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.
, 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."