Feds investigate paper over leaked ''Passion'' tape. The New York Post says it returned its rough cut of the controversial Mel Gibson movie without copying it

By Gary Susman
Updated November 21, 2003 at 05:00 AM EST

There’s a new controversy surrounding Mel Gibson’s movie ”The Passion of Christ,” and this time, the law is getting involved. The latest flap is over a leaked copy of the yet-unreleased movie obtained by the New York Post, which screened it for a panel and ran their reviews on Monday. Now, the Los Angeles Times reports, federal authorities are investigating how the rough-cut tape was leaked to the paper. Plus, Gibson’s lawyer says that the director-actor is mulling a civil suit against the paper over the Aint-It-Cool-News-style stunt.

”Our biggest concern here is that a major media organization would become involved with pirates to concoct a news story to sell newspapers,” George Hedges, a lawyer for Gibson’s production company, Icon Entertainment, told the Times. ”For someone to feel the license to do this is just outrageous.”

Icon has a first-look deal with 20th Century Fox, which, like the Post, is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. After Fox saw the rough cut of the movie earlier this year, however, the studio passed on its option to distribute the film, which is now scheduled to be released next February, on Ash Wednesday, by indie distributor Newmarket.

The Post did not say how it acquired the videotape, but a Post spokesperson told Variety: ”A source provided us with the tape, no copies were made, and we have returned the tape to Mr. Gibson’s representatives.”

The tape the Post saw was a rough cut, with temporary English subtitles (Gibson shot it in Latin and Aramaic, for authenticity’s sake), no credits, and further edits likely to occur. Its panel of viewers included a priest, a rabbi, a professor of religion, the Post’s movie critic, and a reader selected at random. She gave the movie a rave review, while the clergymen, the professor, and the critic all echoed fears raised by Jewish groups that the movie appeared to caricature Jews and slander them as being primarily responsible for Jesus’ execution.

The Passion of the Christ

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