Written by Fumo Verde
Like Mel Gibson or not, he knows how to make intensely dramatic films and Apocalypto holds true to that. Amazing costumes, lots of action, beautiful sets and scenery, and a story with a hero you root for. The film brings us back to the Mesoamerican period of the Western Hemisphere where eating the warm-beating heart of your now-dying rival was considered ritual. Using the ancient Mayan dialect, the indigenous peoples of the area, and unknown actors the viewer is brought deep into the story, giving it a sense of truth. Some say subtitles take away from the overall scene, but not to worry as most of the best acting in this movie doesn't come from the written word.
Set in the Yucatan Peninsula circa 1502, our hero Jaguar Paw and his tribe live a hunter-gatherer life. They get along with the spirits of the forest who share their home. Enter the Mayans on a search-and-destroy mission from their god, Kinich Ahau the Sun God. But what do they want, and why bother with Paw and his small tribe? The Mayans take their captives on a death march through the stunning landscape of Southern Mexico and parts of Central America.
As Paw and his people enter the outskirts of the city it becomes clear this is not a place they want to be as a river of the blood and shit from the sacrificed pours out from the massive stone city. Once inside, the women are sold off as slaves and the men are painted blue, walked up to the top of the highest pyramid, and are killed in the name of Kinich Ahau. Yet Paw knows better, and this is where the fantasy part of movies comes into play. A solar eclipse occurs meaning the sun god has had his fill of blood. Paw and his tribesmen can now be disposed of as the Mayan warriors see fit. Here's where your heart starts to pound as Paw escapes and is hunted by the Mayan warriors.
As this is happening there is a back-story. When Paw's village was being ransacked, he hid his wife and son in a well just outside of the huts. The Mayans didn't find them, so now Paw not only has to get away from the Mayan warriors who are hot on his trail, but he has to get to the well and pull up his family before it starts to rain, which will inevitably happen as they live in a rain forest.
Gibson is great at showing the horrors of how humans can behave towards each other, and Apocalypto has plenty of it. You feel for the captives as they are brutally led off while their children are left to fend for themselves in the jungle. These people have no idea where they are going or what is going to happen to them. If you think about it, how messed up is that? You are living your whole life with knowing only the people in your tribe and a few others in some neighboring tribes, and then you wake up one day being tied up and taken from your family. When Paw escapes you really want him to get back to his wife and kid, or should I say "kids" because his wife is pregnant, just to add an extra element of suspense.
The research and time put into this project alone should be applauded. According to the extra features, the costumes were made the same way the ancient Mayans made them. We see them hand sowing each costume and hand painting each tattoo on all 700 extras.
This film was shot live, meaning there weren’t many computer-generated images. All the action is real, and even the temples of the city were constructed just for their scenes. The actors all do a fine job considering some of them have never even seen a television let alone a movie screen. Gibson used people from the local villages; he even used this little girl who had never set foot on a floor before, yet she acted so well in this picture she would put to shame many Hollywood starlets.
Gibson tried to keep this movie as real as he possible could, and I think he did a fine job. The only thing that I didn't like about this film was the hype about it being a look into the Mayan culture yet we barely scratch the surface. It's wrong when advertisers do that just to get you into the theater.
The extras on the DVD give you a behind-the-scenes look at the film’s making and audio commentary by Gibson and co-writer Farhad Safinia for the film and one deleted scene.
Apocalypto isn't a historical reference and it has nothing to do with the end of the world. It has everything to do with a hero coming close to the end and learning that there is always a chance for a new beginning.