Apocalypto – 4 Stars (Excellent)
Mel Gibson’s “Apocalypto” shows the raw, violent face of the advanced Mayan civilization in its decline, with its rulers insisting that the key to continued prosperity is to build more temples and offer more human sacrifices to their Gods. The result is the story of innocent Mayans being viciously attacked and their communal way of life being destroyed to meet an insane desire. Killing your own has never been a good idea historically and is perhaps a lesson we need to take more seriously today.
The focal point of this film is Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood) and his family. He is one of many sons of Flint Sky (Morris Birdyellowhead), the leader of a small, isolated Mayan community in the tropical jungle of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula just before the arrival of the Spanish in the New World.
Flint Sky and his progeny wish only to be left alone to pursue their destiny in a peaceful environment. Enter Zero Wolf (Raoul Trujillo) and his raiding party looking for victims to sacrifice to the Gods. Jaguar Paw and pregnant wife Seven (Dalia Hernandez) and their son Turtles Run (Carlos Emilio Baez) escape the attack. Jaguar Paw quickly finds a hiding place to keep his family safe, and then he returns to help fight off the attackers.
Many in his village are killed and many more are captured. This story is about how the captured Jaguar Paw can possibly survive the enforced march to an untimely death and then return to save his family. In the end, he must choose to greet the oncoming Spanish as their ships roll into the harbor, or retreat to the jungle and continue to live a hidden life.
I promise you that when you see this film you will be glued to the edge of your seat. Apocalypto will hold your interest like very few films can. Some historians were falling all over themselves to criticize inaccuracies in the film, I suspect mainly to get some badly needed publicity which they obviously could not do on their own.
Gibson is a film producer in Apocalypto, not an historian. Good grief, if I want exact history, I will read history books. Gibson brings history to life and does what no one else in Hollywood dares or cares to do.
Gibson’s film is an excellent presentation of how we would like life not to be, and also a reminder that no matter how smart we think we are we can sow the seeds of our own destruction right here in the greatest nation Earth has ever hosted.
Apocalypto is produced by Mel Gibson, Farhad Safinia and Bruce Davey, and written by Gibson and Safinia. It is worth the price of two tickets to see. I highly recommend it for adults. It is a not-so-subtle reminder of what civilization was and could be again. The fate of the Mayan civilization remains a mystery even today. We know that around 300 BC the Mayan calendar was invented in the Yucatan and was more exact than older calendars. We know the oldest Mayan temples in Central America were built around AD 200.
We know that the Classic period of Mayan civilization occurred between AD 250 to 900 with the development of hieroglyphic writing and advances in art, architecture and science. We know the Post-Classical period of Mayan civilization began in AD 900 and extended to 1519. The Mayan civilization was at its apex in the early 8th Century before eventually falling into decline and ultimately suffering abandonment.
We do not know why the civilization collapsed but can only speculate that its fall was from within, sowing the seeds of its own destruction. Apocalypto picked up nominations for Academy Awards in Makeup, Sound Editing and Sound Mixing. I thought the cinematography was spectacular, the close up shots of Jaguar Paw running for his very life, the look of fear in the faces of those innocents who were violently executed by their attackers, and the jungle with its teeming flora and fauna.
Cinematographer Dean Semler used a Spydercam to shoot from atop the 170-foot waterfall when Jaguar Paw jumps to escape Zero Wolf and his killer squad. Semler filmed Apocalypto digitally, using the high-definition Panavision Genesis camera. Semler is an artist disguised as a cinematographer. The Central Ohio and Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Associations saw what I did in giving Apocalypto their Best Cinematography Awards.
Apocalypto should have garnered more awards, but Mel Gibson’s unfortunate drinking habit and run-in with a law enforcement officer did not endear him to the Hollywood community.
Gibson insisted on making the main sets based on actual buildings rather than computer-generated images. Three cheers for Gibson as I believe authenticity counts. I am so sick and tried of seeing stupid kung fu films showing actors jumping 150 feet straight up into the air and then fighting on a twig. I would like to see these wannabe clowns fighting Bruce Lee on his best day.
Was Apocalypto an epic? Absolutely. There was a main cast of 39 along with 700 extras. Ever wonder what a support cast is to a film? For Apocalypto there were 179 people in the Makeup Department, 67 in the Art Department, 50 in Sound, 36 in Special Effects, 153 in Visual Effects, 33 in Stunts, 80 in Camera and Electrical, 8 in Casting, 22 in Costume and Wardrobe, 18 in Editorial, 62 in Transportation and 100 more additional crew. Total support: 800+. Cost of the film: $40 million. Total box office and rental revenue figures: $72 million and counting.
Many of the speaking roles were by Mayan people who had never acted. The sick child who curses the hunting party as they lead the captives on a forced march to their death was played by a 7-year-old girl who lived in a dirt-floored hut in a village not unlike Jaguar Paw’s.
This was a haunting scene as the girl who was affected with the plague and untouchable upbraids the hunting party by saying “You fear me? So you should. All you who are vile. Would you like to know how you will die? The scared time is near. Beware the blackness of the day. Beware the man who brings the jaguar. Behold him reborn from mud and earth. For the one he takes you to will cancel the sky, and scratch out the earth. Scratch you out. And end your world. He’s with us now. Day will be like night. And the man jaguar will lead you to your end.”
Herein we learn how Jaguar Paw avoids being beheaded only to run the gauntlet of spears and arrows in his escape back into the jungle. This is a brutal and graphic film with beheadings like sound bites. There are too many gems in this film to list here. Suffice to say a village elder uses animals to tell a story about how man will never be satisfied despite using the Earth and everything in it for his own gain.
You will cringe when Jaguar Paw’s wife and young son face downing as she falls and must deliver her newborn facing certain death. In the end Jaguar Paw uses his wit and wisdom to claim the forest as his own. Get out and see Apocalypto. This is a film nearly everyone could benefit from seeing before they pass from this Earth. It will remind you of how fragile and perilous our life is.