Directed by Mel Gibson
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 138 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1 Mayan
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Release Date: May 22, 2007
Review Date: May 13, 2007
You’ll be surprised how much of the Mayan civilization seems very familiar while you watch Mel Gibson’s arresting historical drama Apocalypto. You’ll see youthful hijinks (think frat boy humor), a battleaxe mother-in-law, the thrill of the hunt, the importance of families and especially children, stories around a campfire, civil war, and many other customs which have maintained their hold on civilization for many centuries. It’s what Gibson does with these homilies, however, that gives Apocalypto its lure and its power.
Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood) is a young Mayan man married with one child and another on the way, living in the waning days of the Mayan civilization. A surprise invasion of his village by a rival, bloodthirsty tribe takes many of the women and the remaining men who weren’t killed as captives. The trek to the Mayan city, their ultimate fates, and a breathless chase back through the jungle to the original village make up the remaining running time of the film. The dialog is spoken completely in the Mayan language with English subtitles, but much of the film doesn’t really require talk. The body language of the people, their facial expressions, and the many action sequences are all pretty self-explanatory and require only attention to get their points across. Of course, part of that attention involves witnessing some uber-vivid violence and much gore: all a part of the Mayan civilization, of course, but not an especially easy thing for those with weak constitutions.
The script by Mel Gibson and Farhad Safinia manages to include many of the reasons for the ebbing of the Mayan race at this point in its history, even before the landing of the Spanish on their shores. We see rampant disease, warring tribes, recalcitrant weather, an indifferent ruling class, and inefficient leadership as all contributing to the general decline in their quality of life, and director Gibson does his best to make sure his cameras catch these things in all their infamy. The last forty minutes of the film involve an extended chase of Jaguar Paw by the massive warrior Zero Wolf (Raoul Trujillo), his bullying second in command Middle Eye (Gerardo Taracena), and several others. Gibson directs it with amazing speed and excitement, but a chase through the jungle with various booby traps and escape routes is as old as The Most Dangerous Game, and it robs the film of some of its originality despite its undeniable tension.
The film’s production design, its sets, its costumes, the elaborate make-up, the hundreds of extras, and the thousands of artifacts give Apocalpyto a true epic feel, and Gibson, no stranger to epics such as Braveheart and The Patriot, helms it all with a sure hand. It’s another unusual entry from a filmmaker who never seems to fear stepping out on a cinematic limb.
The film’s 1.85:1 aspect ratio has been transferred to DVD in a beautiful anamorphic encoding. Shot with high definition Genesis camera equipment rather than film, the movie to DVD transfer is very sharp, beautifully colorful, and lacking artifacts other than a few very thin edge halos glimpsed at odd moments. The lush greens of the forest, the startling whites of the lime quarry, the turquoise paint smeared on the prisoners all come through with stunning clarity. The ivory colored subtitles are easy to read. The film has been divided into 19 chapters.
The DTS 5.1 surround track is completely immersive and sends sound to all available channels constantly throughout the film’s running time. There is strong .1 LFE when needed, and the entire track is expertly designed. I did not listen to the entire film with the Dolby Digital 5.1 track engaged, but the few scenes I sampled with it sounded less full in the surrounds and slightly more anemic overall.
The DVD offers three bonus items. First up is an audio commentary featuring director Mel Gibson and his co-writer/co-producer Farhad Safinia. It’s an easygoing conversation between two obvious friends and in direct contrast to the amped up mood and tension of the film itself, this dialog between the two men makes a comfortably agreeable listening experience.
Becoming Mayan: Creating ”Apocalypto” is a 25-minute documentary on the making of the film touching primarily on selecting the locations for shooting, the costume research and construction, the enormous make-up requirements for the film, and the weapons fashioned for use in the movie. While it’s a generally fluffy EPK piece, I was disappointed that such issues as casting, translating the script into Mayan, and teaching the actors to speak the dialect wasn’t touched on at all. Some of this is mentioned in the audio commentary, but it isn’t addressed here, and it should have been.
One brief thirty second deleted scene is offered with the option of Mel Gibson commentary on it. Again, in the commentary, Gibson mentions several scenes which were edited for their violence or for time, but they are not to be found on this set.
Apocalypto is a dynamic adventure film with an outstanding representation of the last days of the Mayan civilization before its invasion by Europeans. It’s certainly worthy of a long look by action buffs and by those wishing for a film with a different look and feel to it.