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The Passion of the Christ - no early preview for Vatican as popularity soars



Story by: Jack Foley

MEL Gibson’s film, The Passion of the Christ, about the crucifixion of Christ, is continuing to court controversy, despite still not having a distributor.

The film, which has generated a groundswell of interest over the internet, particularly when a trailer was first released, will not be shown to the Vatican early, as its director now feels that the crucifixion scenes are too violent, and is in the process of ‘softening’ them.

Catholic leaders have long been at odds with the film, over concern that it could damage relations with the Jewish community, while Jewish groups fear it could portray Jews badly, as they are allegedly seen to clamour for Christ’s death.

The film has already sparked an intense war of words over its content, with some labelling it anti-Semitic, but Gibson has consistently defended it from such claims, and maintains it is largely based on the Gospels themselves.

The director, himself, is part of a strict Catholic group which rejects the Vatican decrees.

His decision not to preview it to the Vatican, however, could fuel the debate surrounding it, but also serves to keep the film in the limelight as it continues its search for a US distributor.

But it could also prevent it from further bad press, given that the Vatican has only ever given its blessing to one film version of the biblical story - Pier Paulo Pasolini's no-frills retelling of the Gospel according to Saint Matthew.

That said, a private screening of The Passion of Christ may be shown for a small group of churchmen in January, according to the director of the Vatican film archive, Enrique Planas.

The debate surrounding the film, meanwhile, can only help its search for a US backer, especially in light of the continued support it receives among internet fans.

A trailer, for instance, had to be taken down after five days after being posted on several internet sites, because it created so much traffic - 350,000 people in one day downloaded it from Ain't It Cool News, for instance, when it first became available earlier this year.

Bruce Davey, president of film company Icon, which made it, told the Hollywood Reporter that people were ‘passionate about this film’, while Ain’t It Cool editor, Harry Knowles, said he had been forced to remove the trailer from his site because the unprecedented level of interest had caused it to grind to a halt.

He went on to describe the trailer, however, as ‘great, the best I've seen this year’, but added that it was ‘probably too graphic for audiences’.

Incredibly, the film, which depicts the last 12 hours of Christ’s life, has been filmed with dialogue in Latin, Hebrew and Aramaic, and is still viewed as a risky venture for any major film studio to get involved with.

Several independent film distributors have, apparently, made offers to buy the film or requested to see it, with Newmarket, which released cult hit, Memento, a favourite to land it, according to a report in Newsweek.

Of the major studios, Twentieth Century Fox, which has a ‘first-look’ deal with Icon, has officially turned it down.

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