Reviewed by: Scott Macdonald

"It has the zing of a sugar-rush from hell."

Subtitles and injury detail, that's all that cojoins Mel Gibson's previous movie, The Passion Of The Christ and this one. Apocalypto is a well directed three act action movie which goes to some lengths to show that intense cinema does not rely on setting. What is depicted onscreen is compelling, with a exhibitionist's flair for pacing, and can often take the breath away - the final act is an unrelenting adrenaline rush, a bravura showcase of editing, sound design and orchestrated action. Mad Max has come of age, if not losing what made him Mad first.

Jaguar Paw (newcomer Rudy Youngblood) is a hunter in the forest. In the atmospheric opening sequence he, his father, and several others work as a team to capture and bring food to their village. They are resourceful, capable and respectful of the mother forest, and enjoy playing practical jokes on one another - with a gruesome but funny gag that brings to mind the dinner from Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom. After a successful hunt and further engaging character scenes, we see the village torn asunder by tribe of savages who make Skull Island's seem quaint. Led by the terrifying, imposing Zero Wolf (Raoul Trujilo) and the sneering, sadistic Snake Ink, they slaughter, rape and imprison those who remain.

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Before capture, Jaguar Paw successfully manages to hide his heavily pregnant wife and son. The middle-third of the movie details the journey to the Mayan city, where slavery, sacrifice and sport await them. Every unpleasant thing you learned about Mayan civilisation, or lack thereof, is here. Sacrifice, in this case, is again in the Indiana Jones vein - where the priest tears a still-beating heart from his victim, cooking it in incense and subsequently beheading him. Gibson shows this in unrelenting graphic detail, the heads bouncing down the temple stairs like wet, slapping percussion. As Jaguar Paw escapes - by way of the same plot-hole from the Tintin story in Prisoners of the Sun - he dishes out vicious, well-deserved punishment to his pursuers. It calls to mind the revenge of the wronged Wallace in Braveheart, while bringing in elements of McGuyver - we see him fashioning a makeshift blowpipe and darts from a poisonous frog, thorns and leaves.

Gibson takes his time and is at pains to show the social, economic and personal microcosmic detail in his admittedly derivative story. Production designer Tom Sanders makes an immeasurable contribution to the film, with his Mayan villages, quarries, slave chambers and grisly sacrificial temples. Costumes, makeup, location scouting are all top-notch. The whole affair has been lensed with a painter's eye, by Mad Max 2 DP Dean Semler. His photography, angle selection and movement combine to give the film a spectacle worthy of Cecil B. DeMille. And of course, the action photography is as magnificent as George Miller's seminal Mad Max films.

As a finale, he inspires both a wry laugh and a strange lament as the characters who remain try to grasp an image which modern audiences understand well. Gibson is a born filmmaker, backed up by superb technical prowess. His visual gifts as director prove ambitious, visceral and potent.

The film is too gruesome to be considered escapist entertainment, even for those with strong stomachs. A blow to the skull revels in an all-too believable and shudder-worthy arterial spray; a chasing jaguar tears a face to hamburger. But an entertainment it is, even with a gallery of Gibson's grotesqueries. And it has the zing of a sugar-rush from hell.

Reviewed on: 22 Dec 2006
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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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Chris **

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


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