‘Apocalypto’ opens in Mexico

Fox expects to nab the top spot

MEXICO CITY — Twentieth Century Fox Mexico bows Mel Gibson’s Mayan epic “Apocalypto” today in Mexico, but will Mexicans buy into Gibson’s violent portrait of their heritage?

Fox is releasing the film on 300 prints — midsized for the market — and expects to nab the No. 1 spot and 15 million pesos ($1.4 million) in the opening weekend.

Pic opens against “Dreamgirls,” “Flags of Our Fathers” and “Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning” — none of which can compare to seeing a big-budget (compared to Mexican pics) version of one’s national heritage.

Fox estimated the pic would earn less than $4 million during its run, but exhibs were more optimistic, expecting it to earn more than $6 million.

Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” was a runaway hit in predominantly Catholic Mexico and throughout Latin America, but that provides little guidance for “Apocalypto,” shot in Mexico in a Mayan dialect and with mostly unknown Mexican and Native American actors.

“There is some uncertainty; there isn’t any benchmark to compare this film to,” said Mike Moraskie, director of programming at Mexico’s biggest exhib, Cinepolis.

Still, the success of “Passion” established Gibson’s rep as a director in the region.

Pic has stirred up some local controversy, with Mexican academics and indigenous rights activists criticizing the film’s historical accuracy and saying Gibson’s portrayal of the Mayans is an overly barbaric stereotype.

Gibson, at a low-key premiere for the Mexican cast and crew last week, fired back at reporters. “Those who criticize the movie should do their homework. I did,” he said.

Reactions — apparently based solely on the trailer — also have been strong in Guatemala, where Mayan activists said the portrait of their ancestors as bloodthirsty spear-chuckers is racist.

Mayans are considered to have had one of the most advanced cultures in Mesoamerica, but Gibson has pointed out that his film focuses on the decadent period of the Mayan civilization. He worked with noted U.S. archaeologist Richard Hansen in developing and shooting the pic.

Film managed to nab a B-15 rating, which requires kids younger than 15 be accompanied by an adult, after distribs feared landing a C rating (similar to R) due to the pic’s graphic violence.

Mexico is the first Latin American market to see the film and should provide a litmus test for other markets with populations of indigenous peoples and pre-Colombian cultures. Fox has rights for the entire region.

Francisco Lopez, Fox Latam’s regional marketing manager, said the distrib is marketing the film more as an action film in some markets — including Mexico — and would play up the cultural aspect in campaigns in the more European-centered markets such as Argentina and Chile, which have tiny indigenous populations.