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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.
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on August 28, 2003
In our time of fast cuts, limited character development, and two-word dialogue, this movie could not be made. It is visually beautiful and is a bit like watching moving paintings rather than moving pictures. I find the slow pace more exquisite and beautiful than long and boring. There are things that should be experienced in long phrases and bathed in time rather than crushed in a time compactor. The story of the life of Christ seems the most appropriate for this treatment.
I do find the huge vistas in the west rather strange because I have seen a great deal of footage from the Holy Land. Yes, this movie could not have been made in the historical setting, but the huge and coursing River Jordan in this movie is awfully different than the more-creek-than-River Jordan. But, setting the setting aside as dramatic license, I do find Max von Sydow's performance beautiful.
What is most interesting about this movie is that none of the action seems life-like, but it all seems so appropriate and right for the story it is telling. As I said, think of moving paintings and you will get a better idea of what to expect when you see this film.
Is it a great film? I think there are films about Jesus that are more appealing to me. But as von Sydow points out in one of the extras on the making of the movie, everyone has their own view of where Christ fits in and it is impossible to make a film that won't disagree with someone's settled view. I think this is a very good film that holds up well for what it intended to be. For my taste, by showing the miracles it clearly shows the miraculous nature of Jesus, but it doesn't seem to come down firmly enough on his Divinity. It seems to want to have it both ways, the final Christ in the Clouds notwithstanding. But that is my view.
One of the criticisms of the film in its time was that the many cameos by famous stars were distracting. In the documentary Stevens is quoted as saying that the day would come when no one would know the stars in those cameos and would just see the film. My children are that generation. I have to tell them who all these stars were. But they have a hard time with the pace of the film because they are used to much quicker cuts and a different kind of film language. I encourage them to just sit back and bathe in the beauty of the images and listen to the language and the spaces between the words as music.
In my view, it is a film very much worth watching and there is much that is masterful in this film, but I think it falls somewhat short of being a truly great film although Sydow gives a great performance as Jesus.
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on October 20, 2003
Because of the subject matter, the life of Jesus Christ, of whom more blood and ink have been spilled than any other human being to have ever walked the Earth, no one film can really be called THE definitive telling of this story. But George Stevens put six years of blood and sweat into making a film that would come awfully close to being just that--THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD. In its time, this movie ranked as one of the most expensive ever made by a major Hollywood studio at $20 million. In its original form, it also ranked as one of the longest as well, at four hours and twenty minutes. It was also critically savaged and did only so-so at the box office, though it was far from a commercial flop.
Although it doesn't exactly stick to the letter of the Good Book, THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD still depicts the life of Jesus from his birth to his eventual crucifixtion and resurrection with remarkable accuracy. Several scenes, including Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist, are among the most moving ever filmed. Stevens, who co-wrote the massive tome of a script with James Lee Barrett and Carl Sandburg, filmed on location amongst the vast panorama of the Colorado River basin along the Utah/Arizona border as a stand-in for the actual Holy Land, a move for which critics seemed unable to slam him enough, but which I think worked anyway. Three composers--Alfred Newman, Hugo Friedhofer, and Fred Steiner--are credited with the massive score, and the use of the "Hallelujah Chorus" from George Frideric Handel's great oratorio "Messiah" was a cagey choice on Stevens' part.
One aspect about GREATEST STORY that obviously continues to raise eyebrows and no shortage of ire to this very day is the fact that Stevens seemingly cast half of Hollywood's acting elite in what were primarily cameo roles. This had been done before in films like THE LONGEST DAY and HOW THE WEST WAS WON, to name just two, and would be done again and again in the coming decades. I think that Stevens' flaw was not that he cast so many Hollywood heavyweights, but that he placed a number of them into roles they probably weren't cut out for.
Max von Sydow had the ultimate acting challenge of portraying Jesus of Nazareth here; and given the weight and expectations of Western civilization being imposed on him, he came off extraordinarily well. Charlton Heston, no stranger to Biblical epics he, also gave a tremendous performance as John the Baptist, one that one would expect from an actor of his stature. Telly Savalas, years before "Kojak", gives a steely portrait of Pontius Pilate; and Donald Pleasance, many years before HALLOWEEN, makes a very convincing Dark Hermit (a.k.a. Satan).
In the other roles, Stevens' choice of casting ranges from interesting (Roddy McDowall, Sidney Poitier, Dorothy McGuire, David McCallum) to a bit questionable (Robert Blake, Sal Mineo, Pat Boone [though Boone's later conversion to Christian music makes his presence here far less jarring now than it did then]). But even now, Stevens' casting of John Wayne as a Roman centurion during the Crucifixtion scene is hard to swallow. It's hard to mistake Wayne's drawl with the one line he has ("Truly, this man was the son of God"), and just as hard not to crack a smile at the flat way he renders it.
Still, despite the occasional miscating, the extreme length, and the near-impossibility of getting it 100% correct for everyone, THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD is quite an achievement in cinematic history. Without a whole arsenal of special effects to work with, but with an imposing reputation all his own, Stevens made a definitive Hollywood epic that perhaps needs to be re-examined--hopefully in the original state that it was released.
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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.
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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.
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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!
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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.
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on August 16, 2003
The Greatest Story Ever Told is a huge epic movie that boasts an impressive cast full of Hollywood notables. The movie follows the life of Jesus from his birth in a stable in Bethlehem to his teachings with his disciples all the way to his crucifixion and Resurrection. Because the film is so huge, many parts of the life of Jesus are just skipped over and talked about later by characters who saw it happen or heard about it. This is surprisingly effective to show how quickly Jesus' notoriety spread throughout the area. There are several very good scenes done with no sound except for Alfred Newman's fantastic score even though we know people in the background are screaming at Jesus as he walks by carrying the cross. One particularly effective scene involves Simon of Cyrene, played by Simon Poitier, helping Jesus carry the cross after he has fallen. As Jesus gets up, he grabs onto Simon's arm who helps him go on. It is a very short scene, but nonetheless very moving.
The cast for this movie could go on for pages. Max von Sydow gives an excellent performance as Jesus Christ, although he might not look like the usually accepted idea of Jesus. Charlton Heston and Telly Savalas also give very good performances as John the Baptist and Pontius Pilate. The film also stars David McCallum as Judas, Jose Ferrer as Herod Antipas, Dorothy McGuire as Mary, Martin Landau as Ciaphias, Donald Pleasence as Satan(although he is credited as the Dark Hermit), and many others. The film also stars Michael Anderson JR, Roddy McDowall, Victor Buono, Ed Wynn, Sal Mineo, Ina Balin, Carroll Baker, Van Heflin, Jamie Farr, and so many more. There are several very small cameos most notably John Wayne, Shelley Winters, Sidney Poitier, and Claude Rains all of which are pretty good for how small they are. The Special Edition DVD offers the widescreen presentation, theatrical trailer, making of documentary, an altered scene during the crucifixion scene, still gallery, and a filmmaker's documentary. For an excellent look at the life of Jesus, if somewhat sanitized, check out The Greatest Story Ever Told!
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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.
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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.
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