Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Movie and DVD Reviews: The best and not-so-best movies available on DVD, and whatever else catches my eye.

Mimsy Review: Jesus Christ Superstar

Reviewed by Jerry Stratton, October 28, 1999

No, wait. We need a more permanent solution to our problem.

Special features

Cast Information4
Production Notes5

Wonderful set design, but less wonderful writing and dialogue. The soundtrack does not, in my opinion, live up to the Broadway soundtrack.

RecommendationPossible Rental
DirectorNorman Jewison
Movie Rating4
Transfer Quality5
Overall Rating5
  • Letterbox

The soundtrack for the Broadway production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” is one of my most-listened to albums. I have at one time or another owned the cassette, the vinyl, and now the compact disk. It is an incredible, powerful, uplifting album. The movie’s singing doesn’t live up to that. The movie can’t seem to decide if it wants conversational singing or powerful singing, and ends up with neither. It is almost a caricature of a stage production.

I think it was brilliant blurring the edges of the play and the reality as they did here. As in “Jesus of Montreal”, they’re all actors, but not “just” actors. Jesus doesn’t walk away at the end, and Judas becomes much more belieavable. I think Judas gets the short end of the stick in modern retellings. With the benefit of hindsight we know that Jesus was the Savior, but how was Judas to know? Put yourself in his shoes. If you were living with a bunch of friends and one of them started calling himself the second coming, started hanging out with prostitutes, and started seeing demons behind every fig tree, what would you do? He’s squandering money so that the prostitute can rub him down with oil, and you’re the one who has been entrusted with the financial well-being of the group. Who among us wouldn’t have turned him in to the authorities for his own good? Hell, in 1969 the majority of parents would turn in their own kid for smoking pot. Of course, in 1969 the majority of parents probably didn’t realize that their kid would go to jail for ten to fifteen years, and Judas probably had no idea Jesus would get the death penalty. How many of us wouldn’t try to get help for our friend, and what would we do when the authorities turned around and called successfully for the death penalty?

Judas’ sin was the sin that our society is afflicted with: the belief that we can help our fellow man by putting him in jail for his vices.

It was a definite statement to have the media accompany Jesus to trial after his arrest. With all the modernization, however, it also worked that the scenery was authentic. I think that a lot of the story of Jesus, and the bible in general, cannot be understood without understanding the physical environment of the desert, the symbolism of the garden amidst the sand, of the heat and the sun.

Besides that, the scenery was wonderful. The movie was filmed on location in Israel, either among real ruins or very well made fabrications. The conference of the Sanhedrin, on empty scaffolding, was hauntingly cool.

Some of the pieces unfortunately didn’t quite work. The scene with Judas running from the modern weaponry was merely jarring. During King Herod’s scenes I couldn’t help but keep wondering why those pale white folks weren’t burnt to a flaming red crisp wearing nothing in the desert. I’m still not sure how they managed to do this, since it was supposedly filmed on location in Israel, and that seems to be an awfully bright sun beaming onto those palefaces. On the other hand, some of them do look awfully red in other scenes.

The DVD case calls this a “special edition”, but I’m not sure what that means. It doesn’t include a documentary or a commentary. It contains text notes on the production and cast, and a trailer, just like most other DVDs. It claims to include “Film Highlights”, but I have no idea what or where that is. I can’t find it on my disk. This isn’t even a “must purchase” if you loved the film, let alone if you only liked it. It isn’t even in enhanced widescreen, which is too bad because the panoramic scenery is one of the best things going for it. The video quality in general is also lacking, although this is probably due to the quality of the original film stock. Lots of scratches.

I recommend seeing this if you get the chance, but don’t go out of your way. And the bigger your screen, the more enjoyable it will be.

Recommendation: Possible Rental

DirectorNorman Jewison
Spoken languagesEnglish, French
SubtitlesEnglish, Spanish
Special FeaturesCast Information, Production Notes, Trailer
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