I first saw Apocalypto when it was released on DVD about a year and a half ago. I found the film to be original and impressive; a breath of fresh air in a historical genre that had become predictable and stale.
Whatever you think of Mel Gibson as a person, it's hard to deny that he's a good director. Apocalypto was a huge financial risk on his part, considering he'd taken a very obscure part of history and put his own inventive, original twist on the story. It took a lot of guts to cast unknown Native American actors and have them speak in the Maya language; a risk that most conventional directors would have never taken as it would have beeen box office suicide (especially when you consider the 18 rating).
The result is one of the most breathtaking, exciting and vibrant historical epics of the last few years. Gibson took a story that most Hollywood film executives wouldn't touch, and made it into a heart pounding and exhilirating action-adventure.
Although the film might sound like your typical art film (subtitles, unknown actors, elaborate costumes, 138 minute running time) Gibson manages to make the film easily understandable without sacrificing its substance. The film although set in the past, is hardly a history lesson. If anything, the film has been widely criticised for its numerous historical inaccuracies, perhaps the largest being that the film is set during the 16th century, but Classical Maya Civilisation had already collapsed between the late 9th and early 10th centuries.
With that in mind, it's worth covering the story which is simplistic but displayed with a lot of verve. It revolves around a young hunter named Jaguar Paw who lives in a isolated village, deep in the Yucatan Jungle. Soon enough, the idyll is disrupted when vicious Holcane Warriors descend on the village to slaughter and enslave its people. Jaguar Paw sends his pregnant wife and young son to the relative safety of an abandoned water well, but is himself captured.
He is led off on a trail that takes him to the decadent Maya city to be sacrificed to the gods. Making his escape, he must find a way back home to save his family, a journey fraught with danger, where the Holcane Warriors are never far behind.
The film is more action adventure than historical drama, and it works very well in that regard. The chase scenes are heart poundingly intense, while the fights are great, although considering its a Mel Gibson film, they are predictably gory - which is not to mention the scenes of human sacrifice - which Gibson portrays with disturbing relish.
This is the first Blu-ray film I've purchased and I chose it because I knew that the film was visually stunning: from the colourful costumes and sets, to the scenes of the natural world. I wasn't disappointed with the image quality, as it is displayed with crystal clear clarity on my 1080i screen. I had a copy of the Apocalypto DVD at hand to compare the two, and I can confirm that there is an obvious rise in quality, as the DVD version seems muddy and unclear in comparison.
The sound is also brilliant, as you can hear every leaf rustling in the background, and would no doubt be even more impressive on a good quality sound system (I only have small speakers).
In terms of special features, the Blu-ray is no different from the DVD. It contains a Backstage director's commentary from Mel Gibson and writer Farhad Safinia, as well as a short and rather pointless delted scene (in very poor quality) complete with its own commentary. There's also a 'Making of' documentary called Becoming Mayan, which explains the backstory for the film. The only original material is a section called 'Movie Showcase' which displays some of the best scenes from the film to showcase you "The Ultimate in High Defintion Picture and Sound".
This section is rather pointless considering you'll see these scenes anyway if you watch the film.
Overall this is a great film on a brilliant Blu-ray. It could have had more special features, but that aside it's a worthy purchase for anyone with a Blu-ray player.
No of disks: 1.
Rating: 18 (contains Strong Bloody Violence and Gore).
Running Time 138 Mins (2 hours 20 mins approx).
Image: 1080p High Definition/ 1.85:1 plus bonus 1080i & 1080p Definition.
Audio: Mayan 5.1 Uncompressed (48khz/24-bit)/English 5.1 Dolby digital.
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish. Bonus English SDH.