It’s difficult to separate the filmmaker Mel Gibson from the semi-nutball Mel Gibson. Even before his drunken rants about Jewish conspiracies he was a polarizing force. His latest overly-analyzed opus, Apocalypto, carries its own controversies, but try to look past that and see the action-adventure film at its core. It’s more fun that way.
Mel Gibson presents an amazing recreation of the Mayan world for Apocolypto; at least, the viewer would have to think so, not really knowing much about that world. The obvious effort and skill that went into sets, hair, make-up, and costumes on what looks like thousands of lead and background characters is impressive. The technical and artistic crew has much to be proud about. They should also be a little pissed that Gibson-the-director turned their work into an uncensored episode of ‘Cops: The Mayan Beat.’
Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood) is a hunter in a remote Mayan village. When the village is attacked by a group of men led by the menacing Zero Wolf (Raoul Trujillo) and the psychotic Middle Eye (Gerardo Taracena), he and many others are taken to be human sacrifices. He manages to hide his pregnant wife Seven (Dalia Hernández) and son before being caught. After witnessing the horrific bloodshed at the temple, he escapes and tries to return to his family.
Gibson attempts to say something about the Mayan culture in decline and spends a lot of time showing the temple ritual and its effect on the masses. Unfortunately, the entire section beginning with Jaguar Paw and his comrades entering the royal city until his escape really drags and doesn’t have much point other than to show that the Mayans did some horrible stuff to each other. It’s impressive to watch but Gibson and his actors (mostly amateurs) can’t bring home the point.
Everything doesn’t have to have a point however. The action sequences, including the chase after Jaguar Paw escapes, are fantastic. The scenes are well structured and full of suspense and excitement. Gibson uses every trick at his command to put you in the middle of the jungle with pursuers and prey. Trujillo and Taracena humanize the typical bad guys-in-a-chase-movie sterotype and also add some humor to the mix. Trujillo channels Dustin Hoffman in Midnight Cowboy after a tree nearly falls on him and his captives.
The movie was shot on digital video, which cuts both ways. In some cases it gives a more fluid look to the chases and action. However, Gibson has fallen a little too much in love with extreme close-up running shots and we get some almost comical looks at faces straining with exertion. Regardless, he has put together something worth watching. As a two hour plus epic on the decline of the Mayan empire, the movie falls well short. But there is a 90 minute action movie lurking just inside the bigger epic and that’s the movie you want to look for; it’s not bad.
This is one movie that is better viewed on the big screen. No matter how clear and crisp the picture or big your television, the magnitude of the scope will be lost when viewing this on DVD. The artistic team put a lot into creating an immersive world but that doesn’t always come across very well at home.
Although there are some extras on this one-disc release, it’s not a lot considering the large scope of the movie and the obvious desire of the filmmakers to produce an “epic.” The release just doesn’t have that epic feel. What exactly is included on this release? Well, first you get one deleted scene. Because they were shooting on digital video, Gibson shot tons of stuff he didn’t use, but only one scene is included. It’s about 35 seconds long. It can’t be the only one available and it’s not even that interesting. Gibson and co-writer Farhad Safinia provide a commentary to the deleted scene, but since the scene is so short, it doesn’t say too much.
Gibson and Safinia also provide a commentary on the entire film. It’s actually a little more jokey than you might think considered the heavy tone of the film. The typical M.O. is for Safinia to say something serious about the scene and then for Gibson to make a comment about it and then a little joke or sarcastic remark at the expense of himself. It makes it more enjoyable than would be the case if he treated the movie like the second coming of Ben Hur. Both men spend more time watching the film and not talking than is good, but overall it’s a good job.
The final extra is a making-of featurette, about 30 minutes long. It covers locations, costumes, and weapons. The inclusion of only three subjects and the exclusion of things like casting, script, editing, music, stunts, or historical accuracy makes you think, again, there is more to come. Since the look of the film and the attention to detail are crucial, these three subjects are well chosen and interesting.
There isn’t anything else, even trailers. The paucity of material smells like a special edition is in the not too distant offing. There is something to be said for waiting for what will probably come. The movie itself is good but not so good that you have to get it immediately. Combine that with the fact that it’s a technically impressive movie that would benefit from several featurettes focused on specific areas and paying a few dollars more for the two-disc release that is sure to come makes sense.