When Mel Gibson announced plans to direct The Passion in Latin and Aramaic - with no subtitles - we thought he'd gone mad. Thankfully, he conceded on the latter point, but the words were always peripheral to "powerful, brutal" images of the crucifixion of Christ (Jim Caviezel). The film still caused controversy, but that was inevitable and perhaps even helped it to become a worldwide blockbuster. Three years later, there is a second coming on this Director's Edition DVD.
Cut, Slash, Hack...
A revised edition of the film doesn't veer too much from the theatrical cut - both are equally bloody and unrelenting. Two deleted scenes highlight moments from the public trial and condemnation of Jesus and later, as he is led battered and bleeding to his death, a gallant address to the mourning crowd. It's not the additional footage, but the Making Of documentary that forms the centrepiece of this two-disc DVD. It's a painstaking exploration in 21 parts and Gibson begins by talking about his approach to the story as "a personal meditation" on the crucifixion of Christ. Later, screenwriter Benedict Fitzgerald and theological consultant father William J Fulco get into the nitty-gritty of adapting the ancient scriptures. Initially, both men were resistant to the idea of using Aramaic and, as it turns out, the dialogue is only an approximation of the language Jesus spoke.
Make-up and effects are major concerns for the production phase and Caviezel admits to spending lots of time in the gym just to be able to bear the weight of a 100-pound crucifix. Gruesome close-ups of the violence, like his hand being nailed into the wooden cross, required an intricate blend of makeup, prosthetics and digital effects. In a separate panel discussion, the key crew members talk more about the challenges of achieving the brutal level of realism Gibson wanted. A fresh take on sound and score is also explained in terms of breaking free of the traditional template for biblical epics. A wide choice of commentaries offers a scene-by-scene analysis of their work in music and visuals.
Spreading The Word
Gibson's film is placed in a wider context in a series of featurettes looking at religious art and storytelling through the ages. Experts agree that "religion and art are parallel ventures" in getting across grand ideas and making them relatable. Cameras follow pilgrims as they retrace the final journey of Jesus, historians explain the symbolism of crucifixion in ancient cultures and there's also an investigation into the apostles and their role in cementing the Christian faith. William J Fulco elaborates on these matters in his commentary for the film as well as pointing out where the script takes liberties with the original texts.
Gibson joins his cinematographer and editor for the main commentary (actually recorded for the original cut of the film). There's a lot of talk about the structure of the film and the use of flashback, not only to elucidate the final journey of Christ, but also as a way of alleviating moments of extreme violence. And in case you thought Gibson was taking himself too seriously, there's a lot of wisecracking too. There could even be a hint of bitter irony when he notes a resemblance between one of the Roman guards and Rupert Murdoch - the man who distributed his film, but initially wouldn't give him the money to make it. Incidentally, the unorthodox approach to marketing and distribution is also scrutinised in that sprawling Making Of section. There's hardly a stone unturned.
Passion Of The Christ Special Edition DVD is released on Monday 26th March 2007.