The Message Blu-ray Review
THE MESSAGE opens in Mecca in 610 A.D. and concludes with the prophet Mohammed returning to the holy city. In between, there is his exodus, the 624 Battle of Badr, the 625 Battle of Uhud and much more. If you’re not well versed in the history of Islam, then THE MESSAGE may serve as a fine introductory course.
As part of the lesson, we meet Mohammed’s uncle, Hamza (Anthony Quinn, who won Academy Awards for 1952’s VIVA ZAPATA! and 1956’s LUST FOR LIFE), Mohammed’s mother-in-law, Hind (Irene Papas, Costa-Gravas’ Z), opposer-turned-supporter Abu Sufyan (Michael Ansara, who played Cochise on the western series BROKEN ARROW), and companions Bilal (Johnny Sekka, 1966’s KHARTOUM) and Khalid (Michael Forest, who would later appear on CBS’ AS THE WORLD TURNS). Of course, Mohammed isn’t shown (as stipulated by Islamic law), but Akkad sidesteps the issue by having other characters speak his words and at times shooting from his point of view.
THE MESSAGE seems to not only exist to enlighten viewers, but as a way to sit in the pantheon of its genre. Hollywood tended to favor epic tellings of Christianity (see: Nicholas Ray’s THE KING OF KINGS, George Stevens’ THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD) and so producer/director Moustapha Akkad (who would later direct 1981’s LION IN THE DESERT, with Quinn and Oliver Reed, but is best remembered as the producer of the HALLOWEEN series) apparently felt it due time for his own religion to get the treatment.
That’s really where THE MESSAGE qualifies as a near-disaster. It wants so badly to be like one of the higher-praised Hollywood religious epics, but instead comes off as merely a knockoff. While telling such a story requires a heavy amount of detail, THE MESSAGE seems to only be so long (nearly three hours) because the Christian epics were. Further, the necessary battle sequences are noisy and cluttered, and the score just sounds like Maurice Jarre trying to give a third-rate version of his work on LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. (Jarre was nominated for an Oscar, but lost to John Williams for his STAR WARS score.)
Still, THE MESSAGE has some fine aspects to it. The locations and sets are wonderful, as are the costumes (by Phyllis Dalton, who worked on DOCTOR ZHIVAGO and LAWRENCE) and makeup (by Alan Boyle, who contributed greatly to Stanley Kubrick’s BARRY LYNDON). Also solid are the performances by Quinn, Papas, Sufyan, and the rest of the primary cast.
What will please religion buffs the most is that THE MESSAGE appears to be comprehensive and accurate, as text early on states that both the University of Al-Azhar in Cairo and the High Islamic Congress of the Shiat in Lebanon “approved the accuracy and fidelity” of the film. This is a result of the unrelenting passion Akkad had for the project. He hired a writer (H.A.L. Craig, who would also pen LION for Akkad) and a cast that may not agree with some of the teachings, but acknowledge that the story is one that deserves to be told just as much as yet another take on the life and death of Christ.
THE MESSAGE BLU-RAY REVIEW
Video: 1.78:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. If THE MESSAGE is supposed to feel epic, this Blu-ray completely misses it. The primary reason for this is that the disc presents the film in 1.78:1 instead of the original (and more cinematic) 2.35:1, greatly reducing the scope. Further, this transfer is flat, light on details, occasionally ugly, and even smudgy at times.
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. Subtitles in English. Like the video, the audio transfer lacks the dimension that such a film deserves. The dialogue is passable, but the score and sound effects have no depth to them.
There are no special features on this Blu-ray.