Written by Mel Gibson & Farhad Safinia
Directed by Mel Gibson
Running Time: 2:18
for sequences of graphic violence and disturbing images.
Apocalypto was a strong film that took a while to get going but really picked up towards the end.
Set during the time of the ancient Mayans, Apocalypto is the story of Jaguar Paw, who lives with his family in the forests. Amongst his tribe, their lives are turned upside down when they are suddenly and without warning attacked. Many are left for dead while others are taken to a massive mining town to be used as slave labor or worse, sacrificed. Before he was taken captive, Jaguar Paw managed to save his wife, son and unborn child by placing them down a deep shaft. Moments away from sacrifice, he is able to escape and goes on a daring mission to save his family before he is captured, or they die.
There is no question Apocalypto is a different kind of movie. Spoken entirely in a language not heard anywhere, the film start off kind of slow as we meet the tribe and learn about their lives. They're not unlike any other culture where they live off the land and for the most part, are happy. One of them even has an extremely overbearing mother-in-law who only wants grandchildren. But all of their lives are changed forever when they are brutally attacked. Going into the movie I had heard that it was extremely graphic and bloody, but I didn't find it any worse than any other Mel Gibson directed films. Frankly, if you can handle seeing Jesus being whipped into a bloody mess, you can handle anything in Apocalypto.
I thought the movie was visually stunning, another Gibson trademark, and the story moved along at a good pace. While it didn't start off as exciting or as quickly as I anticipated, once I got into the flow of the film, I found the story to be engaging. It was interesting to see the parallels between Mayan life and lives we lead today. When Jaguar Paw and his friends are captured, they are taking to what appears to be a thriving metropolis, with thousands of people selling their wares on the streets. Of course today we no longer sell people or cut off their heads in sacrifice. It takes about 25 minutes before the first big action sequence, and then another hour before the chase really begins. Once Jaguar Paw escapes and is on his way back to his family, the movie really takes off. The chase through the forest is breathless with you wondering what will really happen. And it ends with a kind of big surprise I wasn't expecting.
All that being said, I did have some issues with the movie. The biggest problem, and this may just be me, is that I never felt really connected to the film. Gibson tried really hard to get the audience inside the tribe and to get us to feel like we were a part of their lives. But there were two things that kept me from being fully immersed in the film. One was the language. I've seen plenty of foreign language films before and have no issues with subtitles, but there was something about the manner of speaking that made everything that was said come out very slowly. The tone of voice was almost always the same, and unless someone was visually crying or angry, their voice never changed. So if someone was saying something lovingly, or angrily, it all sounded the same. A lot of the movie was done without dialogue, so it wasn't a problem for the entire movie, but when people spoke it felt like everything they said took an agonizingly long time to say.
My second problem is that the film was shot on digital video. I may not be able to put this into words correctly, so forgive me, but I hope you get my point. First off, I understand the reason for shooting on DV. It's cheaper and easier to do since there isn't as much worry about wasting film or taking hours to set up lights and whatnot. I'm sure there are hundreds of pros and cons between shooting on DV and shooting on film, but to me, film just looks better. DV makes things look almost too clear. And since it is less expensive, anyone can shoot on DV so there were a lot of times where I felt what I was looking at wasn't so much a movie, but a Discovery Channel documentary. What should have felt like a grand, epic film instead felt like a TV show in a theater. So let me go on record as saying, I prefer movies to be shot on film. If you're a low budget indie film, or if you're shooting something that needs to look like a home movie, by all means, shoot on DV. But when you're Mel Gibson and you've got all the money in the world, shoot on film. It may take longer and be more expensive, but it's worth it in the end.
Because it was shot on DV, Apocalypto translated pretty well onto the small screen. Everything looked crisp and clean, which although I didn't really care for on the big screen, looked good on TV. There were few extras and that was kind of a disappointment. There was one solitary deleted scene, which served no purpose. There was a short documentary about the making of the film, which was interesting, but after a while kind of repetitive. There was also an audio commentary with Mel Gibson and the screenwriter. Here's my problem with audio commentaries. If you've never seen the film before, you can't really watch it with the commentary because there's no way to enjoy the movie since you can't really hear much. So in order to watch a film with commentary, you had to have seen it before AND really enjoyed it, because why watch a movie you don't like a second time for any reason? So while sometimes, with the right person commentating, it can be fun, for the most part I don't really care for commentary tracks. I would have preferred just a straight up interview with Gibson about his directing style and the choices he made and all that. Some of that was shown in the behind-the-scenes portion, but not enough for my liking. Thankfully, the movie stands on its own two feet, so the lack of extras doesn't hurt the film.
THE BOTTOM LINE
So overall, I enjoyed Apocalypto. It had a good story, some solid acting and great action sequences. However, I never quite felt connected to the characters and so I was never fully invested in them. Still, it's a movie worth seeing.
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