Mel Gibson's Oscar Moment, in Maya

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His last film, The Passion of the Christ, was spoken entirely in the dead languages of Latin and Aramaic.† Now Mel Gibson will appear in a brief spot on this Sundayís Oscar broadcast speaking another exotic tongue:† Maya.† That's the sole language of Apocalypto, the adventure epic set in Pre-Columbian Mexico that Gibson is currently shooting on the edge of southern Mexico's rainforests, in the state of Veracruz. ""I wanted to shake up the stale action-adventure genre," Gibson told TIME, which was given an exclusive peek at the filming for a story to appear in a forthcoming issue.† "So I think we almost had to come up with something utterly different like this."

This week Gibson, who just turned 50 and has shed the beard he had been sporting of late, was choreographing scores of extras-- many of them local Mayas whoíve never seen a movie, let alone acted in one-- in a fiery scene depicting a Maya cityís obsession with the kilned limestone used for the temples in which some of the crowd may soon be sacrificed to the gods. Holding a Camel cigarette in one hand and a bullhorn in the other, Gibson put on his best bug-eyed Lethal Weapon face and pleaded with them to "show more fear, more trepidation! Itís like Mars! Itís hell on Earth!" When most of them gave him blank stares, Gibson sheepishly turned to the crew. "Traduccion, por favor" Ė translation, please.

Could those human sacrifices cause as much of a stir among the politically correct as what some saw as anti-semitism in Gibson's depiction of the crucifixion of Christ?† "After what I experienced with The Passion," he says, "I frankly donít give a flying f--- about much of what they think."† Yet Apocalypto promises some surprises. The film, which Gibson co-wrote with first-time screenwriter Farhad Safinia, is an allegory about the collapse of civilizations--with warnings about environmental abuse and political fear-mongering, not the sort of thing to comfort conservatives. And the obvious care that has been taken with costumes, sets and the dialect-correct language suggests the kind of cultural attention filmdom has rarely if ever accorded the Mayas, who were the Greeks of the New World.

"The Maya, the subtitles, it wonít even matter in this film," because of its fast-paced action, said Gibson, as thick black kiln smoke wafted across the set. Then he picked up the bullhorn again and approached another crowd of extras covered like ghosts in thick white limestone powder. "Try to think of what makes you most afraid!" he shouted.† "My mother!" an extra shouted back. Gibson smiled and nodded at the crew: "I told you this film was going to be very, very different."