AMC cinemas to air toned-down Baptist ad

DALLAS — Fear, anger and deceit will replace torture, murder and adultery on a 30-second screen ad produced by the Baptist General Convention of Texas — wording changes that prompted AMC Theatres to drop its objections to the ad Wednesday.

The 2-million-member convention produced the ad to coincide with the Feb. 25 opening of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ.

However, AMC had refused to accept it, saying it violated the company’s screen advertising guidelines.

“We’re pretty serious about keeping our pre-feature materials G-rated, so to speak,” AMC Entertainment Inc. spokesman Rick King said Wednesday. “The guideline conflict that we had was that we had language that used violent and sexual terminology.”

The changes should make the ad “suitable for all of our screens,” King said.

Becky Bridges, communications director for the association of 5,700 Texas Baptist churches, said King called and offered the compromise Wednesday, a day after the Associated Press reported on the ad dispute.

“It’s a great result, and I’m very excited,” Bridges said.

Baptist leaders had offered last week to soften the ad wording, but that did not appease AMC officials at the time, Bridges said. King told her he was unaware of the earlier efforts at compromise.

King said AMC, based in Kansas City, Mo., was “very concerned that this was being perceived as an unfriendly message from AMC to the Baptist community. That’s certainly not reflective of our posture and certainly not what we intended to convey.”

Like many Christian groups, Texas Baptists hope to take advantage of the publicity generated by Gibson’s film, which is set to open on 2,000 screens nationwide on Ash Wednesday.

The black-and-white ad opens with a young man asking: “You want to see the most scandalous story ever?”

In the original version, these words then flash on and off the screen: “Betrayal. Sin. Adultery. Greed. Envy. Weakness. Poverty. Torture. Murder.”

“Redemption,” the actor says.

The ad ends with the message “Now playing at a Baptist church near you” above a Baptist General Convention of Texas logo.

Regal Entertainment Group of Knoxville, Tenn., whose holdings include United Artist theaters, earlier accepted the ad.

“The advertisement meets all of our standards and guidelines,” Regal spokeswoman Lauren Elf said this week. “There’s no reason why we wouldn’t run it.”

Texas Baptists plan to run the ad — with the original wording — on about 200 Regal theater screens in Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio, Bridges said. At a cost of about $40,000, the ad will run for four weeks starting the Friday before the opening of Gibson’s movie.

Once the compromise is finalized, the convention also hopes to show the modified ad on about 150 AMC screens in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Bridges said the convention approached theater chains that it knows accept regional advertising and don’t require a national contract.

After news of AMC’s concerns arose, officials with Cinemark theaters called and offered to work out a regional deal, Bridges said. Whether that happens will depend on costs.

Gibson’s movie, with dialogue in Latin and Aramaic and English subtitles, is set to open on 2,000 screens nationwide — an unusually large release for an independent religious film made in dead languages.

Some critics of The Passion of the Christ worry that its depiction of the role of Jewish leaders in Jesus’ final hours will revive the idea that all Jews are to blame for his death.

Gibson has repeatedly denied that his film maligns Jews. It has won praise from many prominent Christians, including evangelist Billy Graham. An aide to Pope John Paul II has said the pontiff felt the film accurately shows what Jesus went through, although the Vatican recently backed away from that statement, declaring that the pontiff “does not make public judgments on artistic works.”

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