A decade ago, "The Passion of the Christ" proved that tens of millions of Christians around the country would buy a ticket to see a film about Jesus Christ.
Can a new movie repeat the feat?
That's the question facing, of all people, the most successful reality-television producer working today, Mark Burnett. Burnett is making plans to bring the movie, primarily about the crucifixion and the resurrection, to a theater near you.
The as-yet untitled film is a 2¼-hour distillation of "The Bible," the 10-hour History Channel miniseries that on Thursday landed an Emmy nomination. But Burnett told The Times that even viewers who watched the miniseries will find new angles in the film.
"There will be new footage, and things will be in a very different order," he said in a phone interview Thursday. "It's another kind of approach." He said the film starts from before the crucifixion and continues through “to resurrection and even revelation.”
On Wednesday night, Burnett and Roma Downey — his actress wife and collaborator on "The Bible" — were at a screening in Colorado Springs, Colo., to show the film to a small hand-picked audience. The screening had been hosted by Philip Anschutz, the Denver mogul with a long history in Christian-friendly entertainment. The idea was that if believers in that part of the country liked the movie, then others would follow suit.
A distributor has not yet been chosen, but Burnett said he was sifting through "multiple offers”; he wouldn’t say whether they were faith-based or commercial distributors. He said he hoped the movie could be in theaters by as early as spring and cited two test screenings — another was held in Denver last week — as evidence that the faithful would flock.
“These were very tough audiences, and they spent hours discussing the movie after it ended, asking questions like, 'If Jesus could raise they dead, why couldn’t he save himself?' " Burnett said. “I looked at Roma and said, ‘I think we have something here.’ ”
Of course, whether it can become a theatrical hit remains to be seen. "Passion" came out at a different, less developed time in the evolution of Christian-themed entertainment and had Mel Gibson's star power and an intense media spotlight working on its behalf. It also didn’t have to contend with similar content on television the year prior.
But Burnett is hoping that, with the right marketing and word-of-mouth, it can become an event much the way “Passion" did, spurring people to come to theaters in groups and talk about it with friends and strangers.
As his plane prepared to take off from Colorado on Thursday morning — Burnett and Downey were headed to New York for meetings with History executives — the producer was still enthusiastically pointing out why he thought a Jesus Christ movie based on the miniseries would work. “This is the fastest-selling TV miniseries in history on DVD. People wouldn’t have gone out and bought it again if it didn’t touch them.
"This is the source of hope and belief, and with the movie you'll get to experience it again."
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