If Judge Ryan Keefer had a Mayan nickname, it would be Rotund Grouch.
Our review of Apocalypto, published May 22nd, 2007, is also available.
No one can outrun their destiny.
Many people remember Apocalypto more for the off-set antics of its director Mel Gibson (Braveheart) than of the film itself, which, like Gibson's last directorial effort The Passion of the Christ, was set centuries ago and utilized an ancient language as the sole dialogue for the film. So now that Apocalypto is here on video, how is it and how does it stack up on Blu-ray?
Facts of the Case
Written by Gibson and Farhad Safinia, the film chronicles the life of a peaceful Mayan village, and the focus of the film is on Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood), who lives with his wife and child (with another on the way), and is also the leader of a hunting group. Jaguar Paw's life and the lives of others in the village is turned upside down when another tribe invades their village, kills many of the people, and captures the rest, leaving the children to fend for themselves. He manages to hide his wife and child in a pit before the attack, however he's escorted to the other village, where the survivors are sold for slavery, or worse. Jaguar Paw attempts to free himself and try to get back home, with his captors hot on his heels.
Like Judge David Johnson and his excellent review of the film, I wasn't entirely sure what Apocalypto was going to bring to me. I knew that Mayans were around a really long time ago and that Mel Gibson appears to be nuttier than a jar of Peter Pan. In his review of the film, Judge Johnson mentions the pacing of the film, and that its first and second acts are a little bit slow. However in the prisoner march to the other village, it may take awhile, but I also think it helps show the type of terrain that must be negotiated to come back home to the things you miss and love. I think it has to show the scale to help hammer home what the journey might involve. He is, however, dead on when it comes to the last act, it is full of action that pulls you right into the middle of things, and the longer the chase goes on, the more that Jaguar Paw (who is being chased) gains confidence in his surroundings.
However I'm not quite sure what it is that makes the film worth paying attention to. I recently wrote and raved about The Fountain, and found myself thoroughly enjoying the film. I've found myself on the flip side when it comes to Apocalypto, in the sense that I don't find myself passionately defending or standing up for it, I think because in large part at the end of the day, it's about a guy who is uprooted from his environment, gets the chance to get away and is chased back into said environment, so he knows where the pitfalls are in his 'hood, so to speak. It's kind of like First Blood, without the modern technology and a lot more gratuitous native shots.
Gibson used a variety of film stocks in shooting Apocalypto, including shooting in high definition, and the 1080p MPEG-4 transfer looks amazing in parts. When shooting in the lush, dense Mexican jungle, one can still notice the depth of the forest, and then later on in the film, when the captives are painted blue, the blue really stands out and looks vibrant. There is a little bit of blurring in some sequences, but they appear to be intentional on Gibson's part. The PCM track is in Mayan and sounds just as impressive, with a lot of surround activity during the action/chase sequences, and the bass pulses more than enough in the scenes where it's demanded. Gibson does a nice job of pulling the viewer in with his use of sound, and this track backs him up. The extras on the Blu-ray disc are the same as what came on the standard definition disc, there's a quick deleted scene that was a smart choice to cut out, along with a half hour making of look at the film that covers the sets, costumes and the like. Gibson and Safinia reunite for a commentary on the film that is pretty jovial. They talk about some of their research and explain how certain sequences and images were broken down, and Mel keeps things lively throughout. And yeah, the "Movie Showcase" is included, which shows off ten minutes of really good looking (and sounding) scenes from the film. The trailer isn't included, a shame since I wanted to spot Mel again.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
At the risk of sounding like one of the pack of critics who decried the film's creator for the copious amounts of violence in the film, there are a couple of scenes that one could say are excessive and unnecessary. I understand the Mayans were primitive people and some of the images in the film are supposed to be bloody, but as I said before, there are one or two scenes that, for me, came across as unintentionally funny in the same vein of Saturday afternoon Kung Fu films.
After watching Apocalypto, I found myself having a similar reaction to it as when I saw The Passion of the Christ. Sure, it may be bloody and it's pretty compelling storytelling and possesses an eye to the authentic that deserves praise. But there's nothing I really could connect with that pushed me over the top into adoring what Mel has done in either picture. It looks and sounds great and is a definite rental, but you can make your own decision as to whether you want to buy it.
A halfhearted not guilty, but Gibson better come strong with something good in his next outing.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Touchstone Pictures
• Making-of Documentary
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