Jesus Christ Superstar

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Norman Jewison’s “Jesus Christ Superstar” is a bright and sometimes breathtaking retelling of the rock opera of the same name. It is, indeed, a triumph over that work; Jewison, a director of large talent, has taken a piece of commercial shlock and turned it into a Biblical movie with dignity.

That isn’t easy to do. The life of Christ would seem to have an innate dignity to it, but only in such rare films as “The Gospel According to St. Matthew” or Martin Scorsese’s “The Last Temptation of Christ” has Christ come off as human, strong and reachable. The character has a tendency to disintegrate before our eyes. Norman Jewison gives us a likable Christ in Ted Neeley, who sometimes seems a little bemused by his superstar status.

Individual moments have such beauty and grace that you’re afraid to think of the pains that must have been necessary to get them. There are extreme long shots of characters isolated in a vast wilderness; there are lonely shots into the sun of ancient monuments; and there’s one absolutely stunning shot that shows us an apparently empty landscape and then tilts down to reveal Jesus and his disciples in a gigantic, sunlit cavern.

The music is clear and bouncy, and we never get the feeling Jewison is manipulating his characters or forcing them into staged-looking choreography. They inhabit the desert freely, enacting their story as if it were not the central event in the Christian religion but rather the interesting career of a promising young man.
 

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