The Last Temptation of Christ is director Martin Scorsese's controversial 1988 film based on the novel by Nikos Kazantzakis. The film portrays the life and explores the spiritual conflict of a very human Jesus Christ (Williem Dafoe). The film begins with Jesus as a young man in Nazareth. He is plagued by visions and headaches that he believes are from God, and in an effort to rid God from his life, he builds crosses for the Romans. His friend Judas (Harvey Keitel) encourages him to go into politics to help lead a revolt against the Romans, who are persecuting the Jews. Jesus then goes to visit his childhood friend, Mary Magdalene (Barbara Hershey), who has become a prostitute in his absence. Jesus blames himself for her life, thinking that if he had married her and provided a normal life, she would have been better off. He then goes into the desert to meditate, is purified, and begins to realize his true purpose. He shares this with Judas, who agrees to accompany him. From there, the movie follows Jesus as he gives the Sermon on the Mount, meets and is baptized by John the Baptist, resurrects Lazarus, has the Last Supper, is betrayed by Judas, and is crucified on the cross. It is here that he faces his last temptation. An angel appears to Jesus, tells him that he has suffered enough, and that he needs to suffer no longer. Jesus allows himself to leave the cross, and is then married to Mary Magdalene. It is only much later, on his deathbed, that Judas appears and tells him that he has forsaken his duty and his promise, and that the angel was merely the devil in disguise. Jesus then realizes that he must choose to be the Messiah, or he will die as a man.
The Last Temptation of Christ is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The colors are vibrant, and flesh tones are accurate; however, this is not a flawless print. Specks pop up often enough to notice, grain is visible a few times, and there's a huge mark in the print near the end that runs vertically through the entire frame. But it must be said that most of the print is defect free, and considering the age of the film, it is quite good.
The Last Temptation of Christ contains a newly mastered Dolby Digital 5.1 track that is terrific, containing possibly the best surround in a mainly dialogue driven film that I've heard. Crowd noises, birds chirping, wind blowing, desert storms raging, and even an explosion all utilize the front and rear surrounds and add to the already excellent musical score. The dialogue is also crisp and clean.
Criterion should really be commended for the effort put on the disc. The main extra is the terrific audio commentary by Martin Scorsese, Willem Dafoe, Paul Schrader, and Jay Cocks. It is really informative, interesting, and enjoyable to listen to. Another neat extra are excerpts from Scorsese's personally shot footage from location in Morocco during the shooting of the film, and was included to offer the viewer a glimpse "behind the scenes." As it was taken from the original VHS video master, the quality looks like most home videos: a few lines in the picture every now and again, but its extremely watchable and very interesting, lasting roughly fifteen minutes. Also available is a text section on Scorsese's visual and historical research he conducted for the film; sketches and pictures of the costumes worn; some production and publicity stills; a video interview with the film's musical composer, Peter Gabriel, which runs about twelve minutes; photos of the traditional instruments used for the score; and the now infamous color bars.
The Last Temptation of Christ is the moving story of one man's emotional struggle to come to terms with who he is and what he must do. Wonderfully acted, scripted, and filmed, this is a movie that is not to be missed; Criterion has come through again with a terrific DVD package for fans and newcomers alike. Highly Recommended.