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The Last Temptation of Christ: The Criterion Collection

Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ is now out on DVD, but while being a near-definitive edition of this controversial film, it's also a technical headache for some DVD fans. Based on Nikos Kazantzakis' book about Jesus Christ's journey to spread the Gospel of peace and love, Scorsese's film was mired in controversy when released in 1988. Religious groups were appalled that Christ was portrayed as fallible and not the perfect Son of God that so many Hollywood epics of a bygone era portrayed. Threats on Scorsese were made, and several theaters were firebombed. Nonetheless, The Last Temptation of Christ is at times brilliant. The controversial last 30 minutes, where Jesus hallucinates while on the cross and imagines himself as a normal man, is intriguing, and while it can be seen where it may be offensive to some, it is not nearly as damning as some religious groups believe it to be. In fact, the whole film is more spiritual and thought-provoking than many of the portraits of Christ that have been made in the past, those that treat Jesus as someone man could try but never be equal to. The Christ in Scorsese's film is not perfect and is thus more easily to relate to. The performances by Willem Dafoe as the title character, Harvey Keitel as Judas, and Barbara Hershey as Mary Magdalene, are uniformly outstanding. But this DVD edition of the film can go screwy on some players. Fundamentally, the aspect ratio of the disc, which should be 1.85:1, can be viewed only when DVD players are set to "4:3 Widescreen" — otherwise the image will be full-frame and off-center (the opening scroll that is nearly impossible to read due to its being misaligned — a quarter of the text is out of frame). The 4:3 Widescreen setting, often overlooked by many DVD users, has caused a few folks (even this reviewer, at first) to think The Last Temptation of Christ was a total dud. At least the sound is good. The audio was remixed in Dolby Digital 5.1, and it sounds amazing, especially when Peter Gabriel's exceptional score is playing. The second audio track is a commentary with Scorsese, Willem Dafoe, writer Paul Schrader, and Jay Cox. Additional materials include an interview with Gabriel concerning the score; a video journal by Scorsese, taken by him on location; extensive background on the film and the research done for it; and a huge photo gallery with publicity stills and behind-the-scenes shots. Keep-case.

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