The hype is officially over.

Just in case anybody didn’t notice — and you probably didn’t — The Passion Recut, a.k.a. Mel Gibson’s attempt to milk just a little more money out of his death-of-Jesus movie by trimming out some of the more gratuitous violence, was a flop this past weekend, grossing only $223,789 in all of North America, for a ranking of #28 and a per-screen average of $234. At, say, seven bucks a ticket, spread out over three days, with at least four screenings per day, that comes to only 2 or 3 patrons per show.

I have always had mixed feelings about The Passion of the Christ. Back when it opened, I reviewed it for Christianity Today and ChristianWeek, and I think my ambivalence comes through pretty clearly there.

The film does have its strengths: I wrote an essay on the film for a book, Re-Viewing The Passion, in which I argue that the film strikes a better balance between the humanity and divinity of Christ than most of its predecessors, through its creative blending of objective and subjective cinematic techniques.

But I also question Gibson’s practically sado-masochistic obsession with blood and gore, partly because it comes out of a Catholic form of piety and perhaps even a Catholic theology that don’t work for me (my apologies to any Catholics out there), and partly because it seems to me that Gibson is on some level just making Christ in his own image (though I guess this is to some degree unavoidable for any artist). I am also concerned about the way the film buys into the obsession with explicit violence that has cropped up in war movies over the last decade or so; I wrote a paper addressing this topic a few months ago, an excerpt of which appears here.

A lot of people have talked as though Mel Gibson’s film could “change Hollywood”, but to me, it seems his film buys into a lot of Hollywood ideas already. And one of the strangest experiences I’ve had was attending a press junket for Racing Stripes a few months ago, and hearing some of my fellow Christian critics ask if the success of The Passion would lead to a lot more “family films”. Huh? Not all films appropriate for a Christian audience are “family films”. And The Passion, regardless of whether it was a good film or not, was most definitely not a “family film”, either. If anything, one of the most noteworthy things about Gibson’s film was how it broke the R-rated barrier among Christian moviegoers — a fact that T.D. Jakes tried to exploit a few months later with Woman Thou Art Loosed. What we should be asking is whether the success of The Passion will lead to more films that aren’t afraid to explore faith matters in a fearlessly mature or grown-up way.

But now I’m seriously off on a tangent.

Anyway, once this new version of The Passion comes and goes, I hope Gibson finally gets around to putting out a DVD with both versions of the film and some serious extras. A film that was this hyped, and this financially successful, and this much a part of the cultural conversation, surely deserves some sort of commentary, or making-of documentary, or thematic featurettes, or something of that sort.

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  • PKD

    A bundle of wires as thick as a coaxial cable runs from a connector in Nagle’s scalp to a refrigerator-sized cart of electronic gear. Inside his brain, a tiny array of microelectrodes picks up the cacophony of his neural activity; processors recognize the patterns associated with arm motions and translate them into signals that control the Pong paddle, draw with a cursor, operate a TV, and open email.

  • >> Just in case anybody didn’t notice … The Passion Recut, a.k.a. Mel Gibson’s attempt to milk just a little more money out of his death-of-Jesus movie by trimming out some of the more gratuitous violence, was a flop this past weekend.

    Am I in trouble if I say I’m *glad*? Even if Gibson *did* have sincere motives of ministering to a larger audience, this whole endeavor just smacked of commercial opportunism. And “Recut”? Come on. This was not an artistic re-imagining. It was just a snip of extreme gore here and there … and not nearly enough to make the film palatable for the “special audiences” he was claiming to reach.

  • I always thought “The Passion Recut” sounded a little too much like “The Matrix Reloaded”, myself. 🙂

    It is especially interesting that Gibson re-cut the film after insisting all along that the original version of the film had to be as violent as it was. I believe it was Lee Strobel who asked him why he didn’t consider toning the film down, to get a PG-13 rating instead, and Gibson replied, “Dude, I did tone it down!”

    And now, he toned it down again, reportedly in the hope that the film would be given a PG-13. It wasn’t, so they released the Recut version “unrated”.

