Reviewed by: Chris

"What is worrying, and makes it gripping if not exactly entertaining, is the extended, gratuitous violence running almost from beginning to end."

What can you say about a film that has so many hallmarks of greatness but is so lacking in judgement? Since the early days of film, when DW Griffith made Birth Of A Nation, that dilemma has haunted cinemagoers and critics alike. Griffith's film told the story the beginnings of the United States of America, a momentous piece of history, technically the most ambitious film ever made at that time, and also pioneering so many cinematic techniques as to revolutionise the industry. It had one flaw. The director's narrowness of vision. Griffith related the entire genesis through a lens of racial hatred, projecting his own idea that blacks were the root of all evil, and also promoting the Klu Klux Klan.

Mel Gibson's groundbreaking movie is neither as great nor as sickening as Griffith's masterpiece, but it similarly projects small-mindedness onto a breathtaking palette. True to his penchant for proving you can make a blockbuster with subtitles, Gibson has followed his The Passion Of The Christ with this film set in ancient Mayan culture and in original language. Filmed largely in the jungle and using a mostly indigenous and inexperienced cast, to pull off a major film under such conditions in no small feat.

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Jungle Paw is a young tribal warrior, a member of a community in the Central American jungle. The film follows a fairly standard three-act story that has been a mainstay of Westerns, spy stories and alien adventures - hero gets captured, has a terrible time in an enemy camp and then escapes to larger-than-life adventure to get back to loving, sexy wife. In Hollywood tradition, Apocalypto is action-driven, and wastes no time lingering on the beauties of the forest.

What is worrying, and makes it gripping if not exactly entertaining, is the extended, gratuitous violence running almost from beginning to end. In Braveheart, the violence was excused by a stirring tale that won the hearts of every nation except perhaps the English; in Passion Of The Christ it might just be excused by those who embraced Gibson's view of Christianity. But in Apocalypto it serves no purpose other than to shock and sensationalise, and with the deliberate intent to demonise the Mayan people. Never mind achievements such as urban planning, writing, mathematics, astronomy and art, we are constantly reminded that these are savages whose brutality is their eventual downfall.

Could it be that we are back in a very early period? Apparently not, for all the messing with chronology, the Spanish arrive and so clearly place the story in the 16th century. The film would have us believe that Mayan culture was self-imploding - convenient, as the film doesn't mention that the invaders brought diseases which wiped out 90 per cent of remaining Mayans. But then, Behold! For hidden in the credits is The Key to It All! The film is dedicated 'to Abel'! The whole of Mayan civilisation has been neatly extrapolated from a Biblical story and what we really need to do is get back to the Garden (along with Jaguar's family - who aren't warmongering - just stupid).

For most people, Apocalypto is a thrilling enough, exotic enough, and gut-churningly visceral enough not to ask fine questions about offensive racial stereotyping. It will grab too many headlines for many people to worry about how it sets us back light years in terms of cultural sensitivity or understanding different world views. Some people may well question the film's addiction to prolonged violence and torture. Some may even wonder if it is an expression of Gibson's seemingly troubled persona. Others will just say to hell with it and hand out an award.

Reviewed on: 07 Jan 2007
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A captive, destined for sacrifice, Jaguar Paw is determined to escape and save his wife and child.
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Scott Macdonald ****

Director: Mel Gibson

Writer: Mel Gibson, Farhad Safinia

Starring: Rudy Youngblood, Dalia Hernandez, Jonathan Brewer, Morris Birdyellowhead, Caelos Emilio Baez, Ramirez Amilcar, Israel Contreras, Israel Rios

Year: 2006

Runtime: 139 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: USA


Karlovy 2014

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