This guy gets born in Bethlehem to an Irish girl, grows up in Nazareth, and becomes a non-charismatic, blue-eyed surf dude who manages to get a following by tossing off platitudes while walking in the street. Meanwhile, Barabbas, possibly the worst rebel leader in the history of mankind, stages a few battles that only a blind shut-in wouldn’t know would fail, so that the Nazarene will look good by comparison. Also, since the main story apparently isn’t interesting enough, a few Romans, an Arab king, and some hot chicks chat until the hottest chick does a modern dance to get ahead. Eventually everybody goes after the pretty boy purely because the story requires it.
Now, let’s suppose that some guy is your lord. You worship him, believe that his word is holy, and you may even love him (in some lesser definition of the word “love”). Wouldn’t you want him to be…impressive? In Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments, God is glorious. That’s a diety! But here, we’re given a bland, distracted, hollow kind of “messiah.” Sure, he’s got the looks of a model and eyes that will make schoolgirls blush (and gay men sweat), but there’s nothing about this guy that will make you believe he could come up with two followers, much less legions. Assuming some bloke named Jesus actually lived two thousand years ago and started the religion, I can safely say he was nothing like this film’s version as he couldn’t rally a few couples for a bridge game.
Overall, this is a strangely uninvolving retelling of what is supposed to be “the greatest story ever told” (oh, that’s a different movie). Not only does Jesus traipse around in a drug-like trance, but his mother hardly notices what’s going on. Her son is dying on a cross and she couldn’t care less. Is that what it means to be holy? The crucifixion is designed to lull the audience, not excite them (think of this as the opposite of The Passion of the Christ). It is low on blood and seems painless. At best, being nailed to a piece of wood and left out in the sun to die looks slightly uncomfortable, along the same lines as being forced to sit on hard bleachers at a football game because you’ve got bad tickets. Apparently, all that pain and suffering (not to mention the grandeur and magnificence) were considered too much for fragile Christians, so everything is toned down. This Biblical saga is even missing miracles. Except for being spotted after he died, the only thing Jesus does onscreen is cure a guy’s cramps. His shadow does fall over a blind man, which may have cured him, or he may have found his rags itchy at that moment; the film doesn’t specify. Everything else which might have been gripping is merely read from a Roman report. Yeah, because nothing is more rousing than a good report.
Since the story of Jesus is played without joy or complexity, a third of the film follows Barabbas, mysteriously moved from his traditional role as murderous thug (as in Barabbas) into the part of misguided patriot. This might have been clever if the combat scenes were filmed with any flair or if there was depth to Barabbas. But, like the Jesus part of the story, anything that could be energetic is avoided. In a decision that boggles the mind, the crowds choosing of Barabbas to be saved in place of Jesus is not shown. Instead, it is commented upon after the fact.
So, this is a soullessly written Biblical rehash. It is self-consciously directed, using strange camera angles and lenses that draw attention to themselves, not the story. The narration kicks in whenever the filmmakers found themselves incapable of telling the story directly, and Orson Wells, who did the voice-over, petitioned to have his name removed from the credits due to his embarrassment with the project. The film was dubbed I Was a Teenage Jesus (a takeoff on 1957’s I Was a Teenage Werewolf, which is actually a better movie) because of the inappropriate appearance of the star. It was poorly dubbed in post production, often with incongruously accented voices. So, is there any reason for an atheist (or even a Christian) to watch King of Kings? Yes, but only if you are gay, or are looking for a new drinking game. This is the most homoerotic Jesus flick in wide distribution (and considering the homosexual theme in Ben-Hur, that’s saying a lot).
I’d hate to ruin the event for any of you who want to take a drink whenever something with gay overtones happens, so I’ll just start you out: when a bear (i.e.: a hairy, large man) runs into Jesus’ arms, and the two gaze into each other’s eyes while the well-scrubbed Messiah dips the man, it’s time to down a shot.