on July 18, 2002
Notorious for Charlton Heston and John Wayne, The Greatest Story gets unfair treatment due to several items that could be improved: Length:Look at "Gone with the Wind", "The Great Escape", "The Ten Commandments". Epic movies are supposed to be long. Of course some more dramtic action could have helped.
Actors: Most of the actors are great in their roles: Claude Rains, Jose Ferrer, Dorthy McGuire, Sidney Poiter, Roddy McDowell and of course, Charlton Heston as John the Baptist. On the other hand, some are a stretch, and then there's John Wayne.
Scenery: Beatiful scenery. Why be upset that it isn't the war torn Holy land? However, just because John Wayne is in it, doesn't mean parts of it had to be shot in John Ford's Monument Valley.
Jesus: Played with reverance by Max Van Sydow who could use contacts, long dyed dark hair, and a tan to fit the ethnic.
Music: Alfred Newman's score is great. I love Handel's Messiah, but Stevens got a little carried away with it.
Over all, a great movie with a lot of sincerity whose weakness are its strengths. The DVD contains some nice extras, a good documentary, and then a bad documentary that is a [spin] off of the first one. The producers should be crucified for not showing the deleted scenes cut from the movie, about an hour's worth.
on July 11, 2002
One of the most-seen and best-known films on the life of Christ, THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD is grand and inspirational, greatly due to the score from Handel's MESSIAH and beautiful photography. Yet director George Stevens fails at conveying the majesty of the Nazarene's person by reducing him from The Eternal Word made flesh to a holier-than-thou cutout surrounded by cameos of period Hollywood stars.
The movie attempts to create a backdrop of Roman oppression and social unrest among the Judaeans from which the Messiah emerges as Light of the World. Yet the socio-political theme is not properly tied to Jesus' ministry, and quickly evolves into ghastly sights without proper meaning or explanation. People are represented as little more than props throughout, two-dimensional figures staring piously at the ground while Jesus (ably played by Max von Sydow) passes by.
What I found particularly vexing was the film's flirtation with antisupernaturalism, which made the Son of God's miracles appear to be the product of psychosomatic suggestion (the cripple He heals seems to have gotten better on his own) or deceit (the resurrection of Lazarus is not seen directly, but the news -or story- is spread by apostles among the crowds). Many other miracles were mentioned amidst cynicism from the status quo. I find the director's objective with this uncertain.
The film improves with the Palm Sunday scene, with the film reaching cosmic proportions at the Lord's Supper: Seeing Jesus Christ providing the Eucharist enlivens the soul, as His hands seem to radiate truth and holiness. I always end up in tears at the Crucifixion; the procession to Calvary is reminiscent of a stained glass window. Sydney Poitier's appearance as Simon of Cyrene is the only worthwhile cameo in the film, as he dutifully carries the Cross, a brief task that immortalized this man forever. The Crucifixion is fittingly the most powerful moment in the film, as dramatic and evocative as a Rembrandt painting. Truly compelling and emotional.
Despite its many shortcomings I enjoy this film for its worthwhile presentation of some of the most important events in the life of the Son of Man, particularly the Passion. Recommended for the Holidays and for devotional viewing.
on November 2, 2001
During the film, I was slightly disappointed. I felt there was something lacking in the script, and I kept criticizing Max Von Sydow's actions as Christ. Afterwards, however, my mind changed a great deal. As a Christian, I would not be surprised if other Christians have wondered about what Jesus of Nazareth was really like. I have talked with my priest on this issue -- Jesus viewed from a human standpoint, or from a divine standpoint? Did Jesus know with all his heart that he was the One, and was he dignified in all that he did? How sure was he of himself, and what did he do when he approached controversial situations? I felt that The Greatest Story Ever Told portrayed Christ as a man who KNEW he was from up above, and that that was the way he carried himself (quite a contrast from Scorsese's Last Temptation of Christ). And when I came to realize this, I became even more impressed with the carefulness of Sydow's acting ability, and the director's ability to capture the sensitivity of Christ who knew he was the Son of God as well as the Son of Man. Sydow plays a very composed Christ, one who thinks quietly, moves in a most calm manner, is most sure of his path in his life, fearless, all-knowing, and most dignified. He was incredibly contemplative and was careful with his powers -- As God, he had the capabilities of performing miracles non-stop, but knowing that faith alone saves the sinner, he was careful with his treatments. The simple appreciation and care for this issue earns this movie 5 stars. I gave it four, however, because while it is one of my most beloved portrayals of Christ and the story of his life, there are some parts during the film where the screenplay seems to be lacking. For example, the revival of Lazarus -- we don't even get to see Lazarus' body, and the people just come down the hill to report that he is alive. I felt that if they had done a scene where Lazarus came out and was atleast visible, it would have felt more like a miracle. With deciding not to show his living body, doubt comes upon the viewer since the news that is reported is from those who claimed to see it. It is kind of funny that I speak of doubt in regards to this film.
