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Desperately disappointing ...
on 6 November 2006
First of all, it should be pointed out that this film is a superb piece of television, beautifully crafted from a first-rate director, and marvellously performed by one of the best ensembles ever to grace our screens. In Franco Zeffirelli, this film benefited from a director of great vision who was sympathetic to the storyline, and Robert Powell's performance as Jesus is representative of both the compassionate grace of Christ, as well as demonstrating his strength of character (for instance, when challenging the Pharisees).
I have long awaited the full version of this film to be released on DVD in the UK; in between its last (dreadfully edited) video release and this current offering, I have acquired a Dutch DVD edition (fine for viewing, as the subtitles are removable), and even an Australian edition, of which the packaging actually echoes the original 80s video release, and therefore is of sentimental value. The reasons for the huge disappointment, however, are twofold: 2007 sees the 30th Anniversary of this film's first showing, and it would have been appropriate for this edition to have included either a booklet or DVD extras within the packaging. Neither exists, and as such is a wasted opportunity. More disturbing, however, is the blatant untruth of the presentation: it is labelled on the box as being "374 minutes approx."; how approximate do they wish to be? It is actually a mere 363 minutes, the remaining eleven having been omitted from episode 4, and producing a serious flaw in the plot line. We miss the fictitious (though dramatically necessary) scene where the priest Zerah persuades Judas to bring Jesus to the Sanhedrin; but more shockingly, we have also lost the essential scene that follows (this time based on the gospel narrative), from the early part of the Last Supper sequence, in which Jesus predicts Judas' betrayal and sends him out on his errand. The action on the DVD only resumes with Judas leaving the Upper Room, with anyone unfamiliar with the story (possibly young children watching for the first time) at a loss about what is now going on.
The blurb on the back of the DVD packaging announces for all the world to read that this is the "full, unedited version" of the film. It is NOT, and ITV DVD have made a heinous error in promoting it as such. Did they not realise there would be aficionados who would spot the omissions? Was the problem that the last two episodes couldn't be squeezed onto a single disc? I would have quite happily settled for the programme spread over four discs if necessary, if only to have had the full film. Surely there is a contravention of advertising standards here, and the distributors should be called to account. It is impossible to recommend this edition in the light of these factors, although people coming to the film for the first time may wonder why anyone is fussing. In my case, I grew up with this film. There has never been a production which I have watched so often (in spite of its length), no movie which I know quite as well by heart. Yet here I am, STILL waiting for a full UK release, despite the billing attached to this edition. Please, avoid buying, and contact ITV DVD to encourage them to re-release - maybe in time for the 30th Anniversary - an edition we can finally call, "complete".