Gibson pic bypassing pricey Best Picture push

When it comes to chasing Oscars for his film “The Passion of the Christ,” Mel Gibson has chosen a strategy that would make the Vatican proud. He is preaching abstinence.

Gibson and his Icon partner Bruce Davey said they won’t spend a cent on Oscar ad campaigns that have become a common part of the business plans of year-end films trying to build their profiles through awards season. Icon has already sent “Passion” DVDs to Oscar voters, and will hold screenings. But that’s it.

“At the end of the day, films should be judged on the merits, not on how big your pockets are or how elaborate the campaign is,” Davey said. “You should make your film available for Academy and guild members who might not have seen it during the normal course of release. It should not be a matter of how many times you’ve seen the ad.”

The “Passion” play is a surprise, but this is a film that became the biggest-grossing film of all time by veering wildly from the traditional marketing and distribution script. Gibson put up his own coin and made a film with actors who spoke in Aramaic and other obscure dialects.

The film could be a longshot in the best picture category, as the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. decided to relegate it to the foreign-language category for Golden Globe consideration.

In the current red state/blue state world, the Oscar telecast might well get a ratings injection from a red state crowd rooting for “Passion.” The prospect of that audience’s introduction to blue comic Chris Rock, who’s hosting the kudofest, would make for a colorful convergence.

It won’t be the first time Gibson hasn’t Oscar-hyped a film he directed. He wasn’t exactly shaking hands and kissing babies for the Icon-produced “Braveheart,” which went on to win for picture and director.

Oscar campaign strategists and voters queried by Daily Variety had mixed reactions to Icon’s declaration. Some said the pic’s enormous profile will ensure it doesn’t get forgotten. Others noted “The Passion” has completed its theatrical and DVD revenue cycle and doesn’t have as much to gain as a year-end film, which could gross tens of millions of dollars if it gets a slew of nominations.

And some suggested the maneuver could actually heighten the pic’s Oscar profile.

Said Davey: “We just decided to let the chips fall where they will fall.”

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