In "The Day Chirst Died," a three-hour CBS movie at 8 tonight on Channel 9, Jesus is a regular guy who plays ball with the disciples and says things like, "You must think in broader terms, Judas. He keeps to his own space and he knows where he's coming from and, hey man, I can dig it, but I can't stand it.
Some controversy has evolved over the production, ostensibly based on the Jim Bishop book but disowned now by Bishop, who had his name removed from the credits. Earlier this season, and NBC movie, "Mary and Joseph," got similar flak and disarmed it the same way tonight's movie will -- by being feeble, lugubrious and boring as heck.
Writers James Lee Barrett and Edward Anhalt try to demsystify the story and see it in political terms, with talk of "demonstrations," Jewish extremits" and "mob heroes." Unfortunately, without its methaphysical fortunately, without its metaphysical side, the narrative simply deflates, and whatever modern parallels one is supposed to see don't really seem worth sorting out.
Chris Sarandon's hippie Jesus may be welcome as a change from the blue-eyed stereotype, but he can't do much with the character that hasn't already been done. Keith Michell cuts a striking figure as Pontius Pilate, Hope Lange is touching as his wife -- though not in ways that make much sense -- and Jonathan Pryce makes Herod sinister in a vivid, orginal manner. But all of them are victims of the concept.
The film produced by Martin Manulis and directed by Janes Clellan Jones, was shot on location in Tunisia, which means three hours of almost nothing but gray and brown. At least Franco Zeffirelli had the smarts to turn everything burnished gold in his vastly superior "Jesus of Nazareth," to be rerun in expanded form starting Sunday night on NBC.