lucius (well played by Ron Randell), and the magnificent voice of Orson Welles as narrator. There is also a fair amount of extraneous material in trying to describe the political climate of the time, and to expand on the life of Jesus.
Jeffrey Hunter, an underrated actor during his short lifetime and handful of films, is a handsome Jesus, with crystal blue eyes, and is very effective in the temptation in the desert, and the Sermon on the Mount. His youthful good looks made some people nickname this film "I Was a Teenage Jesus," even though Hunter was in his mid 30s at the time. Others in the cast are Siobhan McKenna as Mary, Harry Guardino as Barrabas, Rip Torn as Judas, and Hurd Hatfield as Pontius Pilate. Robert Ryan makes a good, grizzled John the Baptist, and of all the film Salomes, Brigid Bazlen is the best. Her voluptuous seduction of a drunken, lascivious Herod (Frank Thring) is terrific storytelling and quite believable.
Directed by Nicholas Ray, the film has a grand score by Miklos Rozsa, and the cinematography, shot on location in Spain, is by Manuel Berenguer. In my extensive "Jesus" film collection, this is the one I play the least, but it has value in many of its performances, and as a comparison to other films of this theme. Total running time is 170 minutes.
on December 21, 2002
"KING OF KINGS" is one the greatest biblical motion pictures of alltime! It is my second favorite alltime #1 motion picture! JEFFERY HUNTER delivers a performance that is truely outstanding, as Jesus with awe, splendor, humility, and true devotion! A grand allstar cast including, HURT HATFIELD, RON RANDALL, FRANK THRING, and ROBERT RYAN as John The Baptist capture the true spectacle of THE HOLY BIBLE, like never before!Their performances are monumental in "KING OF KINGS!" With direction by SAMUEL BRONSON, and a overwhelming powerful and moving music score by MIKLOS ROZA, "KING OF KINGS" sweeps through spectacular vistas and all the violence and human drama, as well the poignant peaceful settings, like never before! The most outstanding scenes include grand and monumental SERMON ON THE MOUNT, (Where over 10,000 extras were used!), THE LAST SUPPER (Which showed Jesus as poignant and emotionally moving, that was ever captured on film!), THE BETRAYAL IN THE GARDEN AT THE MOUNT OF OLIVES, THE TRIAL BEFORE PILATE AND KING HEROD, THE MOVING POWERFUL SCENES OF THE SCORGING, THE JOURNEY TO THE CRUCIFICXION, THE DEATH, BURIAL, AND FINAL RESURRECTION, ending the film! In all "KING OF KINGS" captures the majestic and breathtaking beauty of the life of Jesus, as "The Greatest Story Ever Told" to be forever cherished! No video collection should be complete without a copy of this monumental motion picture! The WIDESCREEN PRESENTATION of "KING OF KINGS" is the version I would highly recommend, because you see the whole film as was seen in the theaters back in the 1960's. You experience the love, the joy, the faith, and the spirit that will be forever embraced to the world as the "KING OF KINGS!"
Samuel Bronston's 1961 production of "King of Kings" is a fantastic achievement
and one of the best of the biblical epics. They truly DON'T make them like this anymore but we are all fortunate that this film was so very well preserved so that generations to come can enjoy it as it was meant to be seen , as presented in this Blu Ray offering. The casting is top notch, the photography is 2nd to none , the editing and color timing is superbly done to almost perfection and the sound recording, for 1961 , is well above average. Nicolas Ray's direction has stood the test of time and the ever omnipotent Orson Wells lends an uncredited hand as narrator.
"King of Kings" was not well received by the critics and was disrespectfully dubbed "I was a teenaged Jesus" in reference to the youthful good looks of star Jeffery Hunter. In retrospect it is now quite clear the critics were wrong, that this film is a true classic and Samuel Broston's masterpiece.
With that said, this review will focus on the picture and sound quality of this Blu Ray presentation and not the film itself.
"King of Kings" is presented in an El-Cheapo Eco case on a single BD-50 disc. I admit to being initially worried about the image quality since only one disc was used. The average bit rate never exceeds 30 mpbs but the encode and source is such that those numbers are inconsequential.
"King of Kings" look positively BRILLIANT on Blu Ray! It currently ties for the best looking titles I own, and I have numerous box sets including the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy , "Ben-Hur" and "The Sound of Music" , all very fine looking presentations.
I was not prepared for the stunning image quality and couldn't believe how truly magnificent it was.
"King of Kings" was filmed using the 70MM Super Technirama process with color by Technicolor. Using 35mm film, but with a special anamorphic process, the end result was almost indistinguishable from shooting on native 65mm filmstock and provides a clarity and depth of image unsurpassed even today. Originally optically manipulated for projection on a large curved screen, Technirama provided the same vistas of CinemaScope but without the field distortions and need for more than one camera.
What that means to US now, is that this Blu Ray provides a simply stunning and sumptuous viewing experience. On my calibrated display "King of Kings" easily equals and at times surpasses the frame by frame restorations done for "Ben-Hur" and "The 10 Commandments". With the exception of 1 or two extremely brief soft shots and one short segment that was almost totally out of focus (Lucius reporting on Jesus's activities to Herod and Pilate) the picture quality of "King of Kings" is nothing short of..... well ..... miraculous!
