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15 Facts About Apocalypto

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As these stories show, making Mel Gibson’s sprawling Mayan adventure film was an epic journey in its own right.

1. Mel Gibson made a very fast cameo.

The first teaser trailer for Apocalypto, made before principal photography of the movie itself, includes a hidden single-frame image of a heavily bearded Gibson standing next to a group of Mayan actors with a cigarette in his mouth.

2. Apocalypto also found Waldo.

Gibson wasn’t the only brief cameo. The director humorously—and morbidly—inserted a single frame of a man dressed as Waldo from Where’s Waldo into the scene where Jaguar Paw stumbles into a pile of dead bodies after the ritual sacrifice scene.

3. Gibson was a stickler for authentic language.

All of the dialogue is in the Yucatec Maya language.

4. Gibson got expert help.

Though the film exercises some dramatic license, Gibson hired Dr. Richard D. Hansen, Assistant Professor at Idaho State University and a specialist on Mayan culture, as a consultant to ensure a level of historical accuracy.

5. Finding the perfect jungle was tough.

The filmmakers originally looked into shooting in Guatemala and Costa Rica, but those countries’ jungles were too dense for a movie production. Instead, all filming took place in Mexico. The jungle scenes were shot just outside of the city of Catemaco and the pyramid city set was built in Veracruz.

6. The actors had homework.

Gibson wanted to cast non-actors for each role, which meant the casting process eventually stretched across three continents. Many of the actors then had to learn Yucatec Maya for the film.

7. Some members of the cast were very inexperienced when it came to film.

Maria Isidra Hoil, who played the diseased Oracle Girl, had never seen a movie before she was cast.

8. The actor who played Jaguar Paw isn’t Mayan.

Rudy Youngblood is a Native American of Cree, Comanche, and Yaqui descent.

9. The makeup team stayed busy.

Outfitting the cast in body paint, tattoos, and scarification took up to six hours a day.

10. Gibson went to the source for the screenplay.

For a foundation to their story, Gibson and co-screenwriter Farhad Safinia used Spanish colonial eyewitness accounts from the period and certain mythological aspects from the Popol Vuh, a sacred Mayan text that tells the creation story and epic mythological histories of Mayan culture.

11. The king didn’t have a royal background.

The actor who played the Mayan King was a local dockworker in Veracruz. Co-writer and co-producer Farhad Safinia found him after Gibson told Safinia to leave set and find local extras willing to be in the movie.

12. Every detail of every costume in the film was handmade.

All of the “jade” in the film is actually painted and treated wood.

13. The ears took some work.

Every actor’s stretched earlobes were actually custom-made silicon prostheses crafted by makeup designers Aldo Signoretti and Vittorio Sodano. Signorett and Sodano were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Makeup for Apocalypto, but lost to the artists who worked on Pan’s Labyrinth.

14. Christopher Columbus sneaks in at the end.

Though unnamed in the movie, the Europeans at the end of the film are led by Christopher Columbus, who made first contact with Mayan cultures in 1502. Production designer Tom Sanders played the conquistador, while the Franciscan Friar was the film’s weapons armorer Simon Atherton.

15. Spike Lee thinks it’s essential.

Lee included Apocalypto on his “Essential Film List” that he gives to his NYU graduate film students each year.

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History
5 Surprising Facts About the Battle of Dunkirk
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AFP/Getty Images

With the release of Christopher Nolan’s critically acclaimed Dunkirk, the world’s attention is once again focused on the historic events recounted in the film, when a makeshift fleet of British fishing boats, pleasure yachts, and cargo ships helped save 185,000 British soldiers and 130,000 French soldiers from death or capture by German invaders during the Fall of France in May and June 1940. Here are five surprising facts about those heroic days.

1. THE GERMAN ATTACK WAS SUPPOSED TO BE IMPOSSIBLE.

By Weper Hermann, 13 German Mobile Assault Unit - Imperial War Museums, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

The main reason France collapsed so quickly in 1940 was the element of surprise enjoyed by its German attackers, thanks to General Erich von Manstein, who proposed an invasion route that was widely believed to be impossible. In Manstein’s plan, the main German column of tanks and motorized infantry would force their way through the forests of Ardennes in southeast Belgium and Luxembourg—a thick, hilly woodland which was supposed to be difficult terrain for tanks, requiring at least five days to cross, according to conventional wisdom based on the experience of the First World War. The French and British assumed that little had changed since the previous conflict, but thanks to field studies and updated maps, Manstein and his colleague General Heinz Guderian realized that a new network of narrow, paved roads would allow just enough room for tanks and trucks to squeeze through. As a result the Germans passed through Ardennes into northern France in just two-and-a-half days, threatening to cut off hundreds of thousands of Allied troops, with only one escape route: the sea.

