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They Might Be Giants … Movie Review

jesus christ nazareth moses

Lew Grade's two television mini-series Moses the Lawgiver (1975) and Jesus of Nazareth (1976), both from script adaptations by British novelist Anthony Burgess, stand out as notable epics of the small screen. Though Burt Lancaster plays the Hebrew patriarch with intelligence and though the six-hour version offers richer character development than the trimmed-down theatrical release of Moses, the poor special effects and long running time eventually produce somewhat mixed results. Franco Zefferelli directed Jesus of Nazareth, which is often cited as the most sensitive screen treatment of the life of Christ. At 371 minutes and with a cast featuring Robert Powell as Jesus, Laurence Olivier, James Mason, and many other distinguished names, the film is always compelling. Moments such as the parable of the prodigal son are incorporated into the narrative with an eye for dramatic context (that parable is told to heal a rift among disciples). James Farentino is especially good as Simon Peter, and Ennio Morricone's music is also first-rate. (Screenwriter Anthony Burgess later adapted his scripts to other forms: the Moses material saw print as a narrative poem in blank verse, and the Jesus script turned up later as two novels, Man of Nazareth and The Kingdom of the Wicked.)

Other biblical epics include The Silver Chalice (1954) from the Thomas B. Costain novel, which marked the film debut of Paul Newman (something he has since referred to apologetically), Barabbas (1962), in which Anthony Quinn plays the prisoner released to the crowd in exchange for Jesus, Robert Aldrich's Italian production Sodom and Gomorrah (1963) with Stewart Granger and Pier Angeli, and King David (1985), a more recent scriptural epic, that features Richard Gere in the title role, impressive photography, and a memorable Carl Davis score. Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) is notable for its humanizing of the Christ character (Willem Dafoe) and the terrific controversy the movie encountered upon release.

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