“Why should I die — oh, why should I die?”
In the week leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ (Ted Neeley), Jesus’s disciple Judas Iscariot (Carl Anderson) — worried that Jesus is becoming too popular and spending too much time with the prostitute Mary Magdalene (Yvonne Elliman) — remains deeply conflicted about betraying his whereabouts to the Romans.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Biblical Stories
- Norman Jewison Films
- Play Adaptations
Norman Jewison directed this adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s rock opera, filming on location in the Middle East and opening with a bus full of modern-day actors emerging and preparing to put on the show. Thankfully, this hybrid conceit works remarkably well, showcasing the enduring legacy of Christianity across the millennia while tapping into the then-current cultures of hippies and so-called “Jesus Freaks”. The storyline offers a fascinating psychological glimpse into the tortured decision by Judas (powerfully played by Anderson) to betray Jesus; Jesus’s acceptance of his fate while also railing against God for putting him in such a position; the reluctance of Pontius Pilate (Barry Dennen) to execute a man guilty of no crime; and Mary Magdalene’s abiding love for Jesus. The soundtrack by Webber and Rice is dynamic and catchy, nicely suiting the dramatic tensions inherent in Jesus’s final week of life. While it’s not must-see viewing for all film fanatics, I recommend this flick as an enjoyable, colorfully mounted musical.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Fine performances by the three leads (Ted Neeley as Christ, Carl Anderson as Judas, and Yvonne Elliman as Mary Magdalene)
- Lovely cinematography by Douglas Slocombe
- Good use of authentic locale shooting
- A creative reimagining of the final days of Jesus Christ
- A rousing soundtrack
No, but it’s recommended.