Apocalypto
R1 - America - Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (3rd June 2007).
The Film

"Jews...Are Responsible for all the Wars in the World", Mel Gibson will likely be remembered for this statement made during a DUI incident last year than for his latest film "Apocalypto". It's hard not to take those comments personally (especially if you're of the Jewish faith), the media stirred up a firestorm and Gibson indeed took a lot of flak for it especially coming off the controversy surrounding "The Passion of the Christ" (2004), it's fair to say that this man doesn't know how to hold his tongue. The media generated by this incident quite clearly overshadowed the release of "Apocalypto" which is a shame because it really truly is a phenomenal film and despite what he may do or say he is in fact a very talented filmmaker, all the more reason to watch this film. Forget the media bulls**t, forget about what kind of person Gibson may be, pop this disc in and get ready for a two hour ride into another time and another world.
Talking the same route he did with "The Passion of the Christ" Gibson self financed this film to the tune of $40 million. The ability to self finance a picture can afford you total control in every aspect of the production, no studio pressure or deadlines means the film is delivered exactly as you envisioned it. This control over the final product is clearly seen in "Apocalypto", for starters the film is entirely in Mayan and it's filmed with a large cast of non-actors...what major studio would produce such a big-budget film with no name stars and is in a dead language? The answer is none. Furthermore the violence is quite graphic even for an R-rated picture there were several shots in this film which I thought to myself 'a studio would have toned that down'.
Set during the decline of the Mayan civilization, Jaguar Paw's (Rudy Youngblood) village is raided by an opposing tribe, the village is burned and the surviving people are taken captive including Jaguar Paw, his pregnant wife Seven (Dalia Hernández) and his young son Turtles Run (Carlos Emilio Báez) have found a hiding place in a well and go undetected. Jaguar Paw, his friends and fellow villagers are forced to trek across country to a Mayan city were they are sold as slaves or sacrificed to appease the Gods that have forsaken the land with poor crops, disease and famine. But Jaguar Paw is spared after an eclipse and is set free, however he must navigate a field to the jungle while the raiders led by Zero Wolf (Raoul Trujillo) attempt to kill him anyway by firing arrows and spears at him. But Jaguar Paw manages to make it into the jungle and in doing so kills Cut Rock (Ricardo Diaz Mendoza), Zero Wolf's son. Enraged by this he pursues Jaguar Paw into the jungle in order to exact his revenge. Jaguar Paw is not only running to stay alive but must get back to his wife and son.
What I loved about this film is that for a two hour movie you are never bored, the intensity starts quite early and the pace moves at such a steady speed that you are given little time to catch your breath. This is the nature of the story; it is at its core a chase film with themes of family importance but also of the larger theme of the decline of a once wise civilization. The pace also dictates the impact of the action, which is exciting and raw. Especially the village raid but mostly the events that take part in the second half of the film where Jaguar Paw is pursued into the jungle.
Adding to the intensity of the action occurring onscreen are the performances by a largely unknown cast, many of whom are non-actors. Rudy Youngblood in particular shines in the lead role as the emotionally strong Jaguar Paw and on the other side of the spectrum is the maniacally sadistic Middle Eye, played by Gerardo Taracena who with one glance can reduce a man to nothing. Gibson is able to craft wonderfully real and instinctively guided performances out of his cast that adds to the overall viewing experience by immersing the audience in this world. And with that comes the cinematography by Dean Semler, mainly shot in HD (although some 16mm and 35mm photography was also used) the digital photography lends itself well to the lush greenery of the jungle but also opens the picture by allowing you to see every detail in the backgrounds.
While this film had a lot going for it I couldn't help but to find faults, this is primarily with the script, being a chase film there are many difficult and challenging situations our hero is faced with. He must stay alive and fend off his pursuers by any means necessary but also get back to his family. Tension is built using the family, but I felt that the filmmakers went too far with the tension and thus making certain aspects of it unintentionally ridiculous. We already know that Jaguar Paw's wife is pregnant and that she's stuck in a well/cave system, being down in that hole should be enough to rile viewers (considering her condition and the fact that there is no food), but to make matters worse it rains, the rain fills the well and Seven and her son face the possibility of drowning, then all of a sudden as if that wasn't enough she gives birth while trying to stay above water. It may sound excitingly intense on paper but seeing these things happen actually made me laugh, it seemed like Gibson and co-writer Farhad Safinia tried a little too hard to build the tension when the simplest of set-ups would have worked.
Some people may also be turned off by the violence, if you have a weak stomach then be warned there is some gruesome blood letting in this film. I'm not one to complain about violence personally (after all one of my favorite movies of all time is "Robocop" (1987) which is wrought with violence) but for some people it may not be their cup of tea.
Despite minor script issue and the overuse of violence "Apocalypto" is an excellent film of epic proportions that focuses on a culture that doesn't normally get attention by Hollywood. It will have you on the edge of your seat throughout and I highly recommend giving it a whirl, whatever your personal feelings may be towards its director.

