Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Rudy Youngblood, Dalia Hernandez, Jonathan Brewer, Morris Birdyellowhead
Director:  Mel Gibson
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Touchstone
Features:  See Review
Length:  139 Minutes
Release Date:  May 22, 2007

ďI am Jaguar Paw.  This is my forest.


Film ***1/2

If youíre a South Park fan, you canít help but think of their spoof of Mel Gibson while watching Apocalypto.  The show presented Mel as a bloodthirsty, raving lunatic obsessed with violence and torture.  With his latest, he ventures into territory we only thought he had covered fully in Braveheart and The Passion of the Christ.  Apocalypto achieves new heights in on-screen brutality.  But itís also a striking epic look at manís inhumanity to man.

It opens with a quote from Durant about how no civilization is conquered without first being rotted from within, then Mel takes us right to the Mayan empire on its last legs.  It focuses on Jaguar Paw (Youngblood), a hunter and father who learns to be a warrior when his tribe is overtaken by a more advanced, yet more savage neighboring one.

Jaguar Pawís people are either wiped out, or like himself, captured and taken a great distance to where only slavery and human sacrifice awaits.  He manages to hide his pregnant wife and young son in a deep cave, but one of his many challenges will be to return and get them out before the rains drown them.

One young man after another is sacrificed to their earth god, but the most convenient solar eclipse this side of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthurís Court spares Jaguar Paw from the knife.  For sport, he is let go, only to serve as prey as the other tribe intends to hunt him down and kill him.

What follows is a thrilling and suspenseful chase in the jungles of South America.  Time is running out for Jaguar Paw and his family, but in a startling scene near the end, we realize time is running out for the Mayan people as a whole as well.

Gibsonís knack for depictions of brutality is only matched by his mastery as a total filmmaker.  Apocalypto boasts incredible camerawork, set designs, and art direction, as well as solid performances by mostly all first-timers.  Mel demands a lot of physical endurance from his lead actorsÖhe did it with Jim Caviezel in The Passion and himself in Braveheart, but Rudy Youngblood is up to the challenge.

The movie will test your endurance, but it will reward it as well.  The running time flies by, and you will spend most of it on pure adrenaline.  Itís difficult to stomach some of the violence, but at the same time, itís hard not to marvel at how it works within the frame of Gibsonís overall vision.

Like The Passion, the movie is told entirely in a dead language, with subtitles, but it likewise adds to the feel of authenticity.  Brutally violent flicks about sacrifice and endurance told in ancient tongues?  Well, no one can say Mel hasnít carved a unique niche for himself.

Video ****

This anamorphic offering from Touchstone has to be one of the yearís best.  Gibsonís vision may have been a cinematographerís nightmare, but itís a cineasteís dream.  Shot in everything from harsh sunlight to unexpected dusk to firelight, this disc is a visual banquet of detail, colors and imagery, and every frame is a shining example of what weíve come to expect from the medium.

Audio ****

The audio also gets highest praiseÖDTS or Dolby, Mel has created an ambient, dynamic experience that will keep you in the heart of the action and make you feel like youíre deep in the jungle yourself.  From raucous scenes to the quietest with only the sounds of nature as a score, this track is explosive and subtle at the same time.  Simply superb.

Features ***

Mel offers a funny and insightful commentary track with his co-writer Farhad Safinia.  Despite what he depicts on screen, Mel doesnít take himself too seriously, and is always ready with a good quip to lighten things up (such as pointing out the animals in the movie got better treatment on set than he did).  There is also one deleted scene with optional commentary and a making of-featurette.


I donít know enough to say whether or not Apocalypto merits a true history lesson, but as a violent, exhilarating lesson about how civilization often dies from within first, Mel Gibsonís movie is a bloody yet strangely beautiful sight to behold.

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