Apocalypto (2006)

Stop being such a Chichen Itza
Stop being such a Chichen Itza

Genre: Period Action Adventure Drama

Starring: Rudy Youngblood, Raoul Trujillo (Scanners II: The New Order The New World

Directed By: Mel Gibson (The Passion of The Christ • Braveheart)

Overview: During the decline of the Mayan civilization, slavers ravage a Mayan village and bring their captives back to the city. On the way, a diseased girl prophecizes the demise of the slavers and their society at the hand of the man who may very well be one of their slaves.

Apocalypto opens with Mayan village hunters in the forest taking down a tapir. This primitive village's life revolves around survival, reproduction and having a good time, be it fire dancing, practical jokes or crazy body modification. Soon the strife hits, and fearsome warriors stalk the village, ready to attack. A gory battle ensues and when it's over, the invaders have taken the surviving villagers as captives and are trekking them off to their fate. Along their travels, dark symbols abound of a society in decline, including a plague-riddle girl prophesizing the end. Whether she means the end of their party or the end of their society is, as yet, uncertain. From here, the slavers bring their victims to a bustling metropolis, a surreal place with impressive architecture of towering temples, deathly-white-dusted slaves open-pit mining, and a nobility that is freakishly strange while still being impressively regal. It is clear that the awe and oddity we're seeing is as fresh to the eyes of these primitive captive villagers as it is to the audience.  The mystery and wonder of Apocalypto peaks here, when these prisoners, including our hero, Panther's Paw, are thrust into the madness of a place completely foreign to them as they await with a morbid curiosity what lot they will be assigned. Due to my hatred of spoilers, I'll stop the tale here in hopes of stoking the fires of your curiosity.

What I regret most is that Apocalypto is, above all things, an adventure story, a survival thriller even, however Apocalypto's strength is not in its survival slant, but in its attention to historical detail. Every face is tattooed and pierced, and I've read, every actor is of Mayan descent. My preference would have been a Mayan Historical Drama that was entirely set in a Mayan capital's marketplace, although after seeing such epic scenes as the one shown in the screencap below, it is obvious that it would have been far too expensive to produce. Still, after seeing what Gibson and his crew were capable of delivering, I mourn a little, knowing it would have been capably done. Have no fear, kiddies, as what we lose in dynamic settings, history and anthropology brought to life on screen, we more than make up in the performance of our heroes and villains. Our hero is a character written appropriately. Not saying much, Panther's Paw is an everyman who needs no real introduction. His most domineering captor is played to perfection by Raoul Trujillo. His character,  Zero Wolf, is a fearless leader with overwhelming strength, both physical and spiritual, and by far my personal favourite. Under him is Middle Eye, an entirely sadistic wild card teetering on the brink of madness, played by Gerardo Taracena. These characters are in most of this film's scenes and it's a genuine gift whenever Zero Wolf speaks, hunts, or even just stands there. Raoul Trujillo is a genuine presence on screen and I look forward to seeing him in other productions, including The New World.

For all my queasy readers who felt that Gibson's brutally gory Passion of the Christ was just a little too drawn out and a lot too gratuitous, you'll find that Apocalypto delivers an unflinching blow when it comes to violence, but though plentiful, those moments are hardly long and drawn out. In fact Apocalypto is far more 'fun', choosing instead to have more of an escapist undercurrent as opposed to presenting brutalities in hyper-realism.

There you go
There you go, build more temples!

Performance: 8 Cinematography: 9 Script: 9 Plot: 8 Mood: 8

Overall Rating: 84% (A Proper Trip...To...)

As I watched Apocalypto, I was happy that I had read Aztec, a historical drama about an old man recounting, to the Spanish, the travels and culture of his youth. In Aztec, we learn of all three major players of this continent at that time: Aztec, Mayan and Incan societies. Aztec is a great read, and in fact served to explain a few unexplained facts present in Apocalypto, most notably a scene where a dropped bowl of beans were being fought over in the marketplace. Knowing that cocoa beans were used as currency back then, well that explains everything, doesn't it? If you're a reader, check it out, then watch Apocalypto knowing that it's set in the same era - the late 15th century. Might I add that this film is available on Blu-Ray?

I think I will.

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