Norman Jewison’s film version of the 1969 legit stage project in a paradoxical way is both very good and very disappointing at the same time. The abstract film concept veers from elegantly simple through forced metaphor to outright synthetic in dramatic impact.
The filming concept is that of a contemporary group of young players performing sequential production numbers in the barren desert, utitlizing sketchy props and costumes. No mob scenes a la DeMille, no heavy production spectaculars, no familiar screen names in cameos. So far, so good. But then something happens as Carl Anderson (outstanding as Judas in the film’s best performance) finds himself, in the midst of ‘Damned for All Time’ running away from tanks and ducking modern jet fighters. Suddenly it’s Catch 22-time, which the very moving ‘Last Supper’ sequence can only counteract instead of contributing to a mounting dramatic impact.
Barry Dennen’s Pontius Pilate is intrusively effective far beyond the pragmatic urbanity called for, Joshua Mostel’s King Herod is less a dissolute sybarite tha a swishy, roly-poly cherub. Finally ‘Superstar’ blares forth with the shallow impact of an inferior imitation of Isaac Hayes.
1973: Nomination: Best Adapted Score