In 1973 this musical staring Ted Neeley was considered the most controversial movie made about Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ Superstar
Directors: Norman Jewison
Producers: Norman Jewison And Robert Stigwood
Writers: Melvyn Bragg And Norman Jewison
Features: Widescreen 2.35:1, Production Notes, Cast And Filmmakers Bios, Theatrical Trailer, English 5.0 Surround Sound, French Dolby Surround And Spanish Subtitles.
Jesus Christ...Ted Neeley
Judas Iscariot...Carl Anderson
Mary Magdalene...Yvonne Elliman
Pontius Pilate...Barry Dennen
King Herod...Josh Mostel
Simon Zealotes...Larry T. Marshall
Whenever someone makes a movie about Jesus Christ there is bound to be some controversy. Right now Mel Gibson is preparing to unveil his interpretation of the last days of Christ in an upcoming film. Thirty years ago Norman Jewison unveiled his musical version of the hit recording and play, "Jesus Christ Superstar." This came at the end of the flower power movement, but was a continuation of the story that Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice had brought out in 1969 at the height of the movement. Norman Jewison had fallen in love with the record while he was filming "Fiddler On The Roof." When he finished this film he offered to make a film of what had now turned into a stage presentation. Universal Pictures gave him the go ahead and he started interviewing people though actors in the various stage plays around the world wound up being the favored people. With this crew Jewison went off to Israel to film the movie. Instead of building elaborate stages he used old ruins and caves as the main sets. He had scaffolding placed against the ruins to give the production a surreal modern look and thought nothing of blending the past with the present. In this movie he has people wearing old style clothing mixed with current clothing as with the soldiers brandishing spears while wearing military type long pants and boots. Tanks and a few jets are seen in this movie that dared to meld two separate time periods. Jewison probably felt he was going to catch flak no matter what so why not go all out. Thirty years later, "Jesus Christ Superstar" still stands as one of the most powerful and enthralling movies about the last days of Jesus Christ.
This movie starts out as a camera sifts through desert sands, then some stone ruins, and then scaffolding next to the ruins. In a distance a bus carrying the cast of the movie winds its' way up a dusty road and stops as the cast disembarks while a musical overture is heard. The camera keeps zooming in as the cast starts to practice, only to fall back time and time again. After the fourth time the camera settles on a black man on a hill of sand who is singing about Jesus starting to believe the hype about himself. This man is Judas as played by Carl Anderson. Judas appears to believe that Jesus(Ted Neeley) has been running a con game, but is now attracting too much attention from the law and the people so he wants Jesus to cool it down. Judas berates Jesus for hanging around the prostitute, Mary Magdalene(Yvonne Elliman), but Jesus says she takes care of his needs. This is all done in song as almost every word uttered is expelled this way in the movie.
"Jesus Christ Superstar" is made up entirely of song and dance. Unlike most musicals there are no weak songs in this movie. There are no weak productions. This movie is not a very structured musical. It is a freewheeling mixture of whatever was going on in the streets of the early seventies era. Jesus is sometimes referred to as 'J.C.' in parts of this film which for this time period was very radical. Everything in this film is radical. The lack of established sets, the bare costumes and the free form dance movements all blend together to show the viewer that nothing is as it has been before. Toss out the stodgy caricatures of the Bible - this is a thoroughly modern retelling of the life of Jesus Christ. If this movie had been made today the music would undoubtedly be some form of hip-hop.
This movie looks at how Jesus Christ might have run his 'campaign' in more current times. That is what today's media would label it, and like a political campaign the movement would concentrate itself on its' perceived image. People suggest ideas to Jesus that could improve his marketing strategy. They do not understand what Jesus is about.
Though a musical, this movie has its' somber moments as when Jesus worries if he is willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for God and man. He even at one point doubts God. Jesus is shown being overwhelmed by the sick and handicapped that swarm over him trying to be cured. Pontius Pilate(Barry Dennen) agonizes over the sentencing to death of Jesus Christ. Judas has to get up the nerve to do his deed and later atone for it.
Still the movie plays wacky when Jesus is brought to King Herod played by a corpulent Josh Mostel who is poolside with an entourage of decadent party people that one could imagine meet frequently at underground clubs in New York City. King Herod questions Jesus as to who he thinks he is to a sing song type of up tempo beat while the camera intrudes on the weirdness of the crowd. Watching Josh Mostel prance around in his swimsuit and sing is a sight to see.
Made over thirty years ago, "Jesus Christ Superstar" holds up well. The songs stand the test of time and the acting is some of the best done in a movie about Jesus Christ. This picture was nominated for several Golden Globe awards including best picture, best actor and best actress. You can't go wrong with this DVD. I am writing all this never being a fan of many musicals or very religious.
The quality of the print used for this DVD could have been better as there is some dropout throughout the movie. I have always hoped that this film would someday be restored and remastered. The movie has 5.0 stereo surround sound. For a musical with this majesty, I hope someday to see DTS sound added to the DVD. Overall the small amount of dropout did not harm my viewing.
This DVD is highly recommended if a great story of the last days of Jesus Christ is wanted or if an outstanding musical tour de force is needed. "Jesus Christ Superstar" runs on five stars out of five.