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THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD ($27) is director George Stevens' incredibly reverent religious epic about the life of Christ. In its reverence, THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD maintains something of a detached distance from its subject matter, especially in regards to the miracles associated with Jesus. By distancing the audience from the miracles, Stevens in essence, has made a film about faith, which seems to say that the audience need not see the hand of God in the miracles to believe them. Despite its detachment, THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD is spectacular production that features a truly one of a kind all star cast, as well as incredibly rich production values.

THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD depicts the major events in Christ's life starting with his birth in Bethlehem. The film then leaps forward thirty years where John the Baptist immerses the adult Jesus in the waters of the river Jordan. THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD shows Jesus gathering his flock, starting with a few followers who become his apostles, then as time passes, word of his teachings and miracles begin to draw huge crowds. When the people begin to regard Jesus as the Messiah, the powers that be view him as a political threat, which brings about his crucifixion.

Max von Sydow is perfectly cast in the role of Jesus, bringing an incredible tranquility and believability to the part. Von Sydow is the single element above all others that makes THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD a movie worth seeing. Another good reason to watch THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD is to spot all of the movie stars that perform in the film, many of whom appear on the screen for only a matter of seconds. This one of a kind supporting cast features Michael Anderson Jr., Carroll Baker, Pat Boone, Victor Buono, Richard Conte, Josť Ferrer, Van Heflin, Charlton Heston, Martin Landau, Angela Lansbury, Janet Margolin, David McCallum, Roddy McDowall, Dorothy McGuire, Sal Mineo, Nehemiah Persoff, Donald Pleasence, Sidney Poitier, Claude Rains, Telly Savalas, John Wayne, Ed Wynn, Robert Loggia, Robert Blake, John Considine, Jamie Farr and David Hedison.

MGM Home Entertainment has made THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD available on DVD in a wide screen presentation that has been enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays. THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD has been transferred from a new 65mm film element that restores the movie to its Roadshow length of 199 minutes. Although new, the recently created film element does have some minor blemishes and occasional grain, which reminds one that this movie is over 35 years old. Still, THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD looks pretty darn good on DVD. Framed close to the film's complete 2.76:1 aspect ratio, this movie is "wide screen" in the extreme and may be off putting to those who own monitors less than 30 inches. The transfer itself is generally very sharp and detailed, however THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD features a great number of long shots (that distance the audience from the subject matter), which appear somewhat soft. This is not a flaw in the transfer, but an end result of the limited number of NTSC scan lines, combined with the smaller figures in the frame and the film's very wide aspect ratio. For the most part, colors look very good, with nicely saturated hues and appealing flesh tones. There are, however, some shots in the film where the colors appear faded, but fortunately there aren't too many of these. Blacks appear accurate and contrast is smooth, but shadow detail is a bit wanting in a number of the darker scenes, which gives the picture a somewhat flattened appearance. Of course, film stocks used in the sixties did not have the level of low light sensitivity that is available today, so the level of shadow detail is good for that period. Digital compression artifacts are well concealed throughout the lengthy presentation by solid dual layer authoring.

THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD is presented with a Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack that retains much of the flavor of the film's original 6-Track Stereo sound mix, including directional dialogue. The sound mix is very expansive, which must have been impressive back in 1965, when THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD was being show on a tremendous screen in the huge movie palaces of yesteryear. I don't think a home theater can provide the same cavernous sense of space, but the sound on the DVD almost makes the home listening environment seem larger. All of the critical sonic elements remain within the venue of the forward soundstage, with the rear channels providing enhancements to the musical score, which are sometimes fully directional and localized to the surround speakers. Speaking of the music, the recordings sound great for their age and provide very good fidelity. Dialogue reproduction is crisp and intelligible, plus the track pumps out fairly deep bass. A French 5.1 channel soundtrack is also encoded onto the DVD, as are French and Spanish subtitles.

Full motion video and sound enhance the interactive menus, which give one access to the standard scene selection and set up features. Due to the film's running time, all of the supplemental features are contained on a second DVD. There are two documentaries contained on the supplemental disc, the first is He Walks In Beauty, which runs slightly more than 40 minutes. Comprised primarily of interviews from the 1980s, the documentary looks at the career of director George Stevens as well as the production of THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD. The second documentary entitled The Filmmaker runs short of 30 minutes and this look behind-the-scenes was produced at the same time as the movie itself. Other supplements include a theatrical trailer, a deleted scene, costume sketches and a still gallery.

THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD may not be the greatest religious epic of all time, but this humble and reverent depiction of the life of Christ will certainly appeal to film buffs. The presentation is quite good and the second disc of supplements makes the package worth checking out.


The Greatest Story Ever Told



DVD reviews are Copyright © 2001 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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