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Mel Gibson does it his way

Movies | The re-released "Passion of the Christ" is slightly less brutal

Issue: "Francis Schaeffer's legacy," March 26, 2005

Mel Gibson barely brushes his teeth these days without attracting attention, flouting convention, or getting in a tussle with someone or other.

The superstar does things his own way and appears to act and speak, certainly by Hollywood standards, with refreshing candor-witness his recent public show of support (via a signed fax) for the effort to save the life of Terri Schiavo.

What else has he been up to lately? Most notably, Mr. Gibson and his distribution partner, Newmarket Films, decided to re-release The Passion of the Christ, shrewdly timed to be in theaters through Easter. This wasn't a straightforward re-release, though. Responding to what Mr. Gibson, in an online introduction to the new version, referred to as requests from viewers to be able to take "your Aunt Martha or your Uncle Harry or your grandmother," about six of the most graphic minutes were cut from the film. (See below)

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In an interview with Scott Ross on The 700 Club, Mr. Gibson expanded on the decision to re-edit the movie: The Passion is "pretty brutal in spots-and intentionally so. But I got enough of those things, like, 'I wish I could have taken a 15-year-old,' so I thought maybe there is room to re-enter the edit and find another way, keeping the impact of the film, the integrity of the film, but extracting some of the more wrenching or brutal aspects of the film, and therefore making it available to a wider audience. That's, in effect, what I've done. It didn't get a PG-13. It's still hard, but it is not as hard."

That last part references Mr. Gibson's failure to trim the film significantly enough to warrant a PG-13 rating by the Motion Picture Association of America, which deemed the film worthy of its original R rating. So Mr. Gibson and Newmarket decided to release The Passion Recut unrated.

This decision played a role in limiting Newmarket's distribution options, since some theater chains won't play movies that have refused an MPAA rating. Texas-based Cinemark is one such chain, also citing the film's availability on DVD (although the Recut DVD won't be available for several months).

Regal Entertainment Group, the largest theater chain in the world (the Phil Anschutz-owned company operates Regal Cinemas, United Artists Theatres, and Edwards Theatres in the United States), also refused to show The Passion Recut. But Regal's problems with Mr. Gibson and his movie go deeper than the unrated re-release. Earlier this month, Mr. Gibson settled a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against Regal for failure to honor the terms of its profit-sharing agreement with Icon-Mr. Gibson's production company-during the film's initial release.

Mr. Gibson also surprised churches around the country by sending $500 checks refunding them for a "worship fee" apparently charged by Regal to groups buying out screenings of The Passion. Variety reports that a letter from Icon included with the checks claimed no prior knowledge of the fee, the discovery of which left the company "shocked and disappointed."

The Passion Recut, in its first weekend, played on 954 screens and made just $232,499-28th place among films in release.

But there is some good news for Mr. Gibson. ShowWest, the movie industry's largest annual convention (held, of course, in Las Vegas), this month gave its first ever "Favorite Movie of the Year Award," sponsored by USA Today and Coca-Cola, to The Passion of the Christ at its closing gala. And if anyone is curious about the "other side" of Mr. Gibson's life, Variety also recently reported that Mr. Gibson signed on to star in Under and Alone, a film about a Vietnam vet who goes undercover for the ATF with the Mongols motorcycle gang.

Still bloody

The Passion Recut is still very bloody, but toned down considerably. Instead of showing the nail going into Christ's hand, for instance, viewers just see the hammer going down. The flagellation scene is not so relentlessly long, and we don't see the whips tearing His flesh. The creepier violence (the crow eating the thief's eye) is out, and long shots take the place of many close-ups. It's easy to see how the ratings board would give it an R, and yet, 13-year-olds and above can certainly handle this. Still, the original version is much better. The very shock value of so much of it gave the movie its impact and power.

-Gene Edward Veith

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