Disney hopes to blunt `the Mel factor'

November 24, 2006|By Claudia Eller | Claudia Eller,Los Angeles Times

Even before Mel Gibson's drunken, anti-Semitic tirade this past summer, his coming film Apocalypto was a tough sell.

Graphically violent, subtitled and cast with unknown actors who speak in an obscure dialect, Gibson's tale of a collapsing Mayan civilization was outside Hollywood's mainstream fare. Then came Gibson's drunken-driving arrest on a coastal highway in July, overnight threatening to turn the Oscar-winning director from the film's biggest asset into its biggest liability.

Starting last night, distributor Walt Disney Studios kicked off a campaign aimed at shifting attention from Gibson's foibles to his movie. Up against what the industry is calling "the Mel factor," the director was slated to appear on a prime-time special from Disney's ABC network, hoping to blunt any potential damage he caused Apocalypto.

Gibson, 50, also agreed to a similar special on Univision's news magazine show Aqui Y Ahora on Nov. 30. On Dec. 7, Gibson is to appear on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

Disney Studios Chairman Dick Cook noted that Gibson defied dismal predictions once before by turning The Passion of the Christ into a global blockbuster.

But it's uncertain whether Gibson's fans are ready to forgive him, let alone embrace an R-rated movie on a topic unfamiliar to most audiences.

Disney plans to position Apocalypto, which opens Dec. 8, as a riveting action adventure, appearing on more than 2,000 screens. Its TV spots play up the film as a "heart-stopping" story of a man who escapes from a world on the brink of destruction to save himself, his pregnant wife and their child.

Disney's financial risk is limited because Gibson self-financed the $50 million movie through his Icon Productions. The studio is on the hook for at least $25 million in marketing expenses.

Claudia Eller writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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