But the question remains, does the message fit the medium?

On the surface the idea of another film of the life of Jesus would seem to be a bit much. Besides the recent and very-much-touted Jesus of Nazareth, which Zeffirelli made for television, and The Gospel According to Saint Matthew, which attracted a good deal of interest some years ago by its rather spare, fierce, unsentimental picture of Jesus, one seems to recall a more or less steady stream of these things. (Didn’t they make one called The Greatest Story Ever Told? And wasn’t there a gigantic production of near Cecil B. deMille dimensions called The Bible that one remembers from one’s youth? And all those lesser productions in which one’s principal impression was of striped bathrobes and terry cloth towels and sandals?) How can anyone muster the sheer chutzpa to embark on yet another production? Perhaps there is an inexhaustible market for the commodity, like the market for books on jogging and losing weight and miracles.

Yet this film, Jesus (distributed by Warner Bros.), is better than its publicity, which fervently claims that it is “totally authentic.” Now that is an astonishing claim to make for a film whose setting is the ancient world. Very few historians, and fewer archaeologists, would claim surely, that we can approach “total authenticity” in recreating any epoch, the ancient world least of all. But my point is that the film is better than the publicity that would seem to leave itself open to the charge of sensationalism. The film itself steers as true a course as one might ever hope to see in a film on Jesus, in avoiding the soft sands of sensationalism and sentimentalism.

The wisest decision the producers made was to stick quite rigorously to the text of ...

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