Apocalypto (2006) (R)
















"Apocalypto" seems like a great idea in concept: a film set in the twilight years of the Mayan civilization where one man is hellbent on returning to his wife after being captured...or die trying. Yes, the idea is one that I would normally love. It's violent graphic, and exciting...but a far shot away from being perfect or even great.
Mel Gibson had seen his share of fame by his second movie "Braveheart". For this film, he won two Oscars and has been seated at a very prestigious and completely imaginary table ever since. His controversy has made him hated among thousands of people and while I'm not a fan of his personal life...it's impossible to deny his incredible talent.
Yet "Apocalypto" is a movie that takes a long time to get into. For forty minutes of the film, I didn't care about anything. I found the insipid conversations stereotypical and borderline offensive and didn't see the humor (or necessity) in the onslaught of genitalia comments that begin our epic saga.
The movie begins with a very hectic chase—the hunter and the hunted. A hunting party of approximately seven men are chasing down a tapir for dinner. They jump and slip and it keeps just out of their reach until—bam!—it runs into a trap....now it's dinner time.
The dialogue that follows the kill of the tapir proves that Mel Gibson and fellow screenwriter Farhad Safinia had no idea how to begin their movie.
There is much talk about one of the men's inability to get his wife pregnant. They make fun of him by offering him the tapir's testicles to eat and then (reminiscent to "Slumdog Millionaire") tell him that if he rubs a special flower in the nether regions (you know what I mean) right before he does the Hokey-Pokey with his wife (you know what I mean) that it works wonders for those struggling with infertility. Of course this flower turns out to be a chili of some kind and burns like a three day fire...wow, that was funny!
I found absolutely nothing enjoyable about the first third of the movie. But Gibson's talent shines through a little later.
Our main character is Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood) a young man who needs to overcome his fear. The whole movie deals with fear, courage, and what it means to truly be a warrior. Jaguar Paw's father tells him that he needs to strike fear from his heart and never let it into the village. By this point, we have seen nothing to lead us, as the viewer, to believe that Jaguar Paw is afraid of anything. But we take the father's word for it.
Then, neighboring savages pillage and ransack the Mayans village and kidnap some men and women.
Right before being taken, Jaguar Paw hides his wife and the savages don't find her. But he needs to get back to her for both his and her good. With each passing mile, this feat seem a little more impossible.
"Apocalypto" seems like a cousin of "Aguirre, Wrath of God" simply because it tries to recreate a time and a place that very few people have seen or studied.
Gibson's techniques here are reflected poorly by the use of cinematographer Dean Semler, who can't make up his mind how he wants to shoot this movie. There are moments that ring true of the "Bourne" franchise and those movies' infamous "shaky-cam" scenes. Then there are times when it seems like we are watching "Gladiator"...the camera work is shifty, unstable, and distracting.
Also, CGI would have been appreciated instead of fake animal puppets.
That being said, there are moments in "Apocalypto" that are absolutely stunning. Gibson is at his peak when there is violence happening...I don't know why, but it's where he excels. Perhaps, it's where he doesn't have to write dialogue or think about backstories—it's character development without words and it's gloriously effective.
The production values and costumes are incredible, but it's not enough to completely save this picture.
I don't think that Gibson and Safinia knew how they wanted to end the movie either, because by all accounts the final scene is a little disappointing. I wish that I could go through this movie with my magic movie eraser—there are so many really good scenes that are weighed down by unnecessary blandness. If you cut a lot of the movie out, it could have been so great.
But that didn't happen, alas....
What the film leaves you with is pleasant and proves one thing: Gibson is great, but not as clever as other film makers. That being said, I don't think any other director would have had the courage to make the movie like Gibson did, and that demands respect.








Score: 3 stars out of 4 

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