When TV film critic Richard Roeper put out his list of top religious movies (The Passion of Joan of Arc; The Gospel According to St. Matthew; A Man for All Seasons; Brother Sun, Sister Moon; Jesus Christ Superstar; Gandhi; Kundun), it underscored just how much greater in comparison is The Passion of the Christ.
With the possible exception of St. Matthew, these others are anemic, sentimental, and humanistically correct. Mel Gibson's movie, by comparison, is unflinching both in its brutal realism and by not evading what Christianity is all about, namely, the scandal of Christ crucified to save sinners.
Now The Passion of the Christ has been released on video and DVD. There had been talk of a special edition stocked with extras-an English-dubbed version, outtakes, "making of" features-but this is a bare-bones release, just as it was shown on the big screen. (In addition to English subtitles for the Aramaic, the DVD also allows for Spanish subtitles.)
The film tapped into the interest of local churches, and the video release is using the same strategy. The DVD is being sold to churches at a discount when purchased in quantity. Bible studies can pick up an 8-pack, with accompanying study guides.
This is shrewd marketing, but the makers of this film made it a huge success, despite intense opposition from the Hollywood establishment, by for once recognizing the role of churches in American life. It should be stressed that some traditions have problems with any visual depiction of Jesus, as well as contemplative material shaped by Roman Catholicism. Other churches, though, will find the video a continually useful resource for evangelism, Christian education, and devotion.
Released in conjunction with the video is a CD of songs inspired by the movie. Various artists in the genres of rock, country, rhythm 'n' blues, and Contemporary Christian Music were invited to watch the film, then write a song about it. This results in some rock bombast, CCM numbers that are more explicit about Jesus than usual, and a couple of performances that picked up on actual details from the movie and offer a heart-felt response (Brad Paisley and Sara Evans's "New Again," Kirk Franklin's "How Many Lashes").