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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » What Would Jesus Buy?
What Would Jesus Buy?
Other // PG // May 27, 2008
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Chris Neilson | posted June 9, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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Produced by Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me) and directed by Rob VanAlkemade, What Would Jesus Buy? follows guerrilla theater troupe Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping Gospel Choir on their December 2005 cross-country crusade to "save Christmas from the Shopocalypse: the end of mankind from consumerism, over-consumption and the fires of eternal debt!"

Bill Tallen's character, the blond-pompadoured, white-suited, larger-than-life, Reverend Billy will be familiar to many of you from his frequent television and film performances. Tallen first achieved media acclaim in the late 1990's for protesting the transformation of New York City's Times Square from a diverse blend of independent businesses frequented by colorful locals into a homogenized corporate environment pitched toward tourists. An early guerrilla performance by Reverend Billy at the Times Square Disney Store appears in Richard Sandler's documentary The Gods of Times Square (2000).

Though Tallen has appeared in several other documentaries, including the Spanish-German co-production Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping (2002), What Would Jesus Buy? is the best funded and most elaborate effort to date. Filmmaker VanAlkemade and crew follow Reverend Billy and a cast of some three dozen gospel singers and band members on a four-week cross-country tour aboard two antique bio-diesel-fitted buses. Alternating between traditional performance spaces (theaters, clubs, and churches) where they are enthusiastically greeted, and non-traditional protest spaces (the Mall of America, Wal-Mart's Arkansas headquarters, and Disneyland's Main Street) where they are met by bemused consumers, hostile employees, and unsympathetic cops, Reverend Billy preaches against over-consumption, credit card debt, sweat shops, and the commercialization of Christmas.

Tallen's message isn't really that we should stop shopping altogether. Rather, we should consume less, but more responsibly. Buy local, American, non-corporate, Green, and Fair Trade Certified, whenever possible. Reduce, re-use, and recycle. These are old refrains for many progressives, but through Reverend Billy, Tallen reinvigorates the message.

Footage of Reverend Billy's cross-country crusade is inter-cut with sobering statistics about American debt levels and consumer dissatisfaction, news reports about consumption, and interviews with consumers and academics. This blending of material keeps this agitprop documentary moving along at a good pace.

The DVD
This review is based on two check discs, both of which suffered from audio-video sync problems. Because one of the check discs included extras and the other did not, it appears that this sync issue was not isolated to a single batch of check discs. Therefore, this problem also may appear on the final product. This is unfortunate because it is the only thing that prevents recommending this title.

The Video:
The 1.78:1 image is enhanced for widescreen television. The newly shot material looks especially good with warm, but steady coloration. Older footage suffers from video compression artifacts, but generally does not distract from the overall presentation.

The Audio:
The 2.0 Dolby Digital track generally sounds fine and clearly captures dialogue. However, as noted above, there are several segments in which the audio is slightly out of sync with the video.

There are no subtitles on the check discs provided for this review.

The Extras:
The extras provided on the check disc, which may vary from the final release, consist of fourteen minutes of additional scenes, the original theatrical trailer, and a pdf file of lyrics for the carols sung by the Church of Stop Shopping Gospel Choir.

Final Thoughts:
Filmmaker Rob VanAlkemade masterfully blends the engaging guerrilla theater of Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping Gospel Choir with narration, interviews, and footage that helps sell the message of consuming responsibly in the 2007 agitprop documentary What Would Jesus Buy?. Unfortunately, there's strong reason to suspect that the audio and video might not be consistently synchronized on the DVD release. Accordingly, this release cannot be recommended at this time.

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