RISEN is the epic Biblical story of the Resurrection, as told through the eyes of a non-believer. Clavius (Joseph Fiennes), a powerful Roman military tribune, and his aide, Lucius (Tom Felton), are tasked with solving the mystery of what happened to Jesus (Cliff Curtis) in the weeks following the crucifixion, in order to disprove the rumors of a risen Messiah and prevent an uprising in Jerusalem.
One of these days, Affirm Films is going to make a movie that manages to become a breakthrough hit. They've come very close with a number of prior releases (including War Room and Heaven is for Real, both of which did respectable box office) and they come close again with 'Risen', but the movie just can't get past its poor supporting casting, low production value, and not-quite-fleshed-out script.
Even if you don't consider yourself a follower of the Christian faith, you have to admit that 'Risen' is a pretty nifty idea for a movie. Instead of just retelling the story of Jesus' (here going by the name 'Yeshua', which is, I guess, closer to the real Hebrew name he would have gone by) resurrection according to the Bible, the film creates the fictional character of Clavius (Joseph Fiennes, doing his best Roy Scheider impersonation) as a Roman soldier who is present at the crucifixion, then assigned by Pontius Pilate (Peter Firth) to find the body after it goes missing despite the fact that the Romans have sealed and guarded the tomb.
In case you might be wondering why the Romans would give a hoot about finding Yeshua's missing body, it all has to do with the politics of the period. The Romans were ruling over the Jews of Judea, and occasionally clashing with Zealots, a Jewish sect that opposed Roman rule. The worry among the Jewish Sanhedrin (the Jewish judicial body who was actually responsible for turning Jesus over to the Romans for execution) was that – since Yeshua had already proclaimed to others that he would rise from the dead – his disciples would steal his body from the tomb and then proclaim to others that he had risen from the grave. Both the Romans and those in power in the Jewish community feared that such a proclamation would lead to more unrest and violence. So Pilate's assignment to Clavius is simple: go find me the body, so we can show the people that Yeshua was not the messiah he claimed to be.
As already noted, this is a great premise to build a story on, but 'Risen' doesn't become the 'CSI: Jerusalem' movie I hoped it would be. Once Clavius is given his assignment, too much of his investigation deals with just finding and interviewing some of Yeshua's associates, which leads to a handful of scenes where he's just sitting across from people in a room talking to them. This would be find if the actors involved were up to Fiennes' skills, but the other thespians either overplay (see Stephen Hagen as a giddy Bartholomew) or underplay (María Botto as Mary Magdalene) their parts, leading to a lot of sequences that don't quite work. Clavius has also been given a partner, Lucius (Tom Felton), who seems very much like a "third wheel" in the proceedings, making me wonder if a whole lot of his story wound up on the cutting room floor, or if Felton was just cast to add another "name" actor to the cast, but wasn't given much to do.
One relationship that does work in the movie is the friendship formed between Clavius and the apostle Simon Peter (Stewart Scudamore). Scudamore's performance as perhaps Jesus's most notable disciple (yes, the one that denied him three times, but also the "rock" upon which Christ built his "Church") is as likeable and charismatic as one might hope. The behind-the-scenes material on the Blu-ray (and in the commentary track) reveals that the original concept of 'Risen' would have focused on Peter, and it appears that much of that story survived to this draft of the screenplay. 'Risen' could have used a lot more of these two characters together, and a lot less of all the others.
And what of Yeshua/Jesus himself? Well, if the King of Kings looks familiar to you, you're not having a divine intervention – you just recognize actor Cliff Curtis from Fear The Walking Dead (there's a zombie joke here, but I'm going to slyly bypass it). Despite his New Zealand roots, Curtis actually looks the part, but sadly his performance here is about as engaging as that of the character he plays on 'Walking Dead' – which is to say, not engaging at all. There's a scene in 'Risen' where Clavius gets to converse with Yeshua alone for a few minutes, and you'd think the Savior of all Mankind would take the moment to confirm his true identity or inspire the Roman to spread his Gospel or something epic like that. Nope. Clavius just confesses to taking part in Yeshua's crucifixion, and he gets a "yeah, I know" response. Not even a "I forgive you," which would have gone a long, long way in making this moment more special.
'Risen' is by no means a horrible movie, but it's a disappointing one. I can let the film slide for not having the production value to make the visuals more impressive (the ascension scene, for example, is laughably amateurish for a major release), but that's no excuse for a screenplay that needed more work, nor for some of the lackluster supporting performances that should have been caught and re-shot by Director Kevin Reynolds (who knows...maybe they were and this is the best he got!). More importantly, the movie never manages to be as inspirational as it hopes, nor did I feel the main character – Clavius – changes as much as the film would like viewers to believe. He ends the movie turning his back on his life as a Roman soldier and believing he witnessed something extraordinary...but is he now going to spread the word about Jesus to his fellow Gentiles? I never got that impression.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Risen' is resurrected in 4K Ultra HD in a black eco-Lite Vortex keepcase, which has a plastic flap on the side that needs to be flipped up to open the case. The keepcase houses both the 4K and standard Blu-ray discs, along with an insert containing a code for a digital copy of this movie (and a second code for a discount on physical copies of other Affirm Films on the flip side), as well as a single-fold insert advertising Sony releases on 4K Ultra HD.
