Thursday, July 19, 2007

Apocalypto (Gibson, 2006)

Warning: Possible Spoilers!

Mel Gibson is back in the directing chair after the much controversial Passion of the Christ and this time he's tackling the mythos of the Mayan culture. Or is he? Regardless of his intentions, it is clear that he is a skilled director capable of superb visual storytelling. Some accuse him of being obsessed with blood/gore and more interested in brutal carnage than telling an actual story. I disagree. Much like Peckinpah, Gibson uses violence in such a way that it isn't mere exploitation for "shock value" but rather as a form of expression. There may not be some deeply profound reasoning behind it other than for pure entertainment value which is all fine and dandy but for a film like Apocalyptico which concerns itself with aboriginal culture, acts of violence are vital to relgious beliefs as well as survival for this ancient civilization. Gibson isn't afraid to turn his camera away from the harsh practices of unspeakable acts committed by these people and anyone with weak stomachs are bound to feel squeamish. Take the Tenochtitlan/human sacrifice scene which shows how disposable other human beings are when it comes to pleasing the Gods. Decapitation and the extraction of live beating hearts (reminscent of Indian Jones and the Temple of Doom) in all its gory detail are on full display.

This is visceral filmmaking at its best that feels very raw because of its simple structure. As a well crafted piece of cinema, Gibson's film is bombastically intense that remains riveting from the first frame to the last. Comprisingly of non-professional actors, the basic plot revolves around the decaying Mayan civilization as famine plagues the land. Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood) belongs to a small tribe living in harmony deep in the the jungle far removed from the Mayans. Life is good, his hunting party take pride in collecting food and even joke around about the sexual dysfunction of one their members. The beginning starts off as very light-hearted but completely switches gear into much darker territory. What was once a peaceful group of people living together is shattered as their village is invaded by a clan of Mayans who murder, rape the women and capture many as prisoners. Luckily, Jaguar is able to keep his pregant wife and son safe by lowering them into a giant hole in the ground before getting captured himself. Taken to the ancient Mayan temples to be sacrificed to the Gods, Jaguar manages to escape and now has to race against time to save his family still trapped in the hole as well as trying to out-run a brute-squad of Mayan warriors led by Big Boss Nasty who are chasing him down.

Gibson has some real skill behind the camera and along with his cinematography Dean Semler, they use the gorgeous back-drop of the large jungle as a playground for one of the most suspenseful and exhilariting chase sequences I have ever seen. It's a shame that Gibson's personal life overshadowed this film causing it to make peanuts at the box-office and was barely recognized at the Academy Awards except for sound editing and make-up which are trivial categories. It should have undoubtably been considered a nominee for best cinematography, best editing, best original score and of course, Best Director. Apocalypto showcases Gibson at the height of his game. Step aside Braveheart, this is Gibson's most accomplished effort to date and one of the best films of 2006. What are you waiting for? Go and see this film immediately!


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