The Last Temptation of Christ
At last, Martin Scorsese's most personal masterpiece can be seen outside of the controversy it engendered, and be seen for what it is: a l5-year labor of love. Nikos Kazantzakis' landmark novel comes to breathtaking life in this moving and spiritual film. The all-star cast includes Harvey Keitel, Barbara Hershey, Harry Dean Stanton, David Bowie, and Willem Dafoe as Jesus. Criterion is proud to present this cinematic treasure in an exclusive Director Approved special edition.
Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ is presented in the aspect ratio of about 1.78:1 on this dual-layer disc. The image has been enhanced for widescreen televisions.
As a whole the presentation is adequate, giving us a consistently sharp image with fine definition but nothing spectacular. Colours look nicely saturated and have a certain pop, especially blues, and blacks can be deep but some of the darker scenes come off murky with crushed blacks.
The digital transfer itself can leave a lot to be desired on the other hand, noise and halos being a consistent problem through the entirety of the film. The print is always showing some form of damage, specs of debris and other slight marks being a major problem. Considering the film was newer at the time and what Criterion was even able to do then with far older films the amount of damage present in The Last Temptation of Christ was a bit of a surprise.
Again, it’s adequate and stable enough but was far open to improvement. Criterion recently released the film on Blu-ray, offering an improvement, but it appears to simply be an upgrade of this fairly problematic transfer.
Criterion gives the film a new Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track, which is incredibly robust and active. Dialogue is clear and intelligible and sound effects subtle and effective. What really shows off the track, though, is Peter Gabriel’s score. The score moves between all of the speakers and there’s some creative use of splits, and bass is pretty strong but never overdone. Yes, the score is a little dated, but it’s really given a nice presentation here.
The DVD special edition ports everything over from the previous laserdisc edition Criterion released. First up is an excellent audio commentary by Scorsese, screenwriter Paul Schrader, Willem Dafoe, and Jay Cocks. As was common with Criterion’s older tracks the participants have been split up and recorded on their own then edited together here. Dominated mostly by Scorsese the track goes over the film’s troubled production beginning in 1983 when he originally tried to get the film made at Paramount, and then the research that went into the film that he hoped would lend it authenticity. Schrader talks about the monumental task of adapting the book and widdling it down to its most essential aspects with Cocks occasionally chiming in on his participation (he came in when Schrader went off to make Mishima.) There’s mention of some of the original casting choices (for the role of Jesus, Schrader and Scorsese had De Niro in mind, though he turned it down, and then Eric Roberts, Christopher Walken, and Aidan Quinn were also considered before Dafoe was cast,) tricks to stretching the budget, anecdotes from the set, and then of course the controversy that surrounded the film. Dafoe disappointingly only chimes in with anecdotes for the most part, but he offers a few amusing stories. All in all, it’s an informative and incredibly entertaining track.
An additional touch, but not as extensive as I would have liked, (though far more extensive than what the new Blu-ray edition would present) is another small photo gallery displaying some of the influences for Scorsese and research on how to make the film. The costume designs are in here as are photos from National Geographic. Paintings and a bibliography on books Scorsese read and films Scorsese saw are included. There is also a large text document about an actual crucified body found and the position they would have been crucified in (which they do in the film). Overall I found this section a little disappointing if only because it’s so text heavy, but it still manages to present some great material.
Following this is a costume design gallery that you navigate using the arrows on your remote. The gallery contains about 40 images made up of sketches and publicity photos showing actors in costume. There’s also still and research displaying about 90 photos ranging from publicity stills, to behind-the-scene stills (including tests for the crucifixion), and then some research material, though only a small amount. There’s also another gallery of production and publicity stills.
Scorsese took a camcorder along with him to document filming and that footage is gathered here in his ”On location in Morocco”. It’s interesting because it’s Scorsese (bearded Scorsese) actually shooting the material with a Camcorder so everyone acts rather loosely around him, Keitel even jokingly flipping Scorsese off a couple times. He films the sets and I guess what could be called the camps and “production offices” (trailers) that have been set up for the film. Scorsese even films himself talking about the shoot and the issues he’s come across, the tight schedule, and reflects on the work he’s accomplished. Sadly there is only less than 16-minutes worth of material here, but it still manages to offer an intriguing look into the film’s production.
There is an interview with Peter Gabriel from 1996 (probably made for the laserdisc previously released) included on here, where he discusses the moods he was trying to get and the styles he wanted to use (sometimes bordering on hard rock). In this section there is also a stills gallery displaying the instruments used (as well as photos from the recording of the score, where director Michael Powell was present) and a text introduction about how the collaboration began between Gabriel and Scorsese. The interview runs about 12-minutes.
There’s an insert with a short essay by David Ehrenstein, who goes over the controversy surrounding the film. In all it’s an okay set of supplement but I would have expected a lot more on the troubled production history and the controversy that surrounded it, but alas that isn’t here, possibly at Scorsese’s request. So in the end, despite some decent material, it’s an underwhelming batch of supplements.
It’s a weak DVD and probably one of Criterion’s most disappointing editions considering the film. It’s transfer is definitely open to improvement and the supplements, despite being good in quality, still manage to be underwhelming.