I’ve learned that both Time and Newsweek want to put Mel Gibson’s Apocalpto on their covers timed to its Dec. 8th opening. This happened with Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ: Newsweek made it the cover before the film’s release, and Time after the movie was in theaters. It’s quite a coup for any Hollywood pic to make the covers of both newsmagazines. “There are a lot of media offers on the table competing for this movie,” an insider told me. This may happen without any actual interview of Gibson, too. Any interview would be problematic for Mel’s publicity push since it would necessarily dwell on Gibson’s alcoholism relapse and drunken rantings against Jews. Because of that, it’s still up in the air if there’ll be a big network (or even cable) TV one-on-one. But the real issue, now that the Disney movie is starting to garner raves from its sneak screenings, is whether Oscar voters can, or will, judge Mel’s film fairly. Members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are known to hold grudges for a myriad reasons, and Gibson’s anti-Semitic remarks over the summer provide ample fuel. Then again, the voters are supposed to judge the merits of the film and not the man behind it. The question is: can that be possible? I certainly don’t have an answer yet since it’s too early in the process — most voters won’t even start seeing the film until December — but I can look to the past. After all, they ignored Gibson’s Passion for the big noms (Best Actor, Best Director, Best Picture) because of the anti-Semitic overtones some saw in its portrayal of the events surrounding the death of Jesus. And, last year, I reported that hetero Oscar voters were unwilling to screen Brokeback Mountain because of their own anti-gay prejudices. But Mel’s film is becoming known as the ‘Mexican Braveheart’ — and everyone knows Braveheart won a ton of Oscars. What is interesting, also, is how Gibson seems to be positioning Apocalypto: the Hollywood Reporter, which had a stringer in Austin, noted that at one weekend screening Gibson drew a parallel between the Mayan civilization on the brink of collapse and America. “What’s human sacrifice,” he asked, “if not sending guys off to Iraq for no reason?” (Gibson has been increasingly critical of the Bush administration over the war.) Meanwhile, I’m told that Gibson’s alcoholism rehab is going well.

Following up on the Sept. 15th release of the movie’s first trailer, Gibson went to the Southwest this weekend to personally host sneak screenings of his forthcoming Apocalypto to Native-American groups in Oklahoma and Texas (as well as to Ain’t-It-Cool-News.com’s Harry Knowles in Austin). First, Gibson went to Oklahoma, because I’m told that’s where the Native-American lead of his film hails from. Rudy Youngblood, the newcomer who plays Jaguar Paw, is a Comanche-Cree-Yaqui Indian who lived near Ada, Ok., before moving to Los Angeles last year to try his hand at acting. Four months later, he was cast by Gibson in Apocalypto‘s lead role. (I’m told that, as part of Youngblood’s audition, he had to run around the conference room where Gibson was casting — because the last part of the movie is an edge-of-your-seat foot chase through the rain forest.) “Mel was supporting his lead actor. This was a bigger thing going on than the movie,” an insider told me. So Gibson travelled to Goldsby, OK, on Friday for screenings for several dozen people, mostly American Indian, including officials of the Chickasaw Nations Industry. Some screenings were held at the Riverwind Casino south of Norman, OK, and some at Cameron University in Lawton, OK. Gibson wore a mask and wig to enter the campus building without being noticed. According to media reports, the action/adventure thriller set in the last days of the Mayan civilization in Mexico, was well received in Oklahoma.

So, too, in Austin, Texas, where the film was presented Saturday as part of Fantastic Fest 2006 with Gibson and Youngblood in attendance. Just prior to that, Gibson held a private screening for Harry Knowles and for the Native American Pow Wow Association of Austin. Though not quite finished — some visual effects and sound design aren’t in place — Apocalypto is “a film of immense power [that] unfolds unflinchingly,” Knowles reviews. “The Native Americans gathered at this screening seemed to love it. What I saw today was a very rough jewel, when I see it again, I trust I will see an immaculate jewel. This could very well be the best film Mel has made when he’s done with it.” The film received a standing ovation from the Fantastic Fest audience. In a Q-and-A after the private screening, one member of the native American audience asked Gibson if the movie was saying that the decay of the Mayan empire was solely from within (rather than from the influence of European invaders). Gibson replied that he has always felt that the seeds for different civilizations’ demise always start from within, as a healthy society can repel any foreign invader. “He does see the film as a metaphor for where we are today,” Knowles posted.