Will ‘Mel factor’ keep moviegoers from new Gibson film?
LOS ANGELES — When Mel Gibson’s Mayan-history epic “Apocalypto” opens on Dec. 8, all of Hollywood will be waiting for the verdict: whether filmgoers will have forgiven the actor’s indiscretions.
The film’s distributor, Walt Disney Co., is waiting to discover whether American and world audiences will separate the man from the movie.
“If you have a great film, people will go,” said producer Lynda Obst, who has a production company at Paramount.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly for this week’s cover issue, the Australian-reared actor said he’s confident his movie will not be hurt.
“It’s primarily entertainment,” Mr. Gibson told the magazine. “An 18-year-old college guy, out with his buddies, he’s going to get into the chase. The movie will stand on its own, regardless of any unfortunate experience I may have stumbled upon.”
Disney got such “an enthusiastic response” at an exhibitor screening onNov.27thatitgave“Apocalypto”a voteofconfidencebydecidingtoopen it on more than 2,500 North American screens, up from the previous 2,000, according to Daily Variety.
Mr. Gibson has always had his detractors. But when the 50-yearold Oscar-winning director was arrested for drunken driving in Malibu on July 28 and then embarked on a tequila-soaked anti-Semitic tirade to the arresting officer, who is Jewish, critics went public.
Sony Pictures chief Amy Pascal expressed her anger, and former MCA President Sidney J. Sheinberg called Mr. Gibson “a putz.” Some, including superagent Ari Emanuel, decried Mr. Gibson’s “bigotry and racism” and called for the entertainment community to shun him.
The test case is “Apocalypto,” which was filmed in Mexico with unknown actors and depicts the last, bloody days of the fall of the Mayan Indian civilization before the arrival of the Spanish. Disney reportedly planned to spend more than $25 million more on prints and advertising in the U.S., with Mr. Gibson’s production company Icon having foreign distribution rights to the film.
“Let’s see what happens,” said Alan Nierob, Mr. Gibson’s longtime publicist with Hollywood powerhouseRogers&Cowan.“He’sdoing the publicity. No one can sell it better than Mel.”
Like “The Passion of the Christ,” Mr. Gibson produced and directed the film, but does not star in it. Also like “The Passion,” “Apocalypto” is in an ancient foreign language and will be shown with subtitles.
“People who have seen the film love it,” Mr. Nierob said. The early critical buzz has been good also.
Following a carefully mapped public relations campaign, Mr. Nierobsaid,“Melwasupat6:30this morning doing a radio show for Latin American audiences.”
ABC’s Diane Sawyer devoted one hour to the film’s making and release two weeks ago. Mr. Gibson will make the rounds of the talk shows this week, including Jay Leno and Ellen DeGeneres, and will appear on the cover of Entertainment Weekly.
Inadditiontosuchusualmethods of publicity, Variety magazine noted the ways that the film’s marketing also has unpredictable elements, similar to the pitches Mr. Gibson made to evangelical Christians throughout 2003 and 2004, which made“ThePassion”suchasuccess.
There is no-star studded Hollywood premiere for “Apocalypto.” Instead, Mr. Gibson held its first public screening Dec. 1 in OklahomaasabenefitfortheChickasaw Indian nation.
Mr. Gibson also has arranged pre-screenings for American Indian and Hispanic audiences, including the Latin American Business Association in Los Angeles. In Oklahomatwomonthsago,thefilmmakershowedupattestscreenings in disguise to gauge the reaction.
He also has held screenings at more than 60 college campuses and an Indian reservation in late November. Already, the huge billboards for “Apocalypto” are lining the boulevards in West Hollywood, and the movie’s trailer is in theaters.
But even supporters of Mr. Gibson acknowledge that “the Mel factor” may interfere with the effort to focus only on the film.
“There’s also the curiosity factor,” said Paul Dergarabedian of Exhibitor Relations Co. in Encino. “Like him or hate him. There are some people who will not be convinced.”
Mel Gibson's Mayan-history epic “Apocalypto” opens Dec. 8.