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Gibson Sneaks Apocalypto

THR contributing critic John DeFore filed this report on Mel Gibson's recent sneak preview ofMelandrudy Apocalypto in Austin, Texas:

Friday’s tough movie ticket was a 9 p.m. “Super Special Screening” at Fantastic Fest, hosted by Ain’t It Cool newsman and Fantastic Fest co-founder Harry Knowles. Many hopefuls were turned away, most of whom were betting that the unannounced film would be a sneak peek at “The Prestige,” “Children of Men” or another sci-fi-related title due out in the next few weeks.

The film wasn’t science fiction, though, nor did it fit any of the Fest’s other favorite genres. It was a work-in-progress print of “Apocalypto,” the Mayan adventure tale that isn’t due to open until December. What’s more, writer/director Mel Gibson was there to follow it up with a Q&A, alongside his leading man (and Belton High School grad) Rudy Youngblood.

The selection makes sense, of course, to those who recall Gibson’s surprise arrival at Knowles’ Butt-Numb-A-Thon a few years back, where he tested “Passion of the Christ” out on its first non-clergy crowd. Guess that worked out okay for him.

The film wasn’t in reviewable form: Sound effects and score have yet to be added, many special effects aren’t complete, and at two-plus hours, it can still use some trimming. But sections of it already work quite well, and about a third of the full house rose to give the director a standing ovation once the lights went up.

Looking substantially better groomed than he was in photos taken on set in Veracruz, Gibson was candid about wanting to make further trims; he had sat in the audience for half the film in order to gauge how the film played to virgin eyes.

Though he was modest in assessing his work, he admitted to having more on his mind than the tale of one man on the run from warriors bent on killing his tribe: “The precursors to a civilization that’s going under are the same, time and time again,” he said, drawing parallels between a Mayan civilization on the brink of collapse and America’s present situation.

“What’s human sacrifice,” he asked, “if not sending guys off to Iraq for no reason?”

Photo: Mel Gibson, right, and actor Rudy Youngblood answer questions about "Apocalypto" at the Fantastic Fest in Austin. Photographer: Tim League of Fantastic Fest. Courtesy of Matt Dentler.

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