Buena Vista Home Video presents
"My name is Jaguar Paw. I am a hunter. This is my forest. And my sons will hunt it with their sons after I am gone."- Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood)
Stars: Rudy Youngblood, Dalia Hernandez, Jonathan Brewer, Morris Birdyellowhead, Raoul Trujillo, Rodolfo Palacios
Other Stars: Carlos Emilio Báez, Amilcar Ramirez, Israel Contreras, Israel Ríos, María Isabel Díaz, Espiridion Acosta Cache, Mayra Serbulo, Iazua Larios, Lorena Hernández, Itandehui Gutierrez, Sayuri Gutierrez
Director: Mel Gibson
MPAA Rating: R for sequences of graphic violence and disturbing images
Run Time: 02h:18m:13s
Release Date: 2007-05-22
DVD ReviewMel Gibson loves violence. His directing output, particularly Braveheart and The Passion of the Christ, offers intimate portrayals of sadism. Before reaching their ultimate goals, heroes must undergo vicious torture to prove their worth. Apocalypto takes a similar approach while depicting the Mayan culture during the early 1500s. Gigantic cities have sprouted using remarkable technology, but the end may be near for this impressive civilization. The rulers’ advanced means do not prevent them from exhibiting a brutal side that encourages the ravaging of nearby villages for slaves and sacrifices. The co-writer/director/producer Gibson appears to criticize the culture’s zealous violence, but he also relishes the grand spectacle involved with the barbarous executions.
Newcomer Rudy Youngblood stars as Jaguar Paw, a swift warrior who spends his days hunting and messing around with his buddies in the jungle. The early stages depict their fairly standard village life, which includes unnecessarily bullying a weaker member of the tribe. Gibson uses these dull jokes to provide a calm beginning before the hammer comes down on them, but it feels forced. When the enemies arrive and begin the destruction, we feel sorry for the villagers but haven’t really connected with them. This event leads to a lengthy trek through the jungle that displays rampant cruelty from their captors. The sinister warrior Snake Ink (Rodolfo Palacios) is especially nasty to Jaguar Paw, even naming him “Almost” to mock his near defeat. As the captured villagers near the city, their degradation increases, and Gibson takes his time focusing on the nasty activity. While this focus appears designed to create a “good versus evil” struggle, it also lingers too much and begins to reflect the director’s adoration of excessive violence. The camera’s inability to look away from the killings can provide a haunting experience, but it eventually numbs the viewer when taken to such a severe extreme.
The story picks up considerably after the arrival in the monstrous Mayan city, built nearly complete for this production. The massive crowds and overall spectacle are very impressive and include several awe-inspiring shots. Following this route with Jaguar Paw, the sense of dread continues to increase, leading to the top of a massive structure. Painted in blue by religious fanatics of some kind, the strong villagers realize that the end may be near. These scenes include some especially grisly moments, and Gibson takes his time to present the horrific experience. The entire sequence is one of the best in the film because it grabs the audience with all the right emotions of shock and surprise. Unlike the earlier tedium, these vicious moments bring something new to the carnage and introduce real dread to Jaguar Paw’s situation.
Although the film depicts the Mayan culture, it does not spend a considerable amount of time offering an in-depth representation. Instead, Gibson and co-writer Farhad Safinia use this premise to set up an elaborate chase through the Mexican jungle. While his wife and unborn child face dire peril, Jaguar Paw must race to save them against nearly impossible odds. The removals of several enemies are a bit too convenient, but the filmmaking style is top-notch throughout the sequence. Dodging arrows, jaguars, and the elements, the hero must find a way to reach his family quickly. The final act does not excuse the consistent depravity and includes its own cringe-worthy moments, but it maintains an effective, breakneck pace. Taken simply as an energetic chase, the conclusion delivers. Also notable is the imposing presence of Raoul Trujillo’s Zero Wolf, the huge man who leads the frenzied pursuit.
Shot on location in Mexico and using the Mayan language, Apocalypto attempts to provide a historical image of life within a virtually unknown culture. Gibson believes he has entered a “new frontier” of filmmaking, but this movie includes many of the typical conventions of both his directing and acting history. The relentless chase recalls The Road Warrior and Lethal Weapon, and the bloody conflict with a malicious villain matches The Patriot. In one sense, this picture represents top-notch filmmaking, but it also leaves you with dread for the workings of Gibson’s mind. Avoiding his off-screen behavior and just looking at the movies, a sadistic pattern appears consistently within many of his pictures. This approach has garnered huge box-office receipts and numerous awards, so its effectiveness for many is obvious. However, even this film’s successful moments can never completely shake this unfortunate aura of unemotional brutality.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B
|Aspect Ratio||1.85:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: Apocalypto spends a lot of time closely following Jaguar Paw through the jungle, but it does contain several visually impressive sequences. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer shines during the digital video shots of the massive Mayan civilization and provides some picturesque natural landscapes. It's not a pristine transfer and does include some minor grain, but the image remains fairly sharp throughout.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: This release includes two effective transfers, a solid 5.1-channel Dolby Digital option and an even stronger DTS choice. You can't go wrong with either track and should enjoy the complexity provided throughout the entire sound field. Their power is especially prevalent during the lengthy final chase, which uses the outdoor audio to enhance the tense sequence.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu
Scene Access with 19 cues
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish
Cast and Crew Biographies
1 Deleted Scenes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director Mel Gibson and co-writer Farhad Safinia
Packaging: unmarked keepcase
Extras Review: Apocalypto includes several worthy extras, but the total material seems pretty light for a film with such a historical context. The primary feature is Becoming Mayan: Creating Apocalypto—a 25-minute documentary focusing on the basic elements of the picture's creation. Mel Gibson and Farhad Safinia describe the difficulties in location scouting and the eventual choice of the Mexican jungle. We also see impressive footage showing the contruction of the big city near Veracruz. Dr. Richard Hansen provides a few details about Mayan history, but it would have been interesting to receive a lengthier background. Segments on costumes, makeup, and weapons offer quick information and footage about each subject. Gibson and Safinia also return for the feature-length commentary, which provides considerable material on the production. Both are obviously very excited about the movie, which leads to a mildly engaging discussion. The final inclusion is a single deleted scene involving a deer walking away from the smoking carnage. The moment lasts only 38 seconds, so its effect is limited, but it does depict an example where Gibson pulled back from offering such an obvious metaphor.
Extras Grade: B-
Final CommentsAlthough its intentions are less ambitious than expected, Apocalypto delivers a high-powered chase and several other memorable scenes. Closing with a tragic surprise of historical significance, Mel Gibson reveals some method to the brutal madness. If you’re willing to deal with plenty of excessive cruelty and blood, the picture deserves a mild recommendation.
Dan Heaton 2007-05-21