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March 15, 2004
Mel Gibson Discovers Hollywood's Religion: Money

After the incredible success of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, it's not a big surprise that the same Hollywood Establishment that has shunned Gibson and his movie are considering how to cash in on the audience he's discovered:

The movie's box-office success has been chewed over in studio staff meetings and at pricey watering holes all over Hollywood, echoed in interviews with numerous executives in the last week. In marketing departments the film is regarded as pure genius; its director, Mel Gibson, is credited with stoking a controversy that yanked the film from the margins of the culture to center stage, presenting it as a must-see.

There is little doubt at the studios that the movie will affect decision making in the short and the long term. Some predict, as one result, a wave of New Testament-themed movies or more religious films in general.

Actually, I think that the New York Times and marketing executives are overselling Gibson's PR skills. Gibson would have been happy not to have "stoked" those particular fires, especially in their long-term effects on his career and public image. But there's no doubting that Gibson's assessment of the marketplace was dead on: there is a huge market for well-made, faith-based cinema, one that a relentlessly secular Hollywood has been ignoring for many years.

Now, however, the blinders may be off, as longtime Hollywood insider Peter Guber amusingly notes, despite any reservations about the message involved:

Mr. Guber said that reaction to that movie's success was butting up against the feelings of many in Hollywood who dislike its widely criticized portrayal of Jewish responsibility in the death of Jesus.

"There's both discomfort, amazement and anger sometimes all at once," he said. "Greed and envy and anger and jealousy are all interesting bedfellows. They make for interesting conjugal visits in this town."

Recently, Hollywood has been scouring its shelf for anything that could capitalize on the momentum built up by Gibson's blockbuster. ABC released the miniseries Judas, which bombed in the ratings, last week, which just proves that the material has to be good in order to be successful. NBC has ordered a pilot called "Revelations," an X-Files Meets The Omen hybrid, complete with a sleuthing nun and a skeptical scientist who investigate events that may (or may not) be related to the New Testament's most challenging book to interpret. Will NBC do it justice? Doubtful, since the title already refers to the chapter incorrectly (it's Revelation, not the plural), and I suspect that we'll get a whole heapin' helpin' of sexual tension between the nun and the scientist.

TV entertainment is less expensive to produce than major film releases, though, and failure at the box office will be more of a concern on any theatrical film proposed. Some producers will shy away from the potential to offend its target audience if the film is produced poorly. For instance, the Fox Movie Channel recently re-ran The Story of Ruth, a campy rendition of the heroic Old Testament story, where the Hebrews were clean-shaven and the sets were a wonder of 1950s kitsch. Even the performances were synthetic.

And of course, this reflection on The Passion and all things religious will bring out the worst in hypocritical Hollywood, embodied in the article by producer Michael Nozik, who fears the faithful as a component of his audience:

"You can't deny when a movie makes that kind of money that the audience has spoken to the filmmaking community, but it's a frightening comment," said Michael Nozik, a producer of the forthcoming "Motorcycle Diaries," about Che Guevara, the Cuban revolutionary leader. Mr. Nozik is alarmed by the violence in "The Passion," he said, and dismayed by the "pot of anger" that has been stirred by accusations of anti-Semitism.

"I would not think of making a religious movie that speaks to this aspect of the audience," Mr. Nozik said. "I don't know how you speak to that audience as a filmmaker. But as a businessman you have to go, `God, there's something there.' "

Nozik is "alarmed by the violence in The Passion," and he's in the middle of making a film about the life and times of Che Guevara?? He's concerned about stirring the pot of anti-Semitism (and rightly so), but he manages to harbor this concern while celebrating a class-warfare icon, a man who more than anyone else other than Fidel Castro was responsible for enslaving the Cubans to brutal oppression for the past 45 years.

This is why Hollywood will continue to make religious films and television entertainment; they are way too hypocritical to pass up the money they can make in doing so.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 15, 2004 6:53 AM

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