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End of times for 'Apocalypto'? - USA TODAY 12/7/06


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  • End of times for 'Apocalypto'? - USA TODAY 12/7/06

    'Apocalypto' navigating rough waters

    Updated 12/6/2006 9:29 PM ET

    Icon Distribution
    Not exactly mainstream: Apocalypto was filmed in Yucatec, a Maya languagespoken
    in the Yucatán Peninsula, with English subtitles. Apocalypto has no big-name actors.

    By Anthony Breznican

    Mel Gibson's Apocalypto is not a movie about the end of the world, but it has several plagues trailing it.

    The film about an ancient tribesman trying to escape being sacrificed in a Mayan religious ritual opens nationwide Friday. The film's cost has been estimated at $50 million to $80 million. Its performance at the box office will prove which is stronger: Gibson's credentials as a renegade filmmaker or moviegoers' attitudes about his reputation.

    "Hollywood has never had a lot of model citizens," says Dennis Rice of The Walt Disney Co., the film's distributor. He says he hopes critics and the public "judge Mel on his artistic merits."
    Gibson's personal foibles — he spewed anti-Semitic slurs during a drunken-driving arrest in July — aren't the only obstacles for Apocalypto to overcome. Dialogue is in the Yucatec language with English subtitles. It's R-rated for intense gore, leading some to fear that Gibson exaggerates the unsavory side of history.

    "I'm not saying one Indian never killed another Indian, but it's taking the worst suppositions from the most alarmist of the anthropologists," says Indian Country Today columnist Suzan Shown Harjo of footage in trailers and on Disney-owned ABC's behind-the-scenes special.

    Disney says Latino and Indian audiences for whom it screened the movie were positive.
    It's also unclear whether Christian fans who were won over by The Passion of the Christ will buy tickets for a film about pagans. And he has annoyed conservatives by saying the human-sacrifice story line is an allegory for President Bush "sending guys off to Iraq for no reason."

    "My sense is he uses people, and he uses controversy," says Jason Apuzzo, co-founder of the conservative Liberty Film Festival who defended Gibson during The Passion. "The perception is he's a guy gone over the edge."

    Supporters say Apocalypto's saving grace may be Gibson's reputation as a visualist.

    "I was surprised at what effective filming it was," critic and conservative commentator Michael Medved says. "Mel's supposed to be box office poison. I don't think that's true, though he's not where he was in terms of public esteem. Before that, I'd have been confident this would be a big success."
    "If you don't know how to draw, you don't belong in this building" - John Lasseter 2006

  • #2
    Re: End of times for 'Apocalypto'? - USA TODAY 12/7/06

    Film's challenges run the gamut

    Updated 12/6/2006 9:28 PM ET

    Mel Gibson: His DUI close-up from July.

    By Anthony Breznican

    Few films arrive in theaters with as many hurdles as Apocalypto, opening Friday. USA TODAY looks at four challenges the movie needs to overcome:

    The tainted talent

    Accusations of anti-Semitism have dogged Mel Gibson ever since Jewish leaders feared he was using his 2004 hit The Passion of the Christ to blame their faith for the crucifixion of Jesus.

    Add to that Gibson's close relationship with his father, Hutton, who has called the Holocaust "fiction." Gibson's rant during his drunken-driving arrest in July confirmed the worst for many, but he has apologized and denied he is anti-Semitic.

    Though Gibson has done few interviews to promote the movie and declined to be interviewed for this story, ads for the film place his name clearly above the title.

    How does the industry feel about him? "Nobody doubts Mel Gibson's talent," says Peter Guber, co-host of AMC's Sunday Morning ShootOut. Some may hope Gibson fails, but "we also have to hope that somebody of his caliber of artist can bring that thoughtfulness to his own life in a way that's commensurate with good judgment, taste and ethics."

    The language barrier

    Subtitled movies rarely hit big in the USA. Apocalypto is in the Mayan dialect of Yucatec, which is still spoken in parts of Mexico and Belize but is different from Spanish.

    Gibson's The Passion was in Latin and Aramaic, but that film had the advantage of being a story that many people already knew.

    With Apocalypto, Gibson told Entertainment Weekly, "there's not as much need for dialogue."
    Some foreign-language films have become popular hits in recent years. Roberto Benigni's dramedy Life Is Beautiful was in Italian, and Ang Lee's mythical action drama Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was in Mandarin Chinese.

    Those films took weeks to build a wide audience and had the benefit of Oscar nominations to fuel ticket sales. With divided critics and many Oscar voters finding Gibson distasteful, award prospects are remote.

    Extreme violence

    Few films are as famous for brutality as Gibson's Braveheart, which won best picture at the 1996 Oscars. And some criticized The Passion for its excruciating details of the flogging and crucifixion of Jesus.

    Some critics say Apocalypto is even more gruesome, with men gnawing on fresh-cut animal testicles, men's pulsing hearts being torn out, and an infant being violently swung around by its leg, among other scenes. Gibson told EW: "The world is a violent place. I want people to close their eyes sometimes."

    That will certainly alienate some, but could it attract fans of such horror-house hits as the Saw movies and Hostel? Tony Timpone, editor of the horror magazine Fangoria, says, "A movie that has graphic scenes in it, even if it's not horror, will get a rise out of splatter fans … though I doubt they will go to a movie like that just for their 'horror fix.' "

    Ethnic worries

    Disney has pitched the film strongly to American Indian and Latino moviegoers, hoping the ancient-Mexican elements will appeal. Gibson received an award from the Latin Business Association because the film "celebrates Latino history" and used Latino actors and services during the Mexico shoot.

    But Suzan Shown Harjo, a Cheyenne and Hodulgee Muscogee activist, says Gibson's approach minimizes the destructiveness of European explorers. "He's saying, 'These people brought it on themselves. They were killing each other and committing suicide without knowing it.' "

    Dennis Rice, spokesman for distributor Disney, counters that screenings for tribal groups have been overwhelmingly positive.

    Chris Eyre, who chronicled contemporary Indian life in 1998's Smoke Signals, says, "We can glean a lot from looking at our past, and that's where the movie is valuable. But it does a disservice when audiences only find us valuable in our romantic past."
    "If you don't know how to draw, you don't belong in this building" - John Lasseter 2006


    • #3
      Re: End of times for 'Apocalypto'? - USA TODAY 12/7/06

      I wish it wasn't advertised as "Mel Gibson's Apocalypto." Everyone I've talked to about the movie isn't interested in it because of him.

      Seems foolish to use his name to further the movie, when it seems to be doing the opposite. I know that's a major reason I won't see it. It's going to take quite some time before I'll see a project that he's a part of.


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