The Dallas Morning News
Thursday, April 15, 2004

In Mexico, 'The Alamo' is forgettable

Lackluster response to film saps anticipation of anti-American reaction

By RICARDO SANDOVAL / The Dallas Morning News

MEXICO CITY Maybe it was because The Alamo opened in Mexico during one of the nation's busiest holiday weeks, when the biggest concern is the tan line, not a movie's story line.

Maybe it was the anticipation that this telling of the 1836 battle between 187 Texas rebels and an overwhelming Mexican army in San Antonio would be different, perhaps closer to history, than the mushy John Wayne version of 1960.

Or, maybe, it was just that Mexicans, after 168 years, have finally forgotten the Alamo.

Whatever the reason, the predicted anti-American buzz around the screening of The Alamo here has not materialized: There are no anti-Hollywood demonstrations in front of the U.S. Embassy. Mexico is not preparing a World Court petition to get Texas back.

Movie theaters showing El Alamo here were half-full during the film's opening week, as millions of Mexicans stayed away from work during the traditional Easter vacation. For those who went to the movies, Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ was the week's dominant flick, according to the government film agency.

One agency estimate said The Alamo was less popular in its first week than the Mexican opening of the 2003 horror title Underworld.

Some political analysts had predicted that the movie would spark another round of U.S.-bashing by nationalistic Mexicans. But only a handful of stinging editorials and harsh judgments from critics have made their way into the pages of Mexico's newspapers.

One reader of the Mexico City daily newspaper Reforma did angrily wonder how the Interior Ministry could have allowed The Alamo's screening in Mexico.

"The film is propaganda, financed by the state of Texas, which apologizes for supposed heroes who were actually no more than mercenaries in the service of the U.S. government working to steal a Mexican province," Juan Carlos Navarro Vásquez said in a letter.

Perhaps a little controversy in Mexico would have helped. The film's first-week take in U.S. theaters was a lukewarm $9.2 million, or one-tenth of its estimated production cost.

Unscientific samplings of Mexico City audiences yielded surprisingly upbeat assessments.

"It's solidly based on historical facts as I know them," said Daniel Sánchez, 28, a computing instructor. "Eighty percent of the movie is good. I'd recommend it to my friends. The other 20 percent, the last part of the movie where the Texans easily defeat the Mexicans [at San Jacinto], becomes the focus of the movie.

"That is where the movie becomes more of the same from Hollywood: Americans good, Mexicans bad."

Audiences also tended to agree with the filmmaker's portrayal of Gen. Antonio López de Santa Ana as a power-hungry snob who viewed his troops as little more than cannon fodder.

In one showing, the audience let out a collective snicker when the general angrily tells subordinates that he wants to crush the Texans so that future generations of Mexicans do not have to "beg for favors from the powerful Americans."

Mexican history books do not treat the general kindly. He was a veteran of the Mexican war for independence from Spain, but during his time as president he almost lost the state of Zacatecas and the Yucatán peninsula to uprisings. Then, losing at San Jacinto after the Alamo massacre, Santa Ana sold Texas in exchange for his life.

Mexicans love to hate Santa Ana, yet they are ambivalent about the Alamo. More and more, the battle is seen as just an irrefutable part of history.

"That's how that history was written, by the victors" said Saul Rojas, a 52-year-old store owner as he emerged from a showing last week on Mexico City's south side. "The Texans won. Mexico comes out badly in the movie, but the Texans are shown with flaws as well. As a Mexican I can only say that what's done is done. Texas is not ours today, but that doesn't mean I can't like this movie."