Will ‘Mel fac­tor’ keep movie­go­ers from new Gib­son film?

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Stephanie Mansfield

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.”

As­so­ci­ated Press

Mel Gib­son's Mayan-his­tory epic “Apoca­lypto” opens Dec. 8.

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