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Mel Gibson's highly respected and multi-Oscar nominated historical epic set in the ancient Mayan civilization. Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood) is the son of tribal leader Flint Sky (Morris Birdyellowhead) and when their village is viciously attacked by the a raiding party under Zero Wolf (Raoul Trujillo), he witnesses his father's murder. Jaguar Paw manages to make safe his wife and child in an underground pit with a lone vine for its escape route. He and the other men fight gamely but are brought to heel by Zero Wolf's men. As the raiding party marches their prisoners off the escape vine is cut, trapping mother and child underground. The prisoners are taken to a sacrificial pyramid to prepare for a solar eclipse at which many of them will be brutally and gruesomely dissected. The remaining few (including Jaguar Paw) are let loose in a wide field for sport - Zero Wolf's men raining spears, stones and arrows on them. Jaguar Paw negotiates the suicidal run and, though injured, bypasses a raider 'finisher', Zero Wolf's son, Cut Rock, by killing him. An enraged Zero Wolf pursues Jaguar Paw into the jungle with his fellow raiders. Can Jaguar Paw reach his dying family before the murderous Zero Wolf reaches him?
Forget any off-screen impressions you may have of Mel Gibson, and experience Apocalypto as the mad, bloody runaway train that it is. The story is set in the pre-Columbian Maya population: one village is brutally overrun, its residents either slaughtered or abducted, by a ruling tribe that needs slaves and human sacrifices. We focus on the capable warrior Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood), although Gibson skillfully sketches a whole population of characters--many of whom don't survive the early reels. Most of the film is set in the dense jungle, but the middle section, in a grand Mayan city, is a dazzling triumph of design, costuming, and sheer decadent terror. The movie itself is a triumph of brutality, as Gibson lets loose his well-established fascination with bodily mortification in a litany of assaults including impalement, evisceration, snakebite, and bee stings. It's a dark, disgusted vision, but Gibson doesn't forget to apply some very canny moviemaking instincts to the violence--including the creation of a tremendous pair of villains (strikingly played by Raoul Trujillo and Rodolfo Palacias). The film is in a Maya dialect, subtitled in English, and shot on digital video (which occasionally betrays itself in some blurry quick pans). Amidst all the mayhem, nothing in the film is more devastating than a final wordless exchange of looks between captured villager Blunted (Jonathan Brewer) and his wife's mother (Maria Isabel Diaz), a superb change in tone from their early relationship. Yes, this is an obsessive, crazed movie, but Gibson knows what he's doing. --Robert Horton
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When a Mayan raiding party attacks the village where Jaguar Paw and his family live his main priority is hiding his heavily pregnant wife and their son. But caught himself and with others he is taken away back to Mayan territory. This is visually stunning and instead of using CGI the sets were built to give a more intimate and realistic feel, which works really well with this film.
With what you would expect with raiding parties we see killings and people led off into captivity, as well as those being used for human sacrifice. This isn’t actually dialogue heavy, and the action and appearance on the screen tells the story more dynamically. The actual plot isn’t new, and the same type of thing has been used many times before, but with the meticulous work that went into crafting the sets, having to employ so many extras and make-up artists and so on, it means that this really does create a certain, and rather believable ambience.
This is quite violent and brutal in places, but so life would have been like for these people at such a time, but this also has a person telling an old myth, omens and superstition, and the kind of things you would expect from this period.
Quite spectacular to watch this is something that you can easily immerse yourself in and enjoy. Reminding us all as well that civilisations were all over the world, and were quite sophisticated despite the way they may look to us today.
You have an audio commentary by Mel and Farhad, as well as a deleted scene here in the extras, but the best thing in this bonus section is the featurette, which goes into how this was made, the locations chosen and costumes and make-up, etc.
Looking at the ream of reviews here and viewing all the threads across this particular site it is evident that I was not on my own in being torpedoed as to how the film panned out, was it Mel Gibson's intention from the off to do a straight action piece in subtitles ?, perhaps he started off to do a deep thinker but quickly realised that he could make a top dollar actioner instead? Either way this film delivers royally to those who get much from the action genre itself, and thankfully I count myself amongst that number.
Mel Gibson ups the violence quotient here, perhaps not quite for violence sake, but very nearly because it's part of a story that uses every cliché in the action film book, in essence the film is a simple chase/revenge plot piece, only here the added gimmick of a civilisation long past puts a bit more weight on the freshly stripped of skin bones. What lifts this film above your standard genre pieces tho is the great work Gibson does with his camera, he knows his money shots, he can frame a breathtaking scene very well indeed, and he manages to get tremendous performances from a largely unknown (and some never worked before) cast.
It's a pulse pounding thrilling movie with splendid dashes of humour, whilst it's also a gore hounds dream, and sure enough there are metaphors there if you are so inclined to look for them, and if you like playing spot the homage (or lift?), then fill your boots because they are all in here too. Ultimately if you are looking for a deep historical epic then you need to look elsewhere, but if you want a bold as brass action piece then get in the queue and enjoy the ride. 9/10
HOWEVER after just 5 minutes we were both hooked and once the film had finished both realised we had stopped noticing the subtitles very early on. This film is stunning; the actors, make-up, pace, action, settings and importantly direction are all top notch, the whole thing is very well done and the Mayan audio genuinely works.
Full credit to Mel Gibson, you are totally drawn into his Mayan world, the entire film is completely believable and it's one of those movies that finishes and you simply say out loud... "Wow!"