Newswise — Michael Aakhus, the University of Southern Indiana's resident Maya expert, had low expectations for the authenticity of Mel Gibson's latest film, "Apocalypto." After seeing the film, he said his expectations were met.

"If you like action films, you should enjoy it - but if you are going to learn history, stick to your books," Aakhus said.

"Apocalypto," filmed on site in the Yucatec dialect, which Aakhus said is used in the northern section of the Maya region, concerns the fate of a young man chosen for sacrifice during the decline of the Maya civilization.

Aakhus, associate dean of the USI College of Liberal Arts and professor of art, has traveled throughout Mesoamerica since the 70s and has led an annual spring break Maya Art and Culture tour since 1996. He teaches a course on the Ancient Art of Mexico and has lectured on the subject in the United States and Mexico.

"The setting in the rain forest was wonderful, and reminded me of the time I stayed with the Lacandon people in Chiapas. This group remained quite isolated into the 20th century and there is a great book about them, The Last Lords of Palenque, which I would recommend. The indigenous hunter groups in the film may have been based on the Lacandon." Aakhus was less impressed with Gibson's portrayal of city culture.

"I had hoped to see some great images of the Maya buildings and wonderful costumes, but I have to admit that I saw neither. The fabulous aspects of material culture that we see in the reliefs, paintings, and burial remains imitated for the film looked poorly conceived. The textiles which the Maya to this day pride themselves on looked more like rags, and the body ornament may have been jade, but looked like plastic."    He continued, "The sets and buildings showed that plaster was an important finish to the buildings but many of them were left unplastered and not properly painted. The high culture was portrayed as brutal and decadent which did not provide insight into the remarkable art, architecture, books, literature and advanced science of the Maya."  

The film has received a lot of attention for its violence. Aakhus said Gibson exaggerated that aspect of Maya culture.

"Human sacrifice did occur, but not to the extent that is shown in the film. Ritualized killing is not unknown to us. Our own practice of capital punishment, when looked back on in 500 years, I am sure will appear brutal and senseless."  

University of Southern Indiana is a comprehensive public university in Evansville, Indiana. Established in 1965, USI remains committed to its original core values of providing a quality education with access to affordable higher education, plus being responsive to regional needs and being adaptable to change. A liberal arts and science curriculum serves as the foundation of knowledge for all programs and complements undergraduate programs leading to careers in business, engineering, government, health professions, education, and related fields. Selected master's degree programs serve persons in professional and technical studies. Over 10,000 students are enrolled at USI. Its appeal to students is found in its size, the quality of programs, the accessibility of professors, its beautiful environment, and its proximity to an urban center.