The Greatest Story Ever Told Parent Guide
Parent Movie Review
Who is Jesus Christ? A mere man? A great teacher? The promised Messiah? Whatever your answer, He is significant enough that His birth divides our recording of time.
To filmmaker George Stevens, the account of Christ’s life as found in the New Testament was The Greatest Story Ever Told. So, after extensive research and a trip to The Holy Land, this producer/director took his personal passion for the subject and set out “Simply to do the story of Jesus,” with “no interruption for theatrical embroideries.”
A noble but truly impossible goal, because artistic license was unavoidable in every decision from casting the role of Jesus, to making a movie-suitable story out of the Four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). While the script suffers from occasional choppiness, those familiar with the scriptures will be most disappointed by its many inaccuracies, like the combining of characters (Lazarus with the rich man who could not sell his possessions and follow the Master), the invention of others (a blind man from Nazareth for instance), and the changing of facts (hanging is the documented method of Judas’ death, not the one depicted).
Yet Stevens’ reverent intentions cannot be questioned. Taking inspiration from the paintings and music of such masters as da Vinci (The Last Supper) and Handel (The Messiah), he carefully crafts this Ultra Wide film using the silver screen as canvas. The grandeur of his cinematic art is evident in his ability to compose each scene emphasizing the message with dramatic vistas and geological features (which he found in the American Southwest, not the Middle East).
The lavishly budgeted epic drew enthusiasm from many of Hollywood’s biggest stars, who wished to be associated with the picture in any way. Movie buffs may enjoy identifying their cameo appearances in what might be more aptly called, The Greatest Cast Call Ever Filmed. Wanting to avoid preconceived character identification, Stevens choose a then unknown actor (Max von Sydow) to play the lead, and used his anonymity to provided increased curiosity over the production.
Despite all the attention, The Greatest Story Ever Told did not receive the critical acclaim Stevens had hoped for. What was its fatal flaw? In an interview included on the DVD release, Charlton Heston, who played John the Baptist, points out that everyone has an opinion of who Christ is, and what place he holds in history. “No one can fulfill all those deeply held convictions.” Max von Sydow adds that people are sure to be offended by any portrayal that doesn’t match their own, sighting having to choose between the Catholic or Protestant version of the Lord’s Prayer as an example.
Perhaps the most valuable contribution of this film may be its ability to start a family discussion about your view of this important figure. Keep in mind that the movie contains non-gratuitous reenactments of some of the many brutal acts associated with Jesus’ life. And like any historical dramatization, don’t forget the book upon which the movie is based. For those looking for a definitive biography, The Bible is still the best source for The Greatest Story Ever Told. Starring Max von Sydow Charlton Heston. Running time: 199 minutes. Theatrical release May 1, 2009. Updated February 13, 2012
The Greatest Story Ever Told
Rating & Content Info
Why is The Greatest Story Ever Told rated G? The Greatest Story Ever Told is rated G by the MPAA
A beautifully shot, epic picture that may or may not capture your understanding of the life and personality of Jesus Christ. Depictions of violence are sobering, but not gratuitous.
King decrees death of infants. Guards with spears and drawn swords charge villagers. Several scenes show dead bodies strewn on ground. Mobsters yell protests. Soldiers rough handle prisoners. Men in chains. Many depictions of crucifixions. Beggars mistreated. Slaves branded, whipped and beaten with fists. Woman forcefully pushed into building. Animals killed for sacrifice. Men exchange verbal threats. Governor orders execution. Man struggles to resist arrest. Two instances when Soldier strikes a man in the face with his hand. Man chained in prison. Man holds sword to another mans throat. Woman accused of adultery dragged from tent and knocked to ground. Crowd threatens to stone woman. Man in executioner mask with sword leads away a prisoner. Sound of ax falling is heard. Nude Roman statues shown in background. Man throws a stone and hits another. Jesus knocks over tables, frees animals and threatens merchants with whip. Soldiers with swords advance on mob. Man accepts bribe. Man draws sword for protection. Mob demands Jesus be crucified. A sentence for whipping is given but not depicted. Blood shown on hand, face and clothes. Nail placed on palm, hammer is raised, and sound of it pounding id heard. Man throws himself in fire. Wounded hands shown.
Sexual Content: B+
Two female characters behave seductively, one dances. Other dancing women shown in silhouette.
Terms of Deity are used as proper nouns.
Alcohol / Drug Use: B+
Wine drunk at last supper. Men at gathering portrayed as drinking or inebriated.
Page last updated February 13, 2012
The Greatest Story Ever Told Parents' Guide
This film assumes its audience is familiar with the New Testament (for instance, no explanation is given for Pilot washing his hands after sentencing Christ). At the time it was produced, Bible stories were read in schools, and a greater percentage of the population attended church regularly. Do you think the general public knew more about Jesus in 1965 than they do today?
To explain the impact artistic interpretation can have on what is communicated, your family might have fun trying out the following exercise: Read the two identical sentences, changing only the inflection, by placing emphasis on the underlined word.
1) Let’s eat Mom, I’m hungry.
2) Let’s eat Mom, I’m hungry.
If you’re interested in another film with an Easter theme, check our review of The Robe—the story of a Roman centurion assigned to oversee the crucifixion of Christ.
The most recent home video release of The Greatest Story Ever Told movie is April 9, 1965. Here are some details…
The Greatest Story Ever Told is available on two different DVD editions: the Movie Only version, or the 2-Disc set that offers the following bonus extras: a new documentary featuring on-camera interviews with the director and cast, the original making-of documentary, deleted footage, a photo gallery and production stills. Audio tracks are available in English (Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono) and French. With subtitles in Spanish and French.