The 4K disc in this set isn't front-loaded with any trailers, but the Blu-ray is stacked with a trailer for Affirm Films releases overall, followed by individual theatrical trailers for Miracles From Heaven, War Room, Heaven is for Real, When the Game Stands Tall, and The Remaining.
Both the 4K disc and the standard Blu-ray disc's main menu is just a still of the box cover image. But while the Blu-ray just has its menu options horizontally across the bottom of the screen, the 4K disc is a little different, allowing users to swipe right and left, and up and down to explore its menu options, with each choice "sliding" to a different screen and a different selection. The first screen gives viewers the option of playing the movie with or without commentary, but other screens cover things like audio options, a listing of the main cast (along with director Kevin Reynolds), scene selection, and even a screen that offers a montage selection of main characters in the movie (selecting one will allow viewers to view the character's main scenes in the movie, which basically just uses the main presentation and jumps around automatically within the film). Of course, there's nothing here that couldn't be designed for a standard Blu-ray menu, but I guess Sony/Columbia wanted to make the 4K menu a little more "splashy"; however, it just makes users jump around more to find what they're looking for.
Potential buyers of this release need to be careful when it comes to the region-free markings that Sony has put on the back of the box cover. This applies only to the 4K Ultra HD disc and not the Blu-ray in this set, which is Region A-locked. 4K Ultra HD discs aren't region coded at all (at least to this point), so Sony is just confusing people by putting the A/B/C region-free logo on the back of the cover.
'Risen' was shot digitally on Arri Alexa equipment and is presented on the 4K disc in 2160p/HEVC in the 2.40:1 aspect ratio. To the best of my online research, it looks like Risen was shot in 2.8K and then got a 2K digital intermediate mastering for its theatrical release. That means the 4K image here is an up-convert, but it honestly looks quite sharp and detailed and benefits a lot from the HDR rendering – with deep, rich colors (the reds of the Roman uniforms look particularly good) and lots of details in the facial features of the various actors.
Perhaps the biggest problem here is not that the movie doesn't get a good transfer to 4K, but the fact that the actual title doesn't give us a lot of eye candy to impress us with. Most of the movie takes place in barren-like environments (where rocks are the primary landscape feature), and just as many of those scenes take place at night or in dim lighting. The movie doesn't have a wide color palette, either – with red being the only standout among a lot of browns, grays, and blacks (with an occasional splash of green on those rare occasions when the actors are among some foliage).
As for any glitches in the image, I did pick up on some slight motion judder during some of the slow camera pans in the film – a problem that has occurred in a few of these early 4K releases (and most of them upgrades from a 2K intermediate like 'Risen'). Still, black levels are quite strong, details – as already noted – are really sharp, and there are no issues with banding, aliasing, or the like.
The real question is if the upgrade to 4K is worth it. Well, if you're a fan of the movie and in the market to purchase it, the answer is yes as the Ultra HD disc is a visibly better than the Blu-ray (but perhaps only if you have an HDR-compatible TV, as the color saturation and contrast that it provides adds a lot to the image). But if you're just looking for titles that shine on 4K, 'Risen' isn't exactly going to be reference-quality material, given its 2K DI source and the overall look of the movie itself.
The 4K Ultra HD disc features an English Dolby Atmos track, which outputs as a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 track for those of us (like myself) not yet fortunate enough to have an Atmos setup. The biggest issue here actually has nothing to do with the rendering of the track itself, but rather the fact that 'Risen' doesn't offer a whole lot in terms of audio to show off the capability of Atmos.
Frankly, the movie just doesn't have much going on audio-wise, aside from composer Roque Baños's score. It says something about the audio when the first noticeable feeling of immersion you get from a track like this one is the buzzing of flies around dead bodies. That's not to say the track doesn't come alive in spots, like during a brief battle sequence early in the film (where the throwing of rocks actually echoes better than any swordplay) and a short earthquake (also early in the movie, and with some brief LFE use). The most impressive audio moment comes late in the film when Yeshua makes his ascension into Heaven. I'm guessing the audio is good here to make up for the fact that the movie didn't have an F/X budget to really properly show the event, so they amped it up with sound. Regardless, it's one of the few times this track actually comes to life in the way you'd expect it to.
Which is not to say the audio has any technical issues. Everything is crisp, clear, and with nice separation throughout...this just isn't the type of film where Atmos is really needed – which may explain why the Blu-ray counterpart only features lossless 5.1 English DTS-HD.
In addition to the Atmos track, the 4K disc also contains a French 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, a Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital track, and an English Audio Descriptive Service track. Note: For those interested, the Blu-ray features a 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio track instead of an Atmos track, with the same other audio options listed above. Both discs contain subtitles in English SDH, English, Spanish, and French, with the 4K disc also adding a Polish subtitle option.
4K Ultra HD Disc
Another in a long line of Christian-themed movies from Affirm Films that doesn't quite hit the mark, 'Risen' comes across like a decently produced made-for-TV movie instead of the epic adventure it deserves to be. It's by no means a bad movie, but it is filled with less than spectacular set pieces and equally less-than-spectacular acting (although the lead, Joseph Fiennes does nothing to embarrass himself). The result is a good idea that doesn't quite make the jump to a good movie. Still, it's worth a rental if one is so inclined.