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Kanye West’s Imax film ‘Jesus is King’ is artsy, inspiring and ridiculously short

‘Jesus is King’ presents audiences with a difficult predicament: the film’s content is fascinating, and even inspirational. But there’s just so little of it to justify the admission.

SHARE Kanye West’s Imax film ‘Jesus is King’ is artsy, inspiring and ridiculously short
Kanye West, pictured at Coachella in April, presented a playback of his new album and film Oct. 23 at the Forum. (Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Kanye West, pictured at Coachella in April, presented a playback of his new album and film Oct. 23 at the Forum.

,Kent Nishimura, Los Angeles Times/TNS

“JESUS IS KING” — 3 stars — Kanye West, Kim Kardashian West, Ray Romulus; not rated; in general release; running time: 38 minutes.

“Jesus is King” presents audiences with a difficult predicament: the film’s content is fascinating, innovative and even inspirational. But there’s painfully little of it to justify the admission.

Credited to director Nick Knight, and filmed in Imax, the concert film “Jesus is King” captures a performance of rapper Kanye West’s Sunday Service Choir in artist James Turrell’s Roden Crater. Interspersed with scriptural reference title cards, the film includes a half-dozen songs and a lot of artistic imagery.

Located in Arizona’s Painted Desert, the crater is, per its own website, “a gateway to observe light, time and space,” and Knight uses the unique setting to capture the transcendent and meditative themes of the choir’s music. Through unconventional angles and unique compositions that draw on the lines and curves of the setting, Knight’s film feels like a cosmic collision of “2001: A Space Odyssey” and a classic tent revival.

Lengthy single-take shots linger on isolated subjects and highlight the architecture. One memorable shot looks straight up at the conductor from the floor as he directs the unseen choir under a dramatic hole in the ceiling that frames a wondrous cloudscape. Another zeroes in on a single choir member as she enthusiastically belts out her coordinated parts.

Of course, the music elevates the entire production, injecting the sci-fi setting with an energetic traditional gospel feel, and weaving Christian songs of praise with the Bible verses. It’s a fascinating juxtaposition that should be striking to religious and nonreligious audiences alike, and feels like a more artsy companion to “Amazing Grace,” which captured the live recording of Aretha Franklin’s celebrated 1972 gospel album and was released only this year.

The lynchpin of the effort is polarizing hip-hop icon West, whose attachment will likely both draw and repel audiences. West arranged the music, and participates at times — most memorably during an informal number after the choir completes its official performance — but anyone concerned about the usual controversies that surround the musician should be assured: outer space look aside, “Jesus is King” is a traditional gospel effort.

There’s only one real problem, and that is the film’s half-hour running time, which is made all the more obvious by the endless deluge of commercials and movie trailers that normally precede the start of the feature. It may be an old adage to leave the audience wanting more, but despite its clear strengths, “Jesus is King” probably takes that idea a little too far.

Even knowing that the film is short, the end comes as a sudden, jarring surprise, yet you’ll have to pay full price to see it in its intended Imax format. And sadly, unless you have an expensive and elaborate home theater system, “Jesus is King” really needs to be experienced in Imax to be appreciated.

For audiences looking for a unique combination of art and inspiration, “Jesus is King” may still be worth the premium. Truth be told, there are plenty of pedestrian full-length features out there that will give you less for a lot more time.

Rating explained: “Jesus is King” is not rated, but does not contain any objectionable material.