Mel Gibson Doing New Movie About the Maya Called "Apocalypto"

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At first his responses were cautious, even cryptic. The plot of his new movie, "Apocalypto"? "It doesn't bode well to say too much about what you're doing," Mel Gibson replied. OK, what's up with that beard? "The beard? What beard?" Gibson said, feigning obliviousness to the fuzzy white growth south of his chin.

But as he relaxed -- and the mob of assembled reporters and photographers got their high spirits under control -- Gibson slowly began to fill in the blanks on his new movie, which so far has been almost as obscure as its historic backdrop: the ancient Maya empire that rose, thrived and mysteriously collapsed centuries before the Spanish conquistadors planted their boots in the New World.

Gibson has reasons for keeping a relatively low profile. The last time most of the world caught sight of him, roughly two years ago, he was smack in the middle of a hurricane's eye surrounding his film "The Passion of the Christ," which went on to become a monster worldwide hit.

By comparison, "Apocalypto" had been shrouded in secrecy until a Friday news conference at this antique port city, which, fittingly, is where the conqueror Hernan Cortes landed in the early 1500s en route to demolishing the Aztec empire.

Civilizations rise and fall, often for similar reasons, Gibson observed during the course of his roughly one-hour encounter with the mostly Mexican journalists.

"I'm hoping that by focusing on this civilization we're able to be introspective about ourselves," said Gibson, who co-wrote the movie and is directing, producing and thus far financing it by himself. He is not acting in the movie.

Gibson said that the plot of "Apocalypto" -- a Greek word that translates as "new beginning" -- concerns an Indian family man who "has to overcome tremendous odds to preserve what he values the most." The movie will employ relatively unknown actors along with hundreds of extras and will utilize Mayan dialect.

Gibson hopes that one effect may be to bolster a threatened idiom that is frequently treated with disrespect, in Latin America. "My hope is that it [the movie] makes this language cool again and that they [indigenous people] speak it with pride," he said.

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