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The Message: The Story Of Islam
cast: Anthony Quinn, Irene Papas, Michael Ansara, Johnny Sekka, and Michael Forest

director: Moustapha Akkad

171 / 198 minutes (PG) 1976
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Anchor Bay UK DVD Region 0 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Gary Couzens
Mecca, the 7th Century AD. Mohammad receives a message from the Angel Gabriel, which forms the basis of a new faith called Islam. Mohammad defies the rich and powerful rulers of Mecca and demands that the people worship the one true God, not the many idols that they do worship. Following on from previous prophets such as Abraham and Jesus, Mohammad soon attracts a following...
   There are many films about the life of Jesus and the birth of Christianity, so it was inevitable that someone would attempt to make a similar film about the founding of Islam. That someone was Syrian-born Moustapha Akkad, better known as the executive producer of Halloween and its sequels. The Message (aka: Mohammad: Messenger Of God) is a large-scale, foursquare epic of the old school, taking three years to make, and with the literal cast of thousands that would nowadays be CGI extras. In accordance with the precepts of Islam, there is no visual or audible representation of Mohammad. Akkad gets round this prohibition by subjective camera, or by having Mohammad just off screen, and using a narrator to fill some gaps in the storyline. This adds a strange note of avant-gardism to what is otherwise a thoroughly old-fashioned epic. It's a device that reminds one of the otherwise entirely different Salvatore Giuliano, Francesco Rosi's film of 1962, in which the Sicilian gangster of the title is never seen except as a corpse at the beginning.
   The Message is the type of film that isn't made any more, and remains watchable throughout its three-hour running time, with plenty of spectacle (not to mention a couple of battles) holding the interest. It was shot simultaneously in two versions, English and Arabic languages. Both versions are available in this two-disc DVD set. The second-unit work is the same, but the principal cast is different (Abdallah Gheith, Mona Wassef). As I don't speak Arabic and there are no subtitles provided on either version, my review comments are restricted to the English version.
   The English version is on disc one, the longer Arabic version (Al Risalah) on disc two. Both are in the correct 2.35:1 aspect ratio though for some reason only the Arabic version is anamorphically enhanced. For both versions, there is the choice of the original mono soundtrack and a Dolby digital 5.1 remix. The extras are only on disc one: a 45-minute making-of documentary, trailers for both versions, a stills gallery.
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