When the miniseries “Jesus of Nazareth” first aired in 1977, about 90 million U.S. TV viewers tuned in. It’s easy to see why, as Franco Zeffirelli’s lavish production hits Blu-ray (Shout! Factory, $25) for Easter.
The huge cast features 14 Oscar winners or nominees, including Laurence Olivier, Anne Bancroft, Christopher Plummer, Ernest Borgnine and Rod Steiger. Blue-eyed Robert Powell unblinkingly delivers in the title role of a deliberately paced story that offers reverence for the subject matter and an air of authenticity for the times depicted.
Two substantive extras augment the 6½-hour feature. In a half-hour interview, actor Michael York, who played John the Baptist, discusses the filmmakers' sense of responsibility in getting the story right. In an hourlong documentary, bestselling author and biblical scholar Jean Pierre Isbouts reminds viewers that the Bible is not a history book but a document of faith.
Completists have criticized Shout! Factory for releasing a version of the miniseries that is not entirely complete, despite the Blu-ray title's claims to the contrary. Two short scenes with Judas, from a rebroadcast of the original production back in the day, are not included on this release. Fans who must have those few minutes back should track down Version 2.0 of a Spanish Blu-ray available from Amazon UK and other online retailers.