Call it The Passion of the Maya:
Mel Gibson is quietly filming a movie in a Mexican jungle about the collapsed civilization.
Given Gibson's cinematic history, experts on the ancient Maya are looking forward to his upcoming epic, Apocalypto
, with a mixture of curiosity and dread. They're pleased that Hollywood will feature a period of world history still little understood but worry that once again a movie may sacrifice historical accuracy for the sake of a good story.
"A lot depends on how well they depict the Maya. It may serve as a really good springboard into a lecture," says archaeologist Lisa Lucero of New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. "Or it may be something we have to nip in the bud in that first lecture."
Gibson wasn't available for comment, and the public relations firm for his Icon Productions declined to offer any details on the film's plot.
But according to the film's website, Apocalypto
promises "a heart-stopping mythic action-adventure set against the turbulent end-times of the once-great Mayan civilization." The story centers on a kidnapped hero's bid to escape a mass sacrifice at one Maya center. According to another description of the plot in Time
magazine's March preview, a ruler orders the mass sacrifice of hapless captives to appease the gods and avert a drought.
The only problem, and big cause for worry among archaeologists, is "the classic Maya really didn't go in for mass sacrifice," Lucero says. "That was the Aztecs." Other concerns: the modern-day Mayan Yucatec language spoken in the film is not the language of the ancient Maya, and the film's Mexican shooting locale is not the classic Maya homeland, says Penn State archaeologist David Webster.
Gibson's last production, The Passion of the Christ
, collected complaints, and compliments, from religious scholars, even as it made $370 million in North America. Most of the controversy centered on charges of anti-Semitism, but some, such as DePaul University's John Dominic Crossan, also complained about Jesus speaking Latin and details of the Crucifixion, among other questions.
Gibson's Icon Productions declined to comment on archaeologists' concerns through its Los Angeles public relations firm, Rogers & Cowan. In an interview in March with Time
, Gibson said, "After what I experienced with The Passion
, I frankly don't give a flying (expletive) about much of what those critics think." He told Time
he partly views the movie as a political allegory for leadership in our own era.