Less Passion For 'Passion'

Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" was one of 2004's most profitable and most controversial films. Now, it has been re-released, but with a few changes designed to attract an even wider audience.

Early signs are, it's not working.

The Early Show entertainment contributor and People magazine Senior Editor Jess Cagle says usually, when a director's cut comes out, scenes that didn't make it into the original film are added.

But Gibson actually removed around six minutes of footage, in the hope that it would appeal to a new audience.

Unfortunately for him, it didn't.

Last year, "The Passion of the Christ" grossed more than $370 million in the United States alone, making it the ninth-highest grossing film of all time. Still, the movie's graphic brutality caused some people to stay away.

So Gibson trimmed some the most horrific footage, and re-released it just in time for Easter.

"Essentially," he says, "it's the same film, and what I've done is to listen to the concerns of many people, what their feedback was. 'We love the film but, we felt that we couldn't take our 15-year-old,' or, 'I couldn't take my grandmother,' because they might find it too intense."

"Five or six minutes isn't a whole lot in the grand scheme of things, and there is still a lot of brutality in that film," observes Entertainment Weekly Senior Writer Dalton Ross.

And, Cagle says, audiences agreed: The film had a dismal box office showing this weekend, taking in only $239,000 nationwide.

"I don't think it's going to bring in a significant audience that didn't see it before," Ross suggests, "because it's still brutal. I mean -- Mel Gibson gives an introduction on his Web site, and he says it's been softened, but it's still a very hard movie."

Cagle, who's seen the re-cut version, agrees: "It's still a very difficult film to watch, even without those six minutes of footage."

Gibson was making the rounds on talk shows last week, though he mostly avoided them last year when the first version of the film came out, Cagle points out.

"I think he's doing some publicity because it's last year's controversy, it's a 2004 controversy, so it's a safer environment," Ross suggests.

Gibson had hoped this new, trimmed version would get a "PG-13" rating. It didn't. It received the same "R" rating the first film got. So the film company, an independent, released it unrated.

"It's a shame," asserts movie critic and radio talk show host Michael Medved, "that they weren't able to work it out and get the 'PG-13' rating that they apparently wanted initially, to broaden the base of the film. I think the fact that the movie is coming out without a rating is very confusing to people."

Some theaters have refused to show it, saying that they don't show unrated films.

Gibson and his distributor were considering releasing the movie each year for Easter, notes Cagle, but this weekend's low box office figures may put those plans on hold. Besides, Cagle adds, audiences that want to see "The Passion" again, already have it on DVD.
  • Brian Dakss

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