Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5.
USA, 1973. Universal Pictures. Screenplay by Melvyn Bragg, Norman Jewison, based on the rock opera by Tim Rice. Cinematography by Douglas Slocombe. Produced by Norman Jewison, Robert Stigwood. Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Andre Previn. Production Design by Richard Macdonald. Costume Design by Yvonne Blake. Film Editing by Antony Gibbs. Academy Awards 1973. Golden Globe Awards 1973.
A group of hippies take a bus into the middle of the Israeli desert and erect a set upon which they eventually perform Andrew Lloyd Webber’s groundbreaking stage musical. It details, fully in song, the last days of Christ’s existence before he was crucified and made the most famous figure in western history. Ted Neeley is excellent as Christ, while Carl Anderson completely steals the show as Judas, who starts out as the savior’s friend but is overwhelmed with doubts enough to betray him to the Romans. Yvonne Elliman also has a wonderful supporting role as Mary Magdalene, while the full cast sing and dance with energy and exuberance. The score of this beautiful music is grounded and mature, far too serious to be interpreted by shaggy-haired hippies having fun on a grassy knoll; a more dramatic interpretation that would actually take place in the time that it shows (as opposed to the play-within-a-film format) would have suited the material a lot more, but instead we’re treated to director Norman Jewison’s ridiculous indulgences and some rather ugly production design. No matter how amazing the soundtrack is, the film itself wears on your patience and by the end you’ll be all sung out.