by Andrew James
This picture starts with a group of Mayan men in the ancient jungles of Central America hunting for food. As they return to their village, all is well and a great celebration takes place. But something lurks in the darkness outside of camp; some of the villagers feel it, but not quite sure what to make of their feelings. The next day the village is sacked by another "tribe" (for lack of a better word) who are both savage and relentless. Many captives are taken. Within this sequence is some disturbing imagery of rape and brutality. Many of the captives are taken back to a Mayan temple to be sold as slaves and/or sacrificed to the gods. But one man stands tall and decides maybe it's time to fight back. Meanwhile, the man's family and unborn child remain trapped in a hidden location; unable to survive unless someone rescues them soon.
Every review out there is going to mention the amount of violence in the film. It's destined to be the key talking point when discussing the film with anyone. Is the violence and blood excessive and over the top? I think that should be left for the viewer to decide. It's definitely graphic and realistic. There are severed heads, opened torsos, skull bashing, the removal of internal organs and faces being ripped off. The film is definitely NOT for the squeamish, but I believe the imagery to be there to show us just how brutal these cultures were in a realistic sort of way; including the human sacrifices that were actually performed hundreds of years ago.
Besides the violence, the entire film is an exercise in excessiveness. Each scene is lengthy, drawn-out and some may consider over the top. The opening battle scene is gripping and exciting, but it's also heart wrenching, stomach turning and lengthy. Then we watch the prisoners march on towards the huge temple/city and this process takes almost 30 minutes. Again, although it's captivating, it does seem to be a bit drawn-out unnecessarily. Most of the heart of the film is a cat and mouse jungle hunt. I can only watch so much of men running through a jungle within 2 hours, but since the action is exciting and we're really rooting for our hero, along with a couple of minor plot twists, I was able to deal with it and even enjoy most of it.
I believe Gibson has managed to successfully meld a more classic, epic story of the ancient culture of the Mayans together with some more typical, Hollywood-style (this is not a Hollywood film - Gibson financed the entire film himself) action sequences to help bring in and capture western audiences. The two things that may drive away that same crowd, however, is the aforementioned amount of violence and the fact that the entire film is spoken in an extinct Mayan language and therefore forces the audience to read subtitles; though Gibson's Passion of the Christ was also a subtitled, foreign language film and it became one of the most successful pictures of all time (for obvious reasons), so we'll see.
This is the film that is going to do to the box office what Terrence Malick's The New World should have done. Both pictures are gorgeously shot with original characters and with a similar, primitive feel and a lot of foreign language. Unfortunately, Malick's film was FAR too slow for an American crowd to stomach without the action and suspense. Gibson has managed to take Malick's idea and turn it into something much more agreeable to the audiences of today that need a kick in the ass to keep them entertained. Well, with Apocalypto, a kick in the ass is exactly what you'll get (figuratively speaking of course).
Assuming the academy can get past Gibson's personal life, I can't see any reason why we won't see a few Oscar nods here. Probably for mostly technical categories like sound editing and cinematography, but a best picture or best director nomination isn't totally without possibility. The major accomplishment though would be the make-up and costume departments. If their work isn't recognized for the tremendousness of the outcome, I may have to boycott the Oscars forever (yeah right, I've said that before).
What it boils down to is the fact that nothing like this has ever been seen before. The storyline and cultures that are present in this film are something never before seen (not in this epic of a light anyway) and likely not to be seen again for decades. If your adversity to blood is strong, this is obviously not the film for you. But if you can put that aside and just see this film for what it is: an exciting, action-thriller taking place at a time and location with original characters the likes of which have never been filmed before, then I think you'll notice the minute hand on your watch just whizzing by as Gibson's vision really takes on a life of its own.
IMDb.com - full cast and crew
FLIXSTER PROFILE for Apocalypto