LOS ANGELES, Oct 24: Talk about a hard sell: this movie stars unknown actors speaking a dead language and is directed by a man whose off-screen behavior has outraged many.
Figuring out a way to market Mel Gibson's latest movie, 'Apocalypto,'' has many experts scratching their heads.
Unlike ''The Passion of the Christ,'' Gibson's last film, ''Apocalypto's'' tale of human sacrifice among the ancient Mayans has no built-in audience of millions of Christians to draw on.
The movie also has to overcome months of bad publicity Gibson received after he was arrested for drunk driving and flew into an anti-Semitic rant at the arresting officer.
Gibson has teamed with Walt Disney Co to market and distribute the film, which debuts on December 8, and he has already begun testing audience reaction by showing unfinished prints to audiences in Oklahoma and Texas.
Disney spokesman Dennis Rice said the studio believes ''Apocalypto'' will have broad appeal despite the subtitles, subject matter and controversy surrounding Gibson.
''If it's a good movie, people are going to see it,'' Rice said. ''One of the great things about Mel Gibson is that he is a great filmmaker and he has a proven track record,'' he added, referring to the success Gibson has had with such films as ''Passion'' and the Oscar-winning ''Braveheart.'' Rice said Gibson will actively promote the film which will be marketed as ''Mel Gibson's Apocalypto.'' Gibson has publicly apologized for his remarks during the arrest and offered a long interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer to explain what happened.
Gibson has said he hopes to find a wide audience for the film about a pre-Columbian villager who is captured by Mayans to be used as a sacrifice to appease their gods.
''One doesn't ever make a work of art for an elite. I think that is a very selfish and big mistake,'' Gibson said.
The film, which cost Gibson's Icon Productions an estimated 30 million dollar to make, was shot in Veracruz, Mexico, using local people who had never acted.
A few reviews based on the rough cut screenings have been positive. But industry experts wonder whether the film's association with Gibson would taint it for moviegoers. 'ALWAYS A GAMBLE' Paul Dergarabedian, president of box office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations, said: ''It's not clear who will want to see ''Apocalypto. This film is a little more mysterious (than ''Passion'') which makes it a bit of a marketing challenge.'' He added that with all its other marketing drawbacks, the film also must surmount the controversy surrounding its maker.
''I don't know how that cannot be a factor,'' Dergarabedian said. ''His personality has come into play ... but if it's a good movie that will hold it in good stead.'' Film historian David Thomson called film marketing ''a rather grandiose term for what is really always a gamble.'' ''Controversy is not a bad way to open a film ... I think the public will be intrigued and I think the current state of his reputation will help, not hurt the film,'' Thomson said.
Rice said Disney had plans to market the film to Hispanic audiences already familiar with the fall of the Mayan empire.
''We think this movie plays to a wide audience and that there's going to be a tremendous amount of interest generated from the Latino community, especially the Mexican community, because this is a story about their ancestors,'' Rice said.
Rochelle Newman-Carrasco, chief executive of Enlace Communications and a board member of the Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies, said marketing ''Apocalypto'' to Latino audiences is ''a smart thing to do.'' ''It's a big film-going community,'' Newman-Carrasco said.
''It's a story that really hasn't been told in any commercial way or public way in the United States and it's a source of great pride obviously to the Mexican community.'' Latino moviegoers represent a growing portion of the moviegoing public and are more apt to attend movies on opening weekend, Newman-Carrasco said. They also see more movies per capita than other U.S. ethnic groups, she said.