I'm not an expert on Scripture, however, from reading these other reviews I've picked up that this is one of the most accurate portrayals of Christ's story. On the issue of whether or not Jesus was a confident Son of God or an indecisive and fearful one (the one portrayed by Dafoe in The Last Temptation of Christ), I would suggest that Sydow's portrayal is probably more accurate. This is not because it is the more comfortable and comforting choice, but because throughout the history of Christianity, God's appearances through angels, apparitions, voices, signs, and miracles have all been pretty clear and unquestionable. If you hear God, you will know it...none of that liberal--I'm-trying-to-find-my-calling-from-God-and-I-think-it-is-one-of-the-several-above-choices mumbo jumbo. In the Catholic tradition, God doesn't mess with our heads. If He chooses to reveal Himself to us, we will KNOW, and there will be no question about what He wants from us. The same controversy arises in the Joan of Arc films -- the television series starring Leelee Sobieski, and the Hollywood version, "The Messenger" starring that girl from the 5th Element. In the tv film, Sobieski portrays a most dignified and confident Joan. In the Hollywood series, Joan is portrayed as a nutty schizophrenic who is neither coherent or sure of her position and what God wants from her (or if God is even speaking to her at all). Unfortunately, records can only carry so much content and the rest is left to speculation. It will have to be judged by the Church's history of consistency with recorded divine interventions from God.
After viewing this movie, I grew such a confidence, and also strength, in the living Christ. It was truly a very Holy and peaceful portrayal. I recommend this film to anyone curious of what the living Christ might have been like, and those who want to come to know Christ's story, whether Christian or not.
on September 19, 2001
It's unlikely that He traveled much more than a hundred miles from where he as born, He never wrote a book and historical records make note of only 30 or so days of His life. Yet He impacted history more than any other life. Hollywood has made a number of films on the life of this man named Jesus. He's often portrayed as a pretty, blue-eyed Caucasian a la Jeffrey Hunter in the under-rated "King of Kings" (crudely referred to as "I was a Teen Age Jesus" during production). New on DVD is George Stevens' massive, stately, "GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD". Although the box says this is the restored roadshow version at three hours and 19 minutes, it's my understanding the original release was nearly an hour longer. Stevens corralled just about every star in Hollywood for a cameo and it was distracting on initial release, but not so viewing it today as many of these once famous faces are less so. The film has wonderfully composed shots, in majestic or minimalist sets with exquisite lighting and deep shadows. Max von Sydow is about as good as one can expect in an impossible role. However, a stop-motion puppet Jesus from Russia with the voice of Ralph Fiennes is probably the most artistic and powerful of all movie Christs in "THE MIRACLE MAKE". This remarkable look at the life of Jesus as seen through the eyes of Jairus' daughter, a girl Jesus raised from the dead, is haunting and beautiful. Filmed as a coproduction with Mel Gibson's Icon Entertainment in association with a 2-D animation house in Wales and a 3-D puppet and miniature crew from Moscow. The end result is a marvelous piece of filmmaking that gets better on repeated viewings. The meaning of this solitary Life is not diluted in any way. Other characters are voiced by Julie Christie, Richard Grant, William Hurt and Miranda Richardson. The wonderfully evocative flute-heavy score is by Anne Dudley. The "making of" featurette is worth the price of the disc.
on March 23, 2001
I must say, state and write that I was and am quite disappointed with this movie, i.e., The Greatest Story Ever Told (Special Edition) VHS ~ Max von Sydow. Part from Von Sydow and Heston (whom play Jesus and John the Baptist) the rest of the actors actually seem very disinterested to be in this movie. Heston is awesome as usual in his portrayal of John the Baptist and he is the only actor that shows raw emotions. Von Sydow does a good job as Jesus; however, at certain times his lack emotions hurt the lines and do not bring out the fire in the loaded sentences that were spoken by the man known as Jesus. Telly Savalas is not good as the Roman General and John Wayne's line is not well said at all. The visual effects, costumes and setting for the movie is all done with careful, precise and meticulous detail as to get the correct, historical and authentic fell to the movie. However, apart from the wooden performances, the movie greatest fault is its pace. To imagine that this movie in question, i.e., The Greatest Story Ever Told (Special Edition) VHS ~ Max von Sydow had been 260 minutes in its original release is hard to fathom since watching in its modern format, i.e., 195 minutes, already feels as if one is watching this movie for an eternity. So overall, I would have to end, conclude and finish this review by stating the following; there were two major flaws with this movie, 1) most of the actors did not do a good job and 2) the movies pace was equal to that of two Tylenol pm (and that in itself is never a good thing).
