Mel Gibson’s newest directorial effort is an adventure flick of the most fundamental kind, and a thrilling ride.

ApocalyptoFilmed completely on HD (albeit a new, fancy HD), it takes a moment to get used to the imagery. In the first few minutes I felt that surely an epic such as this would deserve film. Coupled with the fact that Gibson used either little known actors or in fact civilians in the cast, Apocalypto goes for a raw, visceral experience rather than traditional cinematic grandeur. The realism is certainly at the forefront of this film – the costumes, scenery and sets all have an authentic feel to them. There are only certain moments when a few inconsistencies with this method come to the fore. The ‘evil’ tribesmen wear costumes that resemble a Roman Centurion’s a little too closely, and there are a couple of big action moments that use super slow-motion and basically look a little stupid.

The performances are all admirable and Rudy Youngblood as the hero Jaguar Paw displays the perfect mix of sensitivity and determination. Also, Gibson deserves kudos at the very least for getting a subtitled film onto multiplex screens (again). Apart from changes in technology, it’s the concentration on the Mayans that gives this film a sense of importance in the mythical Hollywood pantheon. The recreation of their empire is stunning and our introduction to the stone city alongside Jaguar Paw is bound to become a classic sequence. The film is fairly focussed (like The Passion of the Christ) insofar as it comprises only three extended narrative sequences, the last 45 minutes or so being one long action scene that rivals the middle section of King Kong for sheer refusal to pause for breath.

In terms of story there’s absolutely nothing new here. It’s the most basic of tales (good guys, bad guys and a race against time) and not particularly emotive. That Gibson and co-writer Farhad Safinia didn’t overload the story with contemporary parallels actually comes as a relief for some reason. The major disappointment is that they signal what is to come about a quarter of the way into the film, which detracts from the mystery and excitement somewhat. There are also a couple of narrative spikes that simply go too far. As an piece of escapist cinema, and in terms of sheer enjoyment (thrills and spills) however, Apocalypto’s got it in spades.

Rating: 3 stars
Review by Stuart Wilson, 19th January 2007
Hoopla Factor: 3.5 stars

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