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Amongst movie buffs, KING OF KINGS ($20) is often humorously referred to as I Was A Teenage Jesus because of the youthful appearance of its star and because the film also featured the same director as REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE. While the film’s nickname is rather amusing, KING OF KINGS remains one my favorite religious epics because of the film’s sense of reverence and the majestic sweep imbued on it by its legendary director Nicholas Ray. Nicholas Ray had a keen eye for composition even while Hollywood films were being made in the old Academy ratio, however when the movies went to wide screen, Ray's impressive visual style really came into its own. KING OF KINGS is an amazing cinematic event, with the film’s imagery being lovingly composed to take advantage of the Super-Technirama canvas. Some of the film’s camerawork is truly innovative, which helps to give KING OF KINGS the larger-than-life feeing that a religious epic requires.

In addition to what Nick Ray brought to the table, KING OF KINGS is also one of the epic films that were produced by cinematic showman Samuel Bronston, who was also responsible for such films as FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE, EL CID and 55 DAYS AT PEKING. With Bronston behind the production, KING OF KINGS is the kind of movie in which no expense was spared in recreating the ancient world at the time Jesus Christ walked the Earth. Bronston’s films had tremendous production value, and every dollar of is clearly up on the screen in KING OF KINGS. What is done today with digital trickery, had to be done by practical means in the early 1960s when KING OF KINGS was produced. Therefore every one of the enormous, elaborate sets had to be built and every one of the thousand extras in the movie was a real person, in a real costume, and not a digital substitute.

For cinematic purposes, KING OF KINGS takes some creative license with the supporting figures in the story of Christ; adjusting them to suit the needs of the movie. However, the film’s screenplay doesn’t completely rewrite the bible. Some have quibbled about the choice of Jeffrey Hunter to portray Jesus in KING OF KINGS. Personally, I think Hunter was a terrific choice for the role. His good looks made Hunter a perfect composite of the Christ who has been idealized in century after century of European artwork. Additionally, Hunter’s understated performance had an enigmatic quality that suited this telling of the story exceedingly well, especially during the Sermon on the Mount sequence. The solid international cast of KING OF KINGS also features Siobhan McKenna, Hurd Hatfield, Ron Randell, Viveca Lindfors, Rita Gam, Carmen Sevilla, Brigid Bazlen, Harry Guardino, Rip Torn, Frank Thring, Guy Rolfe, Royal Dano, Robert Ryan and an uncredited Orson Welles as voice of the film’s narrator.

Warner Home Video has made KING OF KINGS available on Blu-ray Disc in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio presentation that has been encoded onto the disc with the AVC codec. KING OF KINGS features a glorious 1080p presentation that showcases the superb Super Technirama imagery. A marriage of an 8-perforation VistaVision frame, anamorphic lenses and Technicolor, Technirama was the greatest of the 35mm wide screen processes and capable of producing some of the most awe inspiring visuals, which are well evidenced in this Blu-ray release of KING OF KINGS. For anyone who already has Warner’s beautiful DVD release, the Blu-ray is a must have upgrade. For the most part, the image is wonderfully sharp, beautifully defined and display impressive dimensionality and fine detail. Sure there are some odd shots that appear a little softer than others, but those seem to be the result of intentional diffusion, optical effects or an occasional minor focus problem. Color reproduction is phenomenally good, and beautifully recreates the IB Technicolor splendor of an original 35mm release print. Technicolor reds pop exceedingly well, as do all of the primary hues. There are no stability issues with the intensely saturated hues, which always appear rock solid. Flesh tones tend to bear the brand of the makeup man’s kit, but as a whole, come across in an attractive fashion. Blacks appear deep and velvety, while the whites are crisp and clean. The image boasts excellent contrast, and shadow detail is very good for a fifty-year-old film. The film elements from which KING OF KINGS was transferred are exceedingly clean. Mild grain is present in the image, which maintains the organic quality of the presentation.

KING OF KINGS is presented on Blu-ray Disc with a 5.1 channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. There are some minor quibbles traceable back to the original production, but otherwise, this is a stunning presentation of a vintage soundtrack. Similar to the lossy soundtrack on the DVD release, the forward soundstage dominates, with dialogue is primarily localized to the center channel. There are nice stereo separations across the front, for both sound effects and music. In comparison to the forward soundstage, the rear channels come across in a more subdued fashion, although there are occasional sound effects, as well as reinforcement of the film’s score. Where the lossless encode really shines, is in the presentation of the film’s music. Miklós Rózsa’s majestic compositions have never sounded better than they do on this Blu-ray release. Sure, the music doesn’t sound like a modern recording, but for vintage soundtrack, it remains quite impressive. Additionally, there is fairly respectable bottom end on the track that enhances the music and some of the effects. Dialogue is usually crisp and easy to understand. A French Dolby Digital monaural track has also been encoded onto the disc. Subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish.

The interactive menus allow one access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a few extras that have been ported from the DVD release. The Camera's Window Of The World is an original black and white Theatrical Featurette, which runs four minutes and provides the audience with a look at the massive undertaking of filming the Sermon On The Mount sequence from KING OF KINGS that required having seven thousand extras on location at an olive grove in Spain. King Of Kings - Impressive Premiere On Two Coasts offers two minutes of newsreel footage that covered the New York and Hollywood premieres of KING OF KINGS. King Of Kings - Egyptian Theater Premiere offers even more footage of the film’s Hollywood premiere.

KING OF KINGS is an old style Hollywood religious epic that has been majestically upgraded for its release on Blu-ray. The image is glorious and Miklós Rózsa’s music has never sounded better. Highly recommended.


King Of Kings [Blu-ray]


DVD & Blu-ray Disc reviews are Copyright © 2011 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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