    Yeah, smacks of commercialism. Especially since, by now, everyone has had the opportunity to watch the film in the safety of their living rooms, with their fingers on the fast-forward button.

  • Anonymous

    Since Jesus movies often have unofficial tags (IE Jesus becomes “I was a teenage Jesus”, The Greatest Story Every Told becomes The Dullest…, etc.), perhaps, in keeping with your perceptions, this could become The Passion Reloaded.

  • Anonymous

    Don’t you wish you could fast-forward twenty years, to see how controversial films like “The Passion of the Christ” and “Million Dollar Baby” and “Kinsey” have held up? My guess is that “The Passion” will still be much discussed, despite its lack of awards. “Kinsey” will probably get some discussion too. “Million Dollar Baby”? “Sideways”? “Gangs of New York”? Shoot, the dialogues on these films are already growing cold. We feel the emotions of sentimental films like “Beautiful Mind” & “Titanic.” But we grow from films that make us think. What do you think, Mr. Chattaway? Do you think “The Passion” will be considered a major work in twenty years? What recent films will be?

    By the way, I like your blog. So many blogs are just snippy remarks and links to other things. Nice to find a personality in yours.

  • I was surprised just how little fan fare came this time around…aside from some ads, I barely saw mention of it in any publications and heard nothing at church. Apparently the Christian community didn’t care enough to show Hollywood they would run out and see it again.

    Personally, I am waiting for the Passion of the Christ: Totally Outrageous and Out of Control Expanded Edition to hit the stores.

  • Okay, who’s dissin’ blogs made up of nothing but snippy remarks? What’s the problem with that? Huh? Huh?

  • anonymous wrote:
    : What do you think, Mr. Chattaway? Do
    : you think “The Passion” will be
    : considered a major work in twenty
    : years? What recent films will be?

    Gosh, I haven’t a clue.

    Hmmmm, what films from 1985 are considered major works nowadays? And what films were considered major at the time but have since fallen into relative obscurity?

    Not that this means anything, but the nominees for the major Oscars that year (picture, directing, acting, writing, cinematography) were (winners first): Out of Africa, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Prizzi’s Honor, The Trip to Bountiful, Cocoon, Witness, The Color Purple, Ran, Runaway Train, Agnes of God, Murphy’s Romance, Sweet Dreams, Jagged Edge, Twice in a Lifetime, Back to the Future, Brazil, The Official Story, and The Purple Rose of Cairo.

    How many of those have stood the test of time? I know that I, for one, count The Purple Rose of Cairo among my three favorite films of all time, but that might be just me.

    : By the way, I like your blog. So
    : many blogs are just snippy remarks
    : and links to other things. Nice to
    : find a personality in yours.


  • Your list of films from 1985 leaves out the most controversial hit film of that year, “RAMBO: First Blood Part 2”. (It was only nominated for sound-editing.) “Rambo” had a great deal of cultural impact, despite it being basically an “action film”. Despite the fact that the Cold War is over and POW/MIA is largely a dead issue, the debate about whether Vietnam was winnable is still going on. Ironically, the film helped launch Oliver Stone as a major director. Given that Stone, (unlike Stallone) was a real Vietnam Vet he could more plausibly say that his Vision of Vietnam (“Platoon”) was the “real one”. Without the “Rambo” backlash “Platoon” may never gotten a best picture Oscar.

    Of the films you mention: “Kiss of the Spider-Woman” is no doubt mostly seen as an early gay landmark. “The Color Purple” is largely remembered for launching the careers of Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey, (and the beginning of Spielberg’s Oscar Quest), “Brazil” is what it always was, a cult film, “Trip to the Bountiful” is remembered (along with “Tender Mercies) as one of the few pro-Christian movies put out by Hollywood of that era.

    I’d say the films from that list that are most watched today are “Back to the Future”, “Witness” and possibly “Jagged Edge” Of course to the most played on Cable movies from the 1980s are “The Beastmaster” and “The Breakfast Club”. I don’t think either one was up for a major Oscar.