Andrew Lloyd Webber has created some of the best stage musicals ever produced. Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat was a worthy early effort, but Jesus Christ Superstar was his first real triumph. Webber exhibits a tremendous capacity for hummable tunes, some full songs (the lovely radio hit “I Don’t Know How to Love Him”), others short character motifs (“What’s the Buzz?” and “Always Knew That I’d Be an Apostle”). The Passion Week wouldn’t have been my initial idea for a rock opera, but it works, thanks largely to the plethora of memorable music and Tim Rice’s lyrics, which take the place of spoken dialogue.
As a Christian, I must point out that the musical is not always biblical, focusing on Christ’s humanity much more than His merely implied divinity. Some almost harem-like scenes suggest a physical relationship with Mary Magdalene, and the wording for the Last Supper is strangely twisted, as is Jesus’ fatigue from the incessant crowds. (I don’t believe He would ever have said “Leave me alone,” or “Heal yourselves” as in the stage version.) Plus, the film ends abruptly with the crucifixion, but without the resurrection denouement of The Passion of the Christ; instead, it borrows from Ben-Hur to show an obscure shepherd leading his sheep before the sun-circled cross. Aside from these religious issues, Jesus Christ Superstar also makes some odd artistic choices. While there is much symbolism and natural rock formations are favored over extravagant sets, the filmmakers throw in tanks and jet planes and hard hats, things that make no sense in this kind of movie.
It’s not above criticism, but Jesus Christ Superstar boasts a number of Broadway hits, sung by rocker Ted Neeley, Carl Anderson, Yvonne Elliman, and a host of less famous vocalists. One scene in particular is incredibly effective, the scene from the Bible that best displays Jesus’ humanity. His song in the Garden of Gethsemane may not be the catchiest, but it builds to a poignant series of painted crucifixion scenes that makes Jesus’ anxiety completely understandable. My VC even credits the song with deepening her Christian life. The song sung by “Simon Zealotes” is her favorite, though, and “This Jesus Must Die” and “Superstar” are mine. Almost every song is perfect, though Herod’s is uncomfortably derisive, if true to the character. Jesus Christ Superstar is neither the most faithful nor the most blasphemous of Jesus movies, but it’s one of the most watchable, as well as listenable.
Best line: (Jesus to the priests, in one of the few lines bespeaking His divinity) “Why waste your breath moaning at the crowd? Nothing can be done to stop the shouting! If every tongue were stilled, the noise would still continue! The rocks and stones themselves would start to sing!”Artistry: 8 Characters/Actors: 8 Entertainment: 10 Visual Effects: 5 Originality: 8 Watchability: 10 Other (great music): +4 Other (aforementioned issues): -3 TOTAL: 50 out of 60
Next: #119 – Coal Miner’s Daughter
© 2014 S. G. Liput
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A fellow JCSS enthusiast !
I like the film visually but not musically. Your observations are very relevant.
Ian Gillan was stronger than Ted N singing the part of Christ I think.
Once I synced up the Original London Cast Youtube with the film version on “mute” and it was best of both worlds!
You’re probably right, though I’ve heard the film’s versions of the songs far more often. My mom played that original album to death back in the 70s and actually still has it on a vinyl record.