Less-violent version to unspool for squeamish

Mel Gibson has made a new cut of his film “The Passion of the Christ,” trimming five to six minutes of violent scenes. The new version, “The Passion Recut,” will go out on 500-750 screens by Newmarket Films beginning March 11.

The new cut will be unrated. Gibson showed a preliminary version of this version to the ratings board. When it became clear he would still receive an R rating, which his original film bore, Gibson decided that would defeat his purpose.

While the original film grossed $370.2 million on an initial theatrical run that began Ash Wednesday last year, Gibson cut a less-violent version of his film in response to an audience segment that skipped the film because of the depiction of onscreen carnage as Jesus Christ was tortured by Roman troops prior to being crucified.

“There are no new scenes, and the cuts are limited to the more violent aspects of the film, if that’s the right term,” said Bruce Davey, Gibson’s partner in Icon Prods. “The scourging scene in particular has been substantially adjusted.

“There has been quite a demand by the religious community to bring (the film) back for Easter. And there has been a lot of discussion about the violence. Mel wanted to try and accommodate those people by making a version that is softer and gentler. Hopefully those people will come and see it, particularly the younger audience.”

The bloody scourging scene, in which Christ is brutally lashed by Roman soldiers, kept a large audience segment away from the film, both Davey and Newmarket Films head Bob Berney acknowledged.

“The film is still very powerful and moving, but it has been softened enough that people who were queasy or had heard about the violence and didn’t go, can go now,” Berney said. “The new film will provide more of a family experience.”

Berney said the film will be released in most major markets across the country.

“It’s not just in the South or the Bible Belt,” Berney said. “It’s fewer theaters than the original run, but most of the same markets.”

Pic is expected to run through Easter weekend, and Davey said that this might become a perennial release.

“The original thinking behind making a recut version was that it could be an evergreen kind of film that would be re-released through Easter weekend,” Davey said. “If the demand is there, why not?”

The pic won’t capitalize much on Oscar momentum. “The Passion of the Christ” received only three nominations following a decision by Gibson and Davey to abstain on spending money to wage a campaign.

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