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Apocalypto (10/10)

by Tony Medley

This is a movie Iím glad I didnít miss, despite its 2 hour-28 minute running time. The basic story is essentially a remake of Cornel Wildeís ďThe Naked Prey,Ē (1966), although no credit is given. Writer (with Farhad Safinia)-Director Mel Gibson has done a masterful job of recreating pre-Columbian America. Despite the long running time, my attention never flagged. It starts out in the middle of the jungle in what appears to be a Garden of Eden situation. But you feel that this idyllic life style isnít long for the world, and it isnít.

Cast predominantly with indigenous people, Jaguar Paw (athletic Rudy Youngblood, whose heritage is Comanche, Cree, and Yaqui) is a young husband and father whose world is turned upside down in a swift, violent morning. His young wife, the beautiful Seven (Dalia Hernandez, a dancer and student in Veracruz), is the mother of their young son and is very pregnant when these events occur.

Gibson has recreated a world as it must have existed in the Mayan empire of 15th-Century Mesoamerica (comprising present day Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador). His realism even extends to shooting the film in Yucatec, the language spoken today in the Yucatan peninsula. However, to be fair, like "The Naked Prey" there isn't a lot of dialogue. Most of the film is visual. And the visual is stunning!

Gibson shows that there was love and affection and playfulness and an awful lot of violence. Make no mistake, this is a visually violent picture, not one for the squeamish. In fact, several people walked out of the all-media screening I attended. But everyone else sat transfixed as the story grabbed the audience. After it was over the audience filed out in stunned silence. Personally, I was exhausted.

For me, because I have an abiding interest in the life-essential rainforest (see http://www.tonymedley.com/Articles/The_Rainforest.htm), one of the captivating parts of the movie is that it is shot in the only part of the rainforest that remains in Guatemala, and it is beautiful. But even better than that, Gibson takes pains to show that the indigenous natives who lived in the rainforest knew of many of its miraculous medical benefits of both the flora and the fauna. He shows them putting bark on cuts to heal them and attaching insects to wounds to cure them. To the untrained eye, it might look like poppycock, but, in fact, the rainforest is teeming with miraculous cures for the maladies that afflict mankind. This film is the first Iíve seen that tries to educate people on the wonderful benefits mankind is destroying when it burns down the rainforest, which has encircled the earth for 60 million years and is undoubtedly the secret to the beginning of intelligent life on this planet.

Chasing Jaguar Paw is Zero Wolf (Raoul Trujillo), who, although a villain, projects as a strong, respected leader. Heís a complex villain because there is nothing unlikable about him, except that he wants Jaguar Paw dead. One guy who isnít likeable is Holcane Warrior Snake Ink (Rodolfo Palacios, who had to endure 7 hours of makeup every day!), who also wants Jaguar Paw dead and is only held back by Zero Wolf, which is what makes Zero Wolf somewhat sympathetic, at least for awhile.

The film is shot digitally, using Panavisionís state-of-the-art high-definition Genesisôcamera system, which allowed long takes in the rainforest, and shooting at night in the rainforest with very little light. The recreations of Jaguar Pawís village and the Mayan city are remarkable. Although there are records for big cities, there is virtually no historical record of jungle villages, so Production Designer Tom Sanders improvised in a highly credible manner.

This is a slam-bang, action-packed chase movie that puts the audience smack-dab in the middle of pre-Columbian America, and thatís the joy of the movie. Gibson has brilliantly come as close to showing how it was before Columbus arrived as we will ever get. If you can stand the gore and violence, ďApocalyptoĒ is a donít-miss experience. (In Yucatec with subtitles).

November 30, 2006

 

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