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The Passion of The Christ

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2004 1 Feb
The Passion of The Christ
Sounds like … a mixture of the dramatic orchestrations by Hans Zimmer (Gladiator, The Last Samurai) and Peter Gabriel's very similar 1989 Passion soundtrack for The Last Temptation of ChristAt a glance … it's a haunting, beautiful, and powerful score, but it's also blatantly inspired by Gabriel's work, and you may need an appreciation of Middle Eastern instrumentation to enjoy itTrack ListingThe Olive GardenBearing the CrossJesus ArrestedPeter Denies JesusThe StoningSong of ComplaintSimon Is DismissedFlagellation/Dark Choir/DisciplesMary Goes to JesusPeaceful but Primitive ProcessionCrucifixionRaising the CrossIt Is DoneJesus Is Carried DownResurrection

Accept no substitutes! You'll be seeing many albums releasing over the months ahead positioning themselves in the marketplace with "Passion" in the title. Those behind the soundtrack to The Passion of The Christ have recognized this, slapping a sticker on the case that reads "The Official … Soundtrack."

John Debney composed the music underscoring Mel Gibson's lauded-but-controversial film, and while he's not yet one of the bigger names in film scoring, he has worked consistently for the last 20 years on several major releases (most recently Elf). His first big gig was composing music for episodes of "Star Trek: The Next Generation." Apparently a Catholic (as determined from the liner notes), Debney's already got a handful of spiritually inclined films on his resume, including Dragonfly and Bruce Almighty, both collaborations with Christian director Tom Shadyac.

The Passion of The Christ resembles a mixture of recent dramatic orchestrations by Hans Zimmer (Gladiator, The Last Samurai) and the alternative Middle Eastern exploration heard on Peter Gabriel's magnificent Passion soundtrack, used in 1988's The Last Temptation of Christ. Unfortunately, Debney's music is too closely patterned after the latter's work, and that's disappointing for a new film about the same subject (albeit a much different interpretation). They've even prominently featured Gabriel's longtime collaborator, vocalist and double violinist Shankar, whose unmistakable sound was also used on Gabriel's Passion. The producers also used a piece from Gabriel's Rabbit Proof Fence soundtrack for The Passion's 2003 teaser trailer. There's no question what Debney and Gibson were going for here, and it's not originality.

That doesn't negate this soundtrack's effectiveness, however. Rhythmic, dramatic, moody, and contemplative, the music suits the film, hauntingly underscoring the unforgettable images. It doesn't communicate the action through the music as well as Gabriel's Passion, but it's also less experimental and therefore probably more palatable to the average listener. You won't enjoy it if you dislike Middle Eastern instrumentation or abstract film soundtracks. You will though if you are profoundly affected by the collective Passion of The Christ experience or if you simply appreciate good atmospheric music for Lent.