If I were to let every artist’s personal beliefs dissuade me from appreciating their work, I’d be missing out on some really good stuff. From John Wayne to Roman Polanski, the movie business has always been a rogue’s gallery of racists, crazies, perverts, addicts, scumbags, and freaks, living their lives in ways most of us couldn’t imagine, let alone understand or approve of. The thing is I don’t really care about what it is these people do on their own time; I’m only concerned about what happens during the two hours for which I’ve paid them to entertain me. Mel Gibson, one of the most controversial actors/filmmakers of the decade, has certainly made it difficult to respect him as a human being, but, as long as he continues to make movies like the exceptionally entertaining and beautifully crafted Apocalypto, I’ll continue to respect him as an artist.
While this film was marketed as a sort of historical drama, don’t think for a second that this is Gibson’s South American “Passion of the Christ”. While Apocalypto is an exhaustively well-researched and detailed epic (performed entirely in Mayan, no less), this is a good old-fashioned action/thriller at heart, replete with a dashing hero (Youngblood’s “Jaguar Paw”), sadistic villains, a damsel in distress (Hernandez as Jaguar Paw’s wife, “Seven”) and a bloody, pulse-pounding finale in which our hero doles out some serious jungle justice that will have viewers pumping their fists in triumph. This film literally hits the ground running and doesn’t let up until the jaw-dropping final scene, making its two hour running time feel like half of that.
Apocalypto is as beautiful as it is entertaining, with the lush cinematography of Dean Semler capturing the scope and grandeur of Gibson’s vision of the Mayan world. We are introduced to the tribe of Jaguar Paw; a simple and contented people who live off of their slice of jungle real estate, and never wander beyond its borders. When the village is overrun by a rival tribe and Jaguar Paw and his people are captured, we share their awe as they see for the first time the immense temples and buildings that they’ve only heard spoken of in legends. It’s a visual treat, and the way in which it’s revealed (as well as the revelation’s emotional payoff) is a credit to Gibson’s skill as a master storyteller.
The DVD from Buena Vista offers a feature-length commentary with Gibson and co-writer, Farhad Safinia, as well as a truly insightful multi-part documentary, “Becoming Mayan: Making Apocalypto” that not only answers questions about the production of the film, but offers a great deal of information about the Mayan civilization as a whole. It’s fascinating stuff, and makes for a great follow-up to the film.
Love him or loathe him, Mel Gibson certainly knows how to make an epic flick, and, in the end, that’s all that really matters.