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Amongst movie buffs, KING OF KINGS ($20) is often referred to as I Was A Teenage Jesus because of the youthful appearance of its star and because the film also featured the same director as REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE. While the filmís nickname is rather amusing, KING OF KINGS is one my favorite religious epics because of the filmís sense of reverence and the majestic sweep imbued on it by its legendary director Nicholas Ray. Nicholas Ray had a keen eye for composition even while Hollywood films were being made in the old Academy ratio, however when the movies went to wide screen, Ray's impressive visual style really came into its own. KING OF KINGS is an amazing cinematic event, with the filmís imagery being lovingly composed to take advantage of the Super-Technirama canvas. Some of the filmís camerawork is truly innovative, which helps to give KING OF KINGS the larger-than-life feeing that a religious epic requires.

In addition to what Nick Ray brought to the table, KING OF KINGS is also one of the epic films that were produced by cinematic showman Samuel Bronston, who was also responsible for such films as FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE, EL CID and 55 DAYS AT PEKING. With Bronston behind the production, KING OF KINGS is the kind of movie in which no expense was spared in recreating the ancient world at the time Jesus Christ walked the Earth. Bronstonís films had tremendous production value, and every dollar of is clearly up on the screen in KING OF KINGS. What is done today with digital trickery, had to be done by practical means in the early 1960s when KING OF KINGS was produced. Therefore, every one of the enormous, elaborate sets had to be built and every one of the thousand extras in the movie was a real person, in a real costume, and not a digital substitute.

For cinematic purposes, KING OF KINGS takes some creative license with the supporting figures in the story of Christ; adjusting them to suit the needs of the movie. However, the filmís screenplay doesnít completely rewrite the bible. Some have quibbled about the choice of Jeffrey Hunter to portray Jesus in KING OF KINGS. Personally, I think Hunter was a terrific choice for the role. His good looks made Hunter a perfect composite of the Christ who has been idealized in century after century of European artwork. Additionally, Hunterís understated performance had an enigmatic quality that suited this telling of the story exceedingly well. The solid international cast of KING OF KINGS also features Siobhan McKenna, Hurd Hatfield, Ron Randell, Viveca Lindfors, Rita Gam, Carmen Sevilla, Brigid Bazlen, Harry Guardino, Rip Torn, Frank Thring, Guy Rolfe, Royal Dano and Robert Ryan.

Warner Home Video has made KING OF KINGS available on DVD in an utterly superb 2.35:1 wide screen presentation that features the anamorphic enhancement for 16:9 displays. The image on this DVD is nothing short of miraculous; making one feel as though they could walk on water while watching KING OF KINGS. KING OF KINGS is a clear example of how the combination of Technicolor and Technirama could produced the most awe inspiring visuals during the heyday of the wide screen processes. I watched KING OF KINGS with my mouth agape for close to three hours, loving each and every frame of this beautifully photographed epic.

Everything appears wonderfully crisp and highly defined. As for the colors, this is as close as one can get to the look of an original IB Technicolor print, without having a projection booth in their homes. All of the highly saturated hues literally leap off the screen, yet the image provides wholly credible looking flesh tones. Color reproduction is flawless, with none of the brilliantly saturated colors ever becoming unstable or fuzzy. Blacks are velvety, whites are clean and contrast is very smooth. Additionally the picture produces a terrific sense of dimensionality, especially during the outdoor daylight sequences. The film element used for the transfer is nearly pristine, with only a few errant speckles being the only sign of age. Digital compression artifacts are never readily apparent on this cleanly authored dual layer DVD.

KING OF KINGS is offered with a newly remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack that seems to reflect some of the more modern sensibilities. Dialogue is primarily localized into the center channel, with stereo imaging across the forward soundstage being relegated to sound effects and the filmís music. The rear channels are subdued compared to the forward hemisphere, however the surround channels come to life to offer occasional sound effects and reinforcement of the filmís score. Speaking of the score, Miklůs Růzsaís majestic compositions are rendered with excellent fidelity and a genuine musical presence. While the bass channel isnít up to modern standards, it does kick in effectively during key sequences. A French language track has also been encoded onto the DVD, along with English, French and Spanish subtitles.

Music underscores the basic interactive menus, which provide one with access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a few supplements. The Camera's Window Of The World is an original black and white theatrical featurette, which runs four minutes and provides the audience with a look at the massive undertaking of filming the Sermon on the Mount sequence from KING OF KINGS that required having seven thousand extras on location at an olive grove in Spain. King of Kings - Impressive Premiere On Two Coasts offers two minutes of newsreel footage that covered the New York and Hollywood premieres of KING OF KINGS. King of Kings - Egyptian Theater Premiere offers even more footage of the filmís Hollywood premiere. A cast & crew list, as well as the filmís theatrical trailer close out the DVDís supplements.

KING OF KINGS is an old style Hollywood spectacle of epic proportions, which maintains a sense of reverence in its telling of the life of Christ. Warnerís DVD is nothing short of a revelation, making it something that every movie fan will want to add to their collections. Recommended.



King of Kings (1961)


DVD reviews are Copyright © 2003 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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