on March 22, 2001
I do not think that the problem with the film is that it is too long. The problem is that it is not long enough. By cutting an hour and 5 minutes out of the film, it killed the pacing. Part 1 moves much too quickly. Part 2 moves much too slowly. The film is also shot in Ultra Panavision 70, which is presented in 2.76:1 letterboxing. That means the image is almost 3 inches wider than it is tall. Translation: Murder on your eyes! That's why I recommend either the pan-and-scan version, or the moderately letterboxed 2.35:1 version previously issued by MGM in 1996.
Other than that, the acting is good. Max Von Sydow does a good job, even if he doesn't set the world on fire as Christ. So far, Robert Powell has been the best Christ on screen. But the stunt casting (John Wayne as a Roman?????, Sidney Poitier as Simon????, Pat Boone as Andrew??????) defeats it in the end and makes it another spot the star film.
Hardly George Stevens finest film (Giant and Shane are his best films)but it's no stinker and it maintained my interest throughout. And the photography is a wow!
on December 20, 2000
Visually magnificent, George Stevens' epic retelling of the life of Christ has much to recommend it, particularly the performance of Max Von Sydow as Jesus, but it seems so much in awe of its subject that, though it succeeds in presenting Jesus as God, it fails in presenting Him as God in human form. Did Jesus really walk this Earth? He certainly did, but I doubt that the Jesus depicted here would have ever been put to death. It is entirely too obvious that He was the Son of God. Who would have doubted Him? "The Greatest Story Ever Told" reminds me of a stained glass window: It is truly beautiful to look at, yet it never succeeds in appearing three dimensional. The film's biggest handicap, however, is the endless parade of "guest stars" (especially such incongruous figures as John Wayne and Pat Boone) whose appearance cheapens the subject matter, putting it on a par with such all-star extravaganzas as "Airport" and "The Poseidon Adventure." The film is still very much worth seeing (probably more so in the widescreen edition), but falls far short of its intentions. Franco Zefferelli's "Jesus of Nazareth" is vastly superior.
on March 10, 2004
I recently wrote a review on Jesus Of Nazareth. Shamefully though a pitiful review of a spectacular and wonderful mini series. I started off mentioning The Greatest Story Ever Told as the definitive Christ movie til I saw Jesus Of Nazareth.But the truth is I love both these films with equal passion.I can't beleive when I read people love one but revile the other. Both of these shows offer intense drama,marvelous backdrops, tear jerking moments, and way of penetrating into the essence of your very being.But credit must be given where it is due. I find The Greatest Story Ever Told to be the superior DVD presentation. The bonus features disc is informative and entertaining.The Widescreen format is breathtaking. I know Jesus Of Nazareth was filmed for tv,but I do beleive if they pulled back far enough from the presented picture we would get a somewhat panoramic picture.The Greatest Story Ever Told is a wonderful treasure to own.
on April 11, 2004
I watched The Greatest Story Ever Told today on Easter Sunday on Turner Classic Movies, Jesus of Nazareth is still my favorite movie about Jesus, I love that version and think it's the greatest movie I have seen about Jesus but I liked The Greatest Story Ever Told too which is my second favorite movie about Jesus and I think Max Van Sydow was very good as Jesus and Charlton Heston was very good as John the Baptist and the only thing that keeps this from being the greatest movie about Jesus is that too many of the big name actors they used for cameo appearances were miscast. I have this movie on tape I bought the two video set sometimes in the 1980s but unfortunately it's just in the cropped pan and scan fullscreen format so today when The Greatest Story Ever told was shown on TCM in widescreen I taped it and I will buy the movie on widescreen DVD someday but first I plan on buying Jesus of Nazareth on DVD first.
on October 23, 2002
Reading the other reviews I lost count how many of them referred to this movie as "over-long". Frankly, one of my professors calls this "the McDonalds Mentality". Most people today, and the vast majority of us under 40 are so used to getting everything in soundbites, in between commercials, snacks (especially fast food), cell phone calls, etc. They don't have the patience to write a letter, cook a real meal, read a long book or savor a longer movie like George Stevens masterpiece "The Greatest Story Ever Told". I wish the DVD contained the original cut of the film, 260 minutes, as well as the present 195 minute presentation. The beggining of the film feels far to rushed. The ending of the film, fortunately, is sublime and true to the Gospel accounts of these profound events. A lifetime acheivment Academy Award is over-due for Max Von Sydow. Thanks for reading. CAL