One of the movies you will find on my shelf is "The Robe." The 1953 film, based on a Lloyd C. Douglas novel, stars Richard Burton as a Roman centurion named Marcellus Gallio. A wealthy enemy punishes Marcellus by sending him to serve in a far corner of the Roman Empire -- Jerusalem. One of the centurion's first responsibilities after arriving is to oversee the crucifixion of two thieves and a third man hailed by some as a savior.

Marcellus grimly follows orders. As the three prisoners die in agony, the centurion and his men gamble at the foot of the cross for a robe worn by the Nazarene named Jesus.

Marcellus leaves Golgotha with the robe. What follows in the story is the soldier's progression from tortured soul to skeptic to believer.

Marcellus eventually stands before the emperor Caligula and earns a death sentence rather than renounce his Christian faith.

"The Robe," directed by Henry Koster, earned Academy Award nominations for Best Picture and Best Actor (Burton). On Oscar night, the film took home the gold for Best Costume Design and Best Art Direction-Set Decoration. And by the way, audiences loved "The Robe." The film proved to be the biggest money maker of 1953.

My then-fianc/ watched the film with me in 2001. As the tape rewound, I lamented to Jodi that we would never in our lifetime see Hollywood make an epic like "The Robe" that portrays Christianity in a favorable light.

I may be wrong in my prediction - and if so, I've never been happier to be off base.

The day of truth is Ash Wednesday, Feb. 25, when actor/director Mel Gibson's Icon Productions releases "The Passion of The Christ."

Gibson, who is Catholic, poured $25 million of his own money into a project that isn't the usual stuff of Hollywood blockbusters. "The Passion" aims to show Jesus' trial and execution in a manner as close to the Gospels as Gibson can get it. The dialogue for the film will even be in Latin and Aramaic instead of English.

Gibson took home Oscars for 1995's "Braveheart," in which he directed himself as Scottish freedom fighter William Wallace. It took a brave heart for the star to launch and complete "The Passion." Gibson had to know he would be raked over the coals for filming a reverential treatment of Jesus' supreme sacrifice for humanity -- and his guess wouldn't be wrong. "The Passion" hasn't even hit theaters yet, and the Anti-Defamation League wants it to go away for fear the film will rekindle anti-Semitism in the West. What the League finds objectionable is that "The Passion" will show Jewish authorities working with the Romans to put Jesus to death.

Since that's the historical account of what happened in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago, it would be hard for a director to edit those details.

Imagine asking Ron Howard to excise scenes from another upcoming movie, "The Alamo," of Mexican soldiers killing Texans in battle.

Gibson says audiences will see in "The Passion" that all of humanity played a role in Jesus' death. That squares with the tenets of Christian faith.

If "The Passion of The Christ" is the testament to Christ's love that Gibson promises it is, I hope the film garners financial success.

Further, I hope other moviemakers pay attention and realize biblical epics can make a comeback this decade.



Heath Griner is The Valdosta Daily Times city editor. To contact him, call (229) 244-3400, ext. 274; or e-mail him at heath.griner@gaflnews.com.

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