Mel Gibson staked $30 million and his superstar reputation on this painstakingly bloody interpretation of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, all the while dodging charges of anti-semitism and fostering excruciating cinematic gore at the expense of Christ's message (a notion that also begs some uncomfortable questions about this version's S&M undertones). But because the film's dialog plays out in ancient authentic language dialects, John Debney's musical score takes on an even more central dramatic role. In some ways an unlikely choice as composer (having cut his teeth on many a lightweight comedy and kidflick) Debney nonetheless rises to the challenge, first conjuring up a synth-laden soundscape whose gothic moodiness should be familiar to admirers of the work of Lisa Gerrard, then seasoning it with indigenous instruments, booming percussion and ancient modalities that give the score an almost palpable sense of time and place.
As did Jeff Danna on his earlier score for the gentler, de facto companion piece, The Gospel of John, Debney eventually gets 'round to genuflecting towards some Hollywood choral and melodic traditions (the Gospels themselves having arguably helped lay the original foundations for Tinseltown's venerable three-act structure), but there's nothing cheap about his music of triumph and redemption, rooted as ever in roiling currents of ancient spiritual mysticism. Gibson's vision of the Passion has had many second-guessing his motivations and choices, but Debney's rich, evocative score proves there's nothing wrong with his ears. -- Jerry McCulley