Video

Presented in a widescreen ratio of 1.78:1 this anamorphic image is pure brilliance for DVD. Taken from the original HD master and down converted for standard definition the image retains its sharpness and detail. Backgrounds are clear and foregrounds display a fair amount of texture that adds a hyper-realism to the look of the film. Colors are vividly rendered in lush detail, with skin tones appearing natural. Black levels are deep and bold especially in the night scenes. I found very little wrong with this transfer, no dirt or flaws, no compression issues no digital noise...as far as this reviewer is concerned this is a top notch DVD transfer, bravo Buena Vista.

Audio

Two audio tracks are provided on this disc, both of which are in Mayan, the first is a half bit-rate DTS 5.1 surround track as well as a one in Dolby Digital 5.1. For the purposes of this review I chose to view the film with its DTS track. I found that the dialogue was presented clearly and without distortion, the surround effects displayed a range that impresses and utilizes the full sound space. The depth is simply jaw droppingly good, with subtle and natural ambient noise of the jungle to the blaring and pulsating score that sweeps across the channels enveloping the viewer. As far as DTS tracks go this is reference quality and makes a perfect match to the impressive visuals.
Optional subtitles are included in English, English for the hearing impaired, French and Spanish.

Extras

First up we have a feature-length and mostly screen-specific audio commentary by writer/producer/director Mel Gibson & co-writer/co-producer Farhad Safinia. They detail many production issues and run the general gamut which includes shooting the locations in Mexico, creating a film in a specific and forgotten era, casting, special effects, production design, and cinematography is also covered. The track moves at an up and down pace, there are a few silent gaps but none that last more than a several seconds. Gibson occasionally cracks jokes that aren't funny and seems to comment a lot on how hot it was on location, the more fascinating moments of the track happens to belong to co-writer Safinia as he comments on the tribal research underwent during the writing process, but Gibson occasionally has something noteworthy to say mainly commenting on the level of production detail that went into making this film. The track is far from technical so it's very accessible to the general audience and there's also enough to keep the cinephiles happy.

"Becoming Mayan: Creating Apocalypto" is a featurette which runs for 25 minutes 12 seconds, this clip goes beyond the standard EPK fluff and actually delves into detailed about the production. It takes a look at the creation of the world for the film and remaining authentic to the Mayan way of life. We go on location during the filming and see how the production found the various locations for the shoot and the logistics of shooting in a rain forest/jungle environment plus building massive and realistic sets, wardrobe design and fitting cast and being able to differentiate between the classes, as well as make-up design and also weapons is covered in-depth.

Rounding out the extras is a single deleted scene which runs for 39 seconds and can be viewed with optional audio commentary by writer/producer/director Mel Gibson & co-writer/co-producer Farhad Safinia in which they comment on the scene, which is of captured being led through the jungle towards the Mayan city and encountering a diseased and wounded deer.

Packaging

This DVD is packaged in an amaray case housed in a cardboard slip-cover.

Overall

I was really expecting a 2-disc affair for this film with a plethora of bonus material, it's certainly the type of film that lends itself to a decent Special Edition, I am a little disappointed in the lack of extras but the overall quality of the supplements included are high enough to forgive the fact this isn't a full blown Special Edition.

The Film: A- Video: A+ Audio: A+ Extras: B+ Overall: A-

 


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