At the needling of Ian, and in the spirit of the generally Maya-obsessed theme of this blog in the past two months, I thought I’d stop the near month-long gap in new posts with some angry ranting about Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto.

This review, by anthropologist and Mayanist Traci Ardren, says pretty much everything I would have said about the glaring historical inaccuracies and ill-concealed racist/imperialist message:


To sum up: everybody speaks Yucatec Mayan, and the city depicted is clearly Uxmal (a Classic-period Maya city in southern Yucatan), but the blind, idiotic ritual massacre of everybody they can get their hands on is obviously the product of Aztec, not Classic Maya, culture. Especially since we see the Spanish arriving at the end and they clearly did not get into Mexico until 1536 or thereabouts, several hundred years after the collapse of the Maya.

What Ardren does not treat with is the complete ineptitude with which Mel’s story wastes the vast and fascinating depth and complexity of Maya knowledge, art, culture and philosophy. The entire scene in the mindblowingly decadent and beautiful and horrific Maya city, which lasts for maybe a tenth of the movie at most, has absolutely nothing to do with the motivations of the characters, the conflict, or the plot. Oh my Sovereign Feathered Serpent God what a fricking waste. There is a half-second where we get a panoramic view of the skyline of the city of Uxmal. I was waiting the whole movie for that, and it had nothing to do with anything.

Which isn’t to say Mel doesn’t know how to do a good action chase flick with wife and kid at stake and heaping craploads of asskicking and spurting arteries to be surmounted before they are saved. He has shown that with The Patriot and Braveheart and the Die Hard movies and his whole ouvre.

But for someone like me, for whom setting and worldbuilding are pretty much the most important and enjoyable part of storytelling, well, Mel, you fecked it up. Fecker! I just hope you didn’t feck it up for me and my Maya obsession. As somebody pointed out to me when I first started talking excitely about Apocalypto and how I had to see it, in spite of Mel’s egomaniacal suckyness, due to the Maya content: had this movie done well, I would have been able to latch on to the ensuing wave of coattail-riding in the publishing industry, like the pirate obssession that is going on now due to Pirates o’ th’ Caribbean. Now, because Apocalypto will, if it has not already, utterly tank, I’m just hoping their isn’t a matching backlash, where everybody in the editor chairs laughs my Maya stories off the stage.


  1. Mel Gibson did not direct nor appear in any of the Die Hard movies. Die Hard is the Bruce Willis franchise. You’re thinking of the Lethal Weapon series. But you are right about his action cred. It was action packed and I didn’t fall asleep once, but the story itself was so flimsy and not particularly interesting.

  2. Yes, you’re right. You have established your movie knowledge superiority once again. I meant Lethal Weapon. Which actually sucks quite a bit harder than Die Hard imho, but that is beside the issue.

  3. this movie was really interesting. Though not incredibly thorough in plot, the character development was great, everyone who sees it really likes it, and the acting was incredible. not to mention the scenery. Hating is bad. Just enjoy it for what it was, dont let your hatred of gibson ruin a great movie.

    1. It was a pretty good movie. It did give big hollywood acting jobs to a bunch of guys who would otherwise never have gotten the chance. It gave a lot of people maybe their only chance to hear an indigenous Maya language spoken. And like I said, the action elements worked like gangbusters. So, sure, it was entertaining, and it had some positive aspects overall. My objections to the historical stuff can be interpreted as the nitpickings of an obsessive geek. And actually, by comparison to, say, Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull, Mel’s treatment of indigenous people could almost be called reverent. No doubt this is the best big-budget period film about the ancient Maya that will ever get made. And the fact that it got made at all is kind of amazing.

      I’m just saying I wanted more.

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