Banding, excessive DNR, Edge Enhancement/Sharpening and other processing boo boo's are just not an issue on the Blu Ray.Contrast and Color levels are exactly where I hoped they would be. I saw no instances of telecine wobble or film warping either. (and I looked for them) Hats off to the techs that scanned this to disc. It's a very nice job and easily worth many times the purchase price in my opinion.
I have no idea if this is a restoration or if the negatives were just in pristine condition, but either way this film is presented in the best positive light and when compared to other older catalog titles it stands easily at the very high end of things. Digital is not yet at the level to compete with the lush and rich results they got back in 1961 using good old fashioned film. Manuel Berenguer , Milton R. Krasner and Franz Planer are to be highly commended for some really beautiful cinematography.
Unfortunately, the sound on this rendering of "King of Kings" is not quite as good as the picture. Chalk it up to the recording techniques of the day. While you can hear every word and sound effect, ever note of the music, the overall sound is a bit flat and lifeless , with poor signal to noise ratio and stifled dynamic range. It has been cleaned up well for this Blu Ray and I have no doubts that the DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks are a true representation of the uncompressed sound track. Mind you, most folks will find nothing at all wrong with the sound, but I have a very good system and am spoiled by the titles that DO provide fuller fidelity. Regardless of any sonic shortcomings, Miklos Roza's top notch evocative score shines thru and we can enjoy it during the film as well as during the Overture, Intermission , Entr'acte and Exit music. Fortunately all these have been preserved, reminiscent of the roadshow presentation of this film. GREAT! Dialogue and sound effects are very clear, although the low end seems a bit lacking. Again, this may just be exactly as it was recorded back in 1961 and in no way detracts from the overall effect of the film.
The special features offered are nothing to write home about and consist of 3 very short promotional films plus the films trailer. All are presented in standard definition. Perhaps since this film was not a blockbuster during it's initial showing there just aren't any more extras to be had. Regardless, it is just as well with a one disc presentation where disc compression could have become an issue.
"King of Kings" is the type of film that truly deserves the full "Mega Box Set" treatment, but alas that is not the case and it is highly unlikely to be in the future. Regardless, what we have here is one of the greatest epic movies Hollywood has ever turned out, and whether or not you consider yourself 'religious' this film is a wonder to behold, a truly great story filmed beautifully with top notch actors and preserved almost perfectly for our enjoyment these many years later.
For all these reasons I wholeheartedly recommended this Blu Ray release of "King of Kings" to all who love movies and especially to rabid fans of classic cinema who now collect their 'precious' titles in the Blu Ray format. I guarantee you, you will NOT be disappointed! My most HIGHEST recommendation!
on May 19, 2000
Jeffrey Hunter is magnificent as Our Lord, Jesus. He was such a natural actor and he could have used a lot of grandstanding, but his subtle, sincere performance is outstanding. Also interesting is the way the subplot of the Jewish zealots is intertwined into the mix. The scene depicting the Sermon On The Mount is one the most moving and majestic scenes ever filmed. Rip Torn is equally fantastic (as usual) as Judas Iscariot. The final scene on the shores of Galilee has a beautiful juxtposition of Jesus's shadow combined with a net to form a cross. All in all, a great movie from start to finish.
on December 31, 2001
"King of Kings", directed by Nicholas Ray ("Rebel Without a Cause"), is an underrated film that is marked by some dazzling cinematic moments (Pompey's desecration of the Temple, the death of Herod, and an extended Sermon on the Mount). Miklos Rozsa ("Ben Hur") is responsible for the moving score and Orson Welles provides some tasteful narration at the film's beginning. Jeffery Hunter delivers an adequate portrayal of Jesus although the cynical critics at the time savaged his performance. Robert Ryan and Siobhan McKenna are too old to play John the Baptist and Mary respectively and Royal Dano is ridiculously miscast as Peter. However, film buffs will delight to see a young (and thin) Rip Torn as Judas Iscariot and Harry Guardino as Barabbas. Fans of Nicholas Ray should see this film as should students of epic cinema. As a portrayal of Jesus' life and mission, "King of Kings" falls far short of "Jesus of Nazareth". However, "King of Kings" was made for the large screen and I think that lovers of the cinema will appreciate its strengths and overlook its faults.
on December 28, 1999
I first saw King of Kings in one of its original television broadcasts in about 1967,and was deeply moved by it. I had heard a lot of the cryptic remarks about Jeffrey Hunter's performance,and found them to be totally off the mark.I found his simple,reverent performance far superior to others that have come along since. As a cradle Episcopalian I had a little trouble with the Barabas/Judas connection,but the performances of Harry Guardino and Rip Torn were excellent. I also liked the interweaving of the character of Lucius throughout the story a good touch.Just as a matter of curiosity,has anybody ever heard the broken down car story involving Hunter and Robert Ryan? I always felt that Jeff Hunter was one of the most underated actors of his generation,and am saddened by the fact that his superb performance in King of Kings pretty much destroyed his career. I also find it interesting how the reviews of King of Kings have changed in the past 30 years, from pretty mediocre to one of the best. Go figure.