JESUS OF NAZARETH
MOVIE: *** (out of 5)
BLU-RAY EXPERIENCE: ** (out of 5)
Robert Powell as JESUS CHRIST
Anne Bancroft as MARY MAGDALENE
Ernest Borgnine as THE CENTURION
James Farentino as SIMON PETER
Ian McShane as JUDAS ISCARIOT
Christopher Plummer as HEROD ANTIPAS
Olivia Hussey as VIRGIN MARY
Michael York as JOHN THE BAPTIST
James Mason as JOSEPH OF ARIMATHEA
Laurence Olivier as NICODEMUS
Anthony Quinn as CAIAPHAS
Rod Steiger as PONTIUS PILATE
Studio: Shout Factory
Directed by: Franco Zeffirelli
BY KEVIN CARR
Having grown up in a household that regularly went to church, I have a pretty strong understanding of the Gospels. However, back in 1977 when “Jesus of Nazareth” aired, I was only five or six, and my greatest interest was “Star Wars” rather than Biblical stories. Because of this, I missed “Jesus of Nazareth” in its original run.
While I’ve kept a spiritual part to myself, I attend church far less than I did as a young child or teenager (which is to say I don’t attend church at all as an adult), I can still appreciate what Franco Zeffirelli was doing with this groundbreaking miniseries.
“Jesus of Nazareth” is a two-part six-hour drama about the time of Jesus Christ (Robert Powell). It wasn’t a special effects extravaganza, and it featured limited sets and scope as compared to larger Biblical dramas that preceded it like “Ben-Hur” and “The Ten Commandments.” However, it struck at the heart of the story and gave the faithful an honest look at what they had been reading in the Bible for years.
Is it perfect? Not at all. There are some liberties taken with the stories, partly because it’s distilling four Gospels into one narrative but also partly because dramatic license needs to be taken to make a miniseries work. Scholars and those who know their Biblical history better than any other subject will find plenty of flaws and deviations from the Word. However, for the casual viewer, “Jesus of Nazareth” provides a respectful, down-to-earth presentation of the Gospel stories.
Zeffirelli, a Roman Catholic himself, approached this story from a believer’s perspective. This is in contrast to recent Biblical epics in theaters like “Exodus: Gods and Kings” and “Noah,” which are approached from a secular perspective. After all, even though the 1970s were known for a liberal shift in global politics, there was still plenty of conservative and religious faith in the zeitgeist.
For the faithful, “Jesus of Nazareth” is something to own and treasure, if for no other reason than to have the hugely impressive cast in a Biblical epic. It puts to shame TV productions like “Son of God” (the theatrical version being the only part I could bring myself to watch) because of the gravitas its cast brings.
For the non-faithful, “Jesus of Nazareth” will be a chore at best and at worst a weird science fiction story with a blue-eyed alien child sent here to save humanity.
Either way, this modest-yet-impressive production is made with respect and quality. It’s not meant to change anyone’s mind, but it’s worth seeing.
The 40th Anniversary Edition of Franco Zeffirelli’s “Jesus of Nazareth” comes on two Blu-ray discs, each with a single new bonus featurette: an interview with actor Michael York and an interview with best-selling author Jean-Pierre Isbouts.