Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Review: Jesus Christ Superstar

On the weekend, I had the pleasure of watching Jesus Christ Superstar TWICE. One was the 1973 version, directed by Norman Jewison and mainly set in the desert, and the other was the 2000 version more like a filmed stageplay, funkier and directed by Galed Edwards and Nick Morris.

I'm going to be ambitious and attempt to give my opinions of both versions in the same post without mixing them up.

To begin with, I'll state that I preferred the 1973 version, though the 2000 version was interesting and there were some bits of it which were just as good and even better. And IMDB seems to disagree with me, giving the 2000 version a higher rating than the 1973 version, which just says pot about my opinion.

The story is about Jesus, from the point of view of Judas, which is pretty interesting. And I think it would be a pretty difficult musical to follow if you weren't familiar with the Jesus story beforehand, as it doesn't provide much background or explanation, but since the Jesus story is so well-known, that isn't a detraction; indeed labouring the background may have become a bore for the intended audience.

Judas is therefore depicted more sympathetically in Superstar - somthing that I think is done better in the 1973 version than in the 2000 version.

A quick sum up of the characters can be like this:

Judas: The interpretation of Judas was "different" in each, but more sympathetic in the 1973 version. Also, Anderson in the 1973 version is a better singer. And the fact that Pradom (Judas) in the 2000 version looks like Quentin Tarantino's long lost twin brother doesn't exactly make him sympathetic, either!

Jesus: In both versions, Jesus is a bit of an idiot - a poseur. He smiles goofily at cameras like a politician and loves himself too much, and has hissy fits. This is definitely emphasised more in the 2000 version. It's only towards the end when he gets crucified that he gets kind of likable (and in the scene with the lepers). however, in the 1973 version, he actually looks a lot like the Jesus of historical depictions, which I think does a lot for the movie and its poignancy. In the 2000 version I kept laughing because Jesus looked too much like a "Fabio" - a buff Italian guy who kept wanting to show off his man-boobs and spent too much on his crinkle-perm. The idea was amusing but went too over the top for me.

Simon: Both versions were whacky, and I thought they were equally good. An energetic Jamaican in the 1973 version, a punk bleached blonde in the 2000 version. Though at the last supper we saw more of Simon's tragedy in the 2000 version through close-ups; that was done nicely.

The Pharisees: It was a bit .... hmmmm ... for them to be done as some kind of weirded out sci-fi dudes in capes in the 2000 version. Not sure I liked it. I found the screeching of the bald guy, though, more annoying than the actual change of costume.

Mary Magdalene: Much better in the 2000 version.

Pontius Pilate: I preferred the 1973 version of Pilate, but not bad in the 2000 version.

King Herod: By far more comical and inventive in the 1973 version. When I saw him lazing there as Jesus was to be crucified, I couldn't help but think of Biggus Dickus in "The Life of Brian".

The Music: In my opinion, the music was far better in the 1973 version - the 2000 version tried too much screeching and wailing and it got on my nerves. And Jesus and Judas in the 2000 version couldn't sing like in the 1973 version. However, the songs are fantastic, I highly recommend the CD and humming them over to yourself.

I found some of the scenes quite inventive for the 2000 version: for instance, the scene where Jesus is surrounded by lepers is scary and well done, and its parallel to the scene where Pontius Pilate is swarmed by those calling for Jesus' blood is great.

However, I thought it was let down by other scenes.

Where Jesus goes and overturns the moneychangers, the scene set in a casino/nightclub is over the top and unnecessary. The flashing lights and the King Herod dance seems to me also to detract from Herod's scene. I far preferred the 1973 versions of these scenes, set in a market and on water, where the music and personality carried the scenes.

And really, the scene where Judas turns in Jesus is done much better in 1973, basically because it shows the varying emotions - Judas's doubt, but how he caves in, and the Pharisees and their manipulation and scorn.

However, watching both versions was a treat to compare - I found the 2000 version a really interesting comparison and interpretation, despite the fact I felt it fell short of the 1973 version.

I especially liked the scrawling of graffiti on a wall "JESUS T'AIME"

There - now you may wish to get both versions and watch for yourselves.


R.H. said...

I don't know the story but have heard names of a few people in it, however I'm sure your review is spot on. And Just!

Salvation Army Hostel For Homeless Men.

TimT said...

Ha! Look at the cover art there - is Jesus actually giving the thumbs up while carrying the cross?