Somebody Stop Mel Gibson, Please

Oh, no.  Not again!  Yahoo News is reporting that Mel Gibson is planning yet another of his nightmarish historical blockbusters.  The man who brought us Braveheart andApocalypto is planning to unleash his filmmaker talents yet again on another unsuspecting ancient culture with a reputation for extreme violence–the Vikings.   “I’m going to give it to you real, man,” Gibson reportedly told a Yahoo News writer.  “I want a Viking to scare you.”

Actually what scares me is Gibson.  The man is a menace.  He loves decking out his projects with all the trappings of historical accuracy, while merrily jettisoning any real fidelity to history and truth.   Take Apocalypto,  his ghoulish, blood-spattered epic on the Maya.  His cast all spoke Yucatec Maya like natives.  His Maya nobles and priests wore exquisite costumes and headdresses.  And he even threw in a real honest to goodness environmental crisis that plagued the Classic Maya–the deforestation of Maya lands to provide timber for fueling lime kilns.   (All the lime went into plaster for the buildings.)

But was Apocalypto true in any way to what we know about the Maya? Not by a longshot.  It depicted the Maya almost en masse as ghoulish blood-thirsty club-wielding savages — what Mayan archaeologist David Friedel once wryly described  as “orcs in loinclothes.”    It depicted little if anything of the beauty and richness of Maya art, science, and religion,  pretty much rendering an entire culture into a historical horror show.

Sure it’s entertainment,  and it wouldn’t matter so much except for two things.  One is that his films are huge box-office hits,  seen by millions of people, particularly impressionable teenagers.   And secondly his version of past looks and sounds so historically authentic that many people are conned into believing that they are witnessing something truthful.

And there’s one other aspect that disturbs me.  Gibson is already talking about how he will apply his techniques of verisimilitude to the Vikings.  “I think it’s going to be in English,  an English that would have been spoken back then and Old Norse,” he told the reporter.   “I want to see somebody who I’ve never seen before speaking low, guttural German who scares the living **** out of you.”  Some critics applauded Gibson for filming in foreign languages in The Passion of the Christ and Apocalypto,  but if Gibson was quoted correctly,  I’d say that he sees the act of speaking in such a language as something that will  increase both the fright factor and brutality of scenes.   What kind of a message is that to send to kids?  How about xenophobic.

I know one film that I won’t be rushing out the door to see.

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