Anthony Quinn as Muhammad in The MessageAs a producer of the 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy, Barrie Osbourne helped oversee a saga with a nine-figure budget and a nine-hours-plus running time, during which moviegoers never saw more of the title character than his eye. So perhaps Osbourne is the right man to produce a nine-figure epic about the Prophet Muhammad, during which viewers won't see the title character at all.

According to trade reports, Osbourne is attached to produce a $150 million English-language movie about the founder of Islam, funded by Al Noor, an entertainment company in Qatar. No word yet on who might direct or star in the film, and no word on how the filmmakers plan to get around its biggest logistical hurdle: Islam's stricture against figurative depictions of Muhammad and members of his immediate family. Anthony Quinn as Muhammad in The MessageAs a producer of the 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy, Barrie Osbourne helped oversee a saga with a nine-figure budget and a nine-hours-plus running time, during which moviegoers never saw more of the title character than his eye. So perhaps Osbourne is the right man to produce a nine-figure epic about the Prophet Muhammad, during which viewers won't see the title character at all.

According to trade reports, Osbourne is attached to produce a $150 million English-language movie about the founder of Islam, funded by Al Noor, an entertainment company in Qatar. No word yet on who might direct or star in the film, and no word on how the filmmakers plan to get around its biggest logistical hurdle: Islam's stricture against figurative depictions of Muhammad and members of his immediate family.

The last time an East-West consortium tried a project like this, in the 1976 movie 'The Message,' the result was a film whose production and exhibition were hampered by protests, terror threats and one mass-hostage event that led to a shooting death.

The film, directed by Syrian-born Muslim Moustapha Akkad (better known as the producer of the 'Halloween' movies), told the story of Muhammad's life through the eyes of an uncle (played by Anthony Quinn, pictured); Muhammad himself was neither seen nor heard onscreen. Still, fears that the producers were casting a star to play the Prophet were met by international protests during filming, forcing the filmmakers to move the set from Morocco to Moammar Gadhafi's Libya.

And when the film (then titled 'Mohammad: Messenger of God') scheduled a U.S. premiere, an American Black Muslim extremist group took nearly 150 hostages at Washington, D.C.'s District Building, B'nai B'rith chapter, and Islamic Center. The standoff ended after 39 hours, but not before the hostage-takers had shot and killed a radio reporter and a security guard and had and shot and wounded D.C. councilman (and future mayor) Marion Barry. After all the turmoil, 'The Message' met a quick and unceremonious demise at the U.S. box office.

Osbourne, an American who also produced 'The Matrix,' says he hopes the new Muhammad movie will have the opposite effect, calling it an "international epic production aimed at bridging cultures." He told Reuters, "The film will educate people about the true meaning of Islam." Talking to Variety, Osbourne said of Muhammad, "He was a profound genius who founded a religion whose name in Islam signifies peace and reconciliation. This is what our film will aspire to do."

Still, how will he make a $150 million movie starring the "best international talent" that will somehow avoid depicting its title character? Neither Osbourne nor reps from Al Noor have said how they'll do it, but as any movie fan who's watched 'Rebecca' or 'Waiting for Guffman' knows, it can be done.
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