In the tradition of Cecil B. Demille's epic Ten Commandments, The Greatest Story Ever Told Chronicles the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Directed by George Stevens, The Greatest Story Ever Told is a sweeping epic the likes of which hasn't been seen since Lawrence of Arabia, Spartacus and The Ten Commandments. Charlton Heston, John Wayne Sidney Poitier, Victor Buono, Martin Landau, Claude Rains, Telly Savalas, Jose Ferrer', Sal Mineo and Ed Wynn just to name a few of the top drawer stars that joined the project. In his Motion Picture debut, Max Von Sydow imbues the role of Jesus with a compassion and love that more recent renderings have not so richly emphasized. Whenever, the bible is dramatically produced, stories within the bible are taken out of context and biblical accuracy gives way to dramatic license. The Greatest Story Ever Told is not immune from this kind of presentation and characters that are not scripturally based as well as events that never occurred are added for dramatic effect. That having been said, this particular story on the Life of Christ is incredibly well done and a very emotional film on several levels. At 3 hours and 20 minutes it does an incredible job and is worth every minute of the film's running time.
The audio for the film has been remastered for a DD5.1 presentation that for the most part is non-existent. The only times when the 5.1 platform is employed is during certain segments where Alfred Newman's tremendously moving and beautiful score is employed. There are no surround effects and the film's dialogue comes solely from the center channel. When the film ran theatrically over 30 years ago, an overture as played at the start of the film and an intermission featuring the same score was played mid-way through the picture. Both of them have been restored and can be found in their original places in the film.
The picture has also been remastered in a stunning 65MM Hi-Def Widescreen Anamorphic transfer that for the most part is very impressive. The start of the film provides the bulk of scratches and markings for the transfer. Other than those very noticeable markings, the print is generally clean. The colors look rich and textured, and the fleshtones are natural. In all, the quality of the film's visual presentation is definitely impressive.
The extras on the disc are pretty great indeed. There is a 36-minute documentary entitled "Walking in Beauty" on the impetus behind George Steven's drive in creating this film. It's loaded with very dated interviews with the cast, crew and Producers (hair then, none now and clothing) and features behind the scenes shots of the cast and crew interacting with the Director as well. A deleted scene is also included. It deals with the death of Judas in the moments immediately prior to the crucifixion of Jesus. Almost totally identical to the shot in the film, it provides a portion of biblical accuracy while still embracing the dramatic in it's execution. It's also presented in widescreen but the audio is 2-channel stereo and it's full of scratches and flecks. Handels' Messiah shows up twice in the film, up one more time than it's original inclusion. The first time is the resurrection of Lazarus and the second is at the ascension of Jesus at the close of the film.
A photo gallery is included that features both production stills and behind-the-scenes candid shots. It also features early costume design sketches. Another shorter documentary on the making of the film is included as well as the film's original theatrical trailer.
MGM did an outstanding job on this special edition of The Greatest Story Ever Told. Not one but TWO discs are featured in this collection the first disc bears the film and a trailer, the second, all the bonus features as listed above. The lengths to which MGM went to restore the film are exhaustive in that not only did they compile everything there is to know about the movie but also, they remastered the film and gave it a crystal clear presentation. This is the way a film should be treated when it bears the title Special Edition. Simply put, if you enjoy well written and executed dramatic films and can endure a cast of some of he greatest actors of the period, The Greatest Story Ever Told will be a welcome addition to your film Library Collector's Edition