“Drug dealers, money launderers, and kidnappers”: Esquire looks at what happened to Benedict Fitzgerald and his proposed prequel to The Passion of the Christ

benedictfitzgeraldThe Passion of the Christ was such a huge hit ten years ago that many people wanted a sequel. Mel Gibson never showed any interest in making one, but his screenwriter Benedict Fitzgerald certainly did — or, to be more precise, Fitzgerald proposed making a prequel about the mother of Jesus, which he initially called Myriam, Mother of the Christ.

I have been keeping tabs on this film ever since it was first announced in January 2007, but the film itself has never been made. Instead, there have been persistent rumours and reports — the title has changed a couple times, and different actors were rumoured to be up for the part of Herod the Great, etc. — and now comes the wildest, craziest report of them all. Esquire magazine posted a story yesterday with the headline ‘How the Mother of All Sequels Crashed and Burned’, and it explains in some detail how Fitzgerald’s ambitions were derailed by “drug dealers, money launderers, and kidnappers”. It also gets into his lawsuit against Gibson.

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The Battle of the Bible Films — the article’s up!

My article on the Bible-movie revival is now up at the Christianity Today website; it will also be in the print edition of the magazine. The article looks at the fitful attempts made by the studios to cash in on the success of The Passion of the Christ since it came out a decade ago, it looks at the three Bible movies coming out this year — Son of God, Noah and Exodus: Gods and Kings — and it looks at what might be next if Noah and Exodus are big-enough hits. It also includes soundbites from publicist Jonathan Bock, director Darren Aronofsky (Noah) and screenwriters Stuart Hazeldine (Paradise Lost, Gods and Kings) and Barbara Nicolosi (Mary).

Long-gestating Nativity films still slouching towards Bethlehem

I may have stepped aside from regular blogging for two or three years, but some of the projects I talked about back then are still in development. Case in point: Black Nativity, an adaptation of the 1961 Broadway musical.

When I last mentioned it in April 2009, Fox Searchlight was said to be “fast-tracking” the film for release in December of that year — but I don’t think I heard anything about it again after that, until today.

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‘Contemporary Christian cinema’ needs talented, prophetic artists

THESE ARE interesting times for Christian film buffs. Nearly three years have passed since The Passion of the Christ rode a wave of controversy to the top of the box office, and studios have been looking for a way to replicate that success ever since.

The key thing about The Passion may be that it was self-financed. Unlike, say, the big-screen version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — which toned down the book’s Christian elements to appeal to as wide an audience as possible — Mel Gibson’s movie was bold and uncompromising, all because he paid for it himself.

No one expects the next big Christian movie to be anywhere near that big a hit. But increasingly, secular studios are coming to realize that the best way to sell movies to Christians may be to pick up the movies that Christians are already making.

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From Temptation to the Code

In 1988, Christians picketed theaters that showed The Last Temptation of Christ. Today, they’re trying to find ways to “engage” a new controversial movie — The Da Vinci Code.

Two decades ago, Christians took a stand against Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ. When a draft of the script was made public, protestors compelled Paramount to abandon the project, and when Universal produced the movie a few years later, in 1988, Campus Crusade for Christ founder Bill Bright offered the studio some $10 million to buy the movie and destroy it. And then, when the film was released, Christians staged a number of boycotts and pickets outside theatres — a noisy tactic some believers now regret.

But today, churches are taking a different approach to controversial films, including The Da Vinci Code, Ron Howard’s film adaptation of the Dan Brown bestseller, which releases May 19. Pastors, scholars and teachers are writing books, preparing sermon series and Sunday school lessons, and creating websites devoted to “engaging” this pop-cultural artifact as part of an ongoing “dialogue.”

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Grappling with the Da Vinci juggernaut

“SEEK the truth.”

So say the posters for The Da Vinci Code. And so say many Christians who hope to make this movie a witnessing opportunity when it opens May 19 — despite its dismissal of the divinity of Jesus and its controversial claims about the marital status of Christ, the formation of the Bible and the church’s treatment of women.

In contrast to past controversies, such as the various efforts to suppress Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ in the 1980s, pastors and scholars have written books, prepared sermon series, and created websites devoted to “engaging” the movie and book versions of The Da Vinci Code as part of an ongoing “dialogue” with the larger culture.

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