“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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Flashback: Ten years of The Passion of the Christ

This month marks the tenth anniversary of The Passion of the Christ. The film’s actual release date was February 25, but by the time the film came out, people had been debating it — and seeing it at special preview screenings — for several months. (I myself first saw a rough cut of the film in January of that year.) So I figured now was as good a time as any to re-post all the various reviews, news stories and op-ed pieces that I’ve written about the film, most of which fall between the summer of 2003, when the controversy was already in full swing, and early 2007, when a “definitive” two-disc edition of the film was released on DVD.

I haven’t watched the film all the way through in several years — probably not since the “definitive” edition came out — but it has been fascinating to re-read all these articles and to chart the evolution in my thoughts about the film. In the early days, I was very concerned about the film’s historical inaccuracies and its obsession with violence. But then I was asked to write an essay on the film for a book, and as I thought about the film and wrote about it, I found my appreciation for the film growing — so much so that, by the time I reviewed the two-disc DVD, I was calling it a “flawed but breathtaking masterpiece.”

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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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Review: The Passion of the Christ: Definitive Edition (dir. Mel Gibson, 2004)

A lot has happened since The Passion of The Christ came out three years ago and broke a series of records, becoming the top-grossing R-rated movie, the top-grossing foreign-language film, and the top-grossing religious movie of all time — at least in North America. (The Matrix Reloaded is still the top R-rated film worldwide.)

Major movie studios have tried to replicate its success — by setting up faith-oriented divisions like FoxFaith, or by producing entire biblical movies of their own, such as The Nativity Story — and the careers of several of the film’s key players continue to reflect the film’s influence. Jim Caviezel, who played Jesus, will do so again in an audio Bible for Thomas Nelson. Hristo Shopov, who played Pontius Pilate, reprised the role last year in a remake of the Italian film The Inquiry. Benedict Fitzgerald, who co-wrote the script, recently wrote a prequel of sorts called Myriam, Mother of the Christ, and sold distribution rights to the as-yet-unproduced film to MGM.

And then there is director Mel Gibson, who bucked a wave of controversy over the film’s raw violence and alleged anti-Semitism, only to be caught making racist remarks shortly before finishing the similarly gory Apocalypto last year.

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