Faith, Media & Culture

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

A TV event. The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson’s blockbuster retelling of Jesus’ final hours, will premiere with limited commercial interruption on the UP television network on Palm Sunday. The landmark 2004 film will air as one-night television event at 9:00 PM (ET) on Palm Sunday (April 13).

“UP is proud to present this powerful, groundbreaking cinematic portrayal of Christ’s death and resurrection as the centerpiece of our extensive Easter programming,” said Charley Humbard, president and CEO, UP. “The Passion of the Christ is a story of unconditional love: the love of a Mother for her son and the love of a Son for his Heavenly Father—and for all mankind. This film depicts the story that is at the very heart of Christianity. It truly epitomizes our holiday theme: ‘Easter Lives Here.’”

The release of The Passion of the Christ coincided with the founding of UP (then Gospel Music Channel) a decade ago. Today the network is one of the largest producers of faith-friendly films.  Since its launch, through the end of 2014 UP will have produced 40 original films, with 18 scheduled to premiere this year and 20 additional original films scheduled for 2015.

In the ten years since its original theatrical release The Passion of the Christ has taken in $612 million at the worldwide box office, making it the highest grossing independent film of all time. The film remains the highest-grossing religious film in history. Since then, it has never aired on a commercial network. Directed by Mel Gibson (Braveheart, Apocalypto) from a script by Gibson and Benedict Fitzgerald, the film stars Jim Caviezel (Person of Interest) as Jesus and Monica Bellucci (The Matrix Reloaded) as Mary Magdalene. UP will air an edited-for-television version provided by the producer.

Spoken entirely in reconstructed Aramaic and Latin with subtitles, the movie focuses on the last 12 hours of the earthly life of Jesus of Nazareth. The film begins in the Garden of Olives where Jesus has gone to pray after the Last Supper. Jesus must resist the temptations of Satan. Betrayed by Judas Iscariot, Jesus is then arrested and taken within the city walls of Jerusalem where leaders of the Pharisees confront him with accusations of blasphemy and his trial results in a condemnation to death.

While the movie inspired and moved many Christians, it also proved controversial and was harshly criticized by some critics who contended that it was anti-Semitic. On the other hand, the film received some notable critical praise. USA Today’s Claudia Puig wrote at the time, “Gibson has made a stunning film, beautifully photographed in contrasting dark and golden hues by Caleb Deschanel,” adding, “Caviezel plays Jesus with magnetism, dignity and humility.” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Phil Kloer described it as a “movie so singular, so intense, so overwhelming that it simply has to be experienced” and James Berardinelli of ReelViews described it as “a gripping, powerful motion picture—arguably the most forceful depiction of Jesus’ death ever to be committed to film.” Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times commented, “I was moved by the depth of feeling, by the skill of the actors and technicians, by their desire to see this project through no matter what.” Meanwhile, Richard Roeper, Ebert’s TV c0-host on Ebert & Roeper, called Passion “the most powerful, important and by far the most graphic interpretation of Christ’s final hours ever put on film.”

The Passion of the Christ was produced independently and filmed in Italy—primarily at Cinecittà Studios in Rome, in the old city of Matera, and in the ghost town of Craco. The estimated $30 million production cost, plus an additional estimated $15 million in marketing costs, were fully borne by Gibson and his company, Icon Productions.

As one of the most successful independent movies of all time, The Passion of the Christ is credited with revealing the huge market for faith-based and faith-friendly films. The film’s legacy continues as its success helped pave the way for the recently-released Son of God, Noah (due March 28) and several other upcoming film and TV projects

The Passion of the Christ also received numerous industry and critical awards, including the People’s Choice Award for Favorite Motion Picture Drama, the National Board of Review Award for Freedom of Expression and ShoWest’s Consumers Choice for Favorite Movie Award. The film was nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Cinematography, Best Makeup and Best Original Score. Gibson was named Hollywood Producer of the Year at the Hollywood Film Festival. The instrumental original movie soundtrack, one of three soundtracks for the film, also received a GMA Dove Award for Instrumental Album of the Year.

The Passion of the Christ was also voted the most pro-Catholic film of all time by readers of Faith & Family Magazine and the National Catholic Register newspaper. It received more votes from readers than the next three films on the list combined: The Sound of Music (1965), A Man for All Seasons (1966) and The Song of Bernadette (1943). In June 2006, the movie topped Entertainment Weekly’s list of “The 25 Most Controversial Movies of All Time.”

 Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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