2. ONE FRENCH WORD WAS BURNED INTO WINSTON CHURCHILL’S MEMORY: “AUCUNE.”

Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The German invasion of France began on May 10, 1940, the same day Winston Churchill became Prime Minister. By May 14, when he paid his first official visit to Britain’s ally, Holland had capitulated and Paris was preparing for evacuation. But an even worse surprise was in store. In one of the most famous passages of military history, Churchill recounted the moment he learned that the French didn’t have any troops in reserve:

"I then asked ‘Where is the strategic reserve?’ and, breaking into French … ‘Ou est la mass de manoeuvre?’ General Gamelin turned to me and, with a shake of the head and a shrug, replied. ‘Aucune.’ [There is none] … I was dumbfounded. What were we to think of the Great French Army and its highest chief? It had never occurred to me than any commanders … would have left themselves unprovided with a mass of manoeuvre … This was one of the greatest surprises I have had in my life.”

3. HITLER MADE A FATAL MISTAKE.

On May 24, 1940, the Allied troops on the French and Belgian coast had been totally surrounded by powerful German tank columns, rendering them essentially defenseless against the impending German onslaught. And then came a brief reprieve, as the attackers suddenly stopped for 48 hours, allowing the British to dig in and create a defensive perimeter, setting the stage for the evacuation.

For reasons that still aren’t clear, Hitler—over the protests of his own generals and to the bafflement of historians—had ordered Guderian to halt for two days to rest and resupply. It’s true the German troops were worn out after two weeks of fighting, and Hitler may have worried about a repeat of 1914, when exhausted German troops were forced to withdraw at the Marne. He may also have been swayed by Hermann Göring, chief of the German Luftwaffe, who boasted that air power alone could destroy the helpless Allied forces at Dunkirk. Less likely is the speculation that Hitler purposefully “let the Allies go” to appear magnanimous or merciful as a prelude to peace negotiations (which was not really in keeping with his character). In the end we will probably never know why Hitler choked.

4. GERMAN DIVE-BOMBERS WERE EQUIPPED WITH SIRENS TO SPREAD TERROR.

Among many examples of Germany’s evil genius for psychological warfare, one of the most famous was the decision to equip its Ju 87 dive bombers with air-powered sirens that emitted a shrieking, unearthly wail as the plane went into attack. The siren, known as the “Jericho Trumpet,” was intended to spread terror among enemy troops and civilians on the ground—and it worked. To this day the Jericho Trumpet is one of the most recognizable, and terrifying, sounds of war. It was certainly one of the lasting impressions of the Dunkirk evacuation for ordinary troops caught beneath the German bombs. Lieutenant Elliman, a British gunner who was waiting to be evacuated on Malo-les-Bains beach, later recalled the Stukas “diving, zooming, screeching, and wheeling over our heads like a flock of huge infernal seagulls.”

5. THE FRENCH FOUGHT A HOPELESS BATTLE TO COVER THE EVACUATION.

By Saidman (Mr), War Office official photographer — Photograph H 1636 from the Imperial War Museums, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Although Churchill and other Brits were quick to criticize the failure of France’s generals during the Fall of France, many ordinary French soldiers and officers fought bravely and honorably—and one hopeless “last stand” in particular probably helped enable the successful evacuation of Dunkirk.

As British and French troops withdrew to Dunkirk, 40 miles to the southeast French troops in two corps of the French First Army staged a ferocious defense against seven German divisions from May 28 to May 31, 1940, refusing to surrender and mounting several attempts to break out despite being heavily outnumbered (110,000 to 40,000). The valiant French effort, led by General Jean-Baptiste Molinié, helped tie up three German tank divisions under Erwin Rommel, enabling the British Expeditionary Force and the remaining troops of the French First Army to retreat and dig in at Dunkirk, ultimately saving another 100,000 Allied troops.

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Pop Culture
Tiny Star Wars Fans Can Now Cruise Around in Their Very Own Landspeeders
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Radio Flyer

Some kids collect Hot Wheels, while others own model lightsabers and dream of driving Luke Skywalker’s Landspeeder through a galaxy far, far away. Soon, Mashable reports, these pint-sized Jedis-in-training can pilot their very own replicas of the fictional anti-gravity craft: an officially licensed, kid-sized Star Wars Landspeeder, coming in September from American toy company Radio Flyer.

The Landspeeder has an interactive dashboard with light-up buttons, and it plays sounds from the original Star Wars film. The two-seater doesn’t hover, exactly, but it can zoom across desert sands (or suburban sidewalks) at forward speeds of up to 5 mph, and go in reverse at 2 mph.

The vehicle's rechargeable battery allows for around five hours of drive time—just enough for tiny Star Wars fans to reenact their way through both the original 1977 movie and 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back. (Sorry, grown-up sci-fi nerds: The toy ride supports only up to 130 pounds, so you’ll have to settle for pretending your car is the Death Star.)

Radio Flyer’s Landspeeder will be sold at Toys “R” Us stores. It costs $500, and is available for pre-order online now.

Watch it in action below:

[h/t Mashable]

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