The history of the Savior's life, ministry and crucifixion in film

By Jeff Peterson

For the Deseret News

Published: Friday, March 29 2013 2:30 p.m. MDT

Like DeMille, the devout Zeffirelli approached his subject with an earnest reverence, portraying Christ as “an ordinary man — gentle, fragile, simple,” but still possessed of an otherworldly mystique indicative of his divine calling. To achieve this, Zeffirelli directed his star, English actor Robert Powell, not to blink (According to IMDB, Powell blinks only once during the entire mini-series.)

Eclipsing even the History Channel’s recent ratings phenomenon, “The Bible,” “Jesus of Nazareth” was also massively successful, attracting an estimated 91 million viewers in the U.S. when it aired. Since then, it has become an established Easter classic.

Finally, no discussion of Christ’s varied depictions in film would be complete without Mel Gibson’s divisive “The Passion of the Christ.”

The actor-turned-director staked his reputation — and about $30 million from his own pocket — on the project, which was widely viewed as the epitome of folly in secular Hollywood.

Despite claims of anti-Semitism and brutally graphic content that alienated some audiences, “The Passion of the Christ” went on to earn more than $600 million worldwide.

Gibson later released an edited version that significantly tones down the violence, making “The Passion” accessible to a much broader audience.

While its value as either an adaptation of the Gospels or as pure filmmaking is still debated by believers and non-believers alike, “The Passion of the Christ” speaks, like many of the films that have attempted to portray Christ’s earthly ministry before, to the intense appetite and appreciation for Christian stories that still exist today.

A native of Utah Valley and a devoted cinephile, Jeff is currently studying humanities and history at Brigham Young University.

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