Featurette-Becoming Mayan: Making of Apocalypto
|Year Of Production||2006|
|RSDL / Flipper||Dual Layered||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||4||Directed By||Mel Gibson|
Carlos Emilio Báez
María Isabel Díaz
Espiridion Acosta Cache
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||None||
Unknown Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Unknown Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Unknown Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||1.85:1|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.85:1||Miscellaneous|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
Apocalypto is the latest in Mel Gibson's long line of bloodthirsty, historical epics. Although all of Gibson's fascinations with torture and violence are played out graphically and sadistically on-screen, Apocalypto remains a rousing adventure film, with an unnerving tension and energy that never lets up. Shot by the very talented Dean Semler with digital cameras, Apocalypto comes to DVD as direct transfer from the digital master, and it is a brilliantly authored DVD.
Apocalypto is Gibson's first film since the phenomenally successful, Passion Of The Christ, (and his first since his well-publicised personal problems). There are some stylistic similarities between the two films - the most obvious being that all the dialogue for Apocalypto is spoken in an obscure, ancient language, subtitled into English. Here Yucatec (spoken by the remaining Mayan people) replaces Aramiac.
In Apocalypto, Gibson and co-writer Farhad Safinia, have focused on the Mayan civilization that dominated present-day Mexico and Central America from about 2400 BC to the 15th century AD. But in his film, Gibson chooses to ignore the Mayans' many remarkable advances in a number of areas, including astronomy, mathematics, art, and agriculture, rather choosing to dwell on the ugly side of their culture.
The film opens with a debatable quote from Will Durant: "A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within."
The opening quote might lead one to expect an exploration of the erosion and extinction of the Mayan culture, but this is not to be. Indeed, although the use of an ancient language and a weighty quotation at the outset might even suggest an art-house epic, Apocalypto is basically a thrilling, historical popcorn flick: It's The Hills Have Eyes meets Last of The Mohicans, or perhaps, Rambo: First Blood meets Black Robe. After all, Gibson treats us to plenty of enjoyable movie clichés, such as a hero being forced to leap from a waterfall to escape his pursuers, or a hero falling into quicksand, or having the hero's loved ones trapped in a well, with the water rapidly rising. There is even the creepy, haunted-little-girl prophecy-speaker, usually only rolled out in horror films and supernatural thrillers.
Of course, despite the many movie clichés, what makes this unmistakably a Gibson flick, is all the unnecessary and lengthy scenes of sadism. Gibson has never been a fan of subtlety, and now that he has the money and power to explore his love of cruelty and violence on the big-screen, we the viewers, are not spared any of his gratuitous, gory, theatrical visions. For example, Apocalypto includes scenes of a jaguar ripping off a man's face, and a smashed skull that sprays like a water-sprinkler. And why show one human sacrifice, when you can show us three consecutively?
However, if we set aside all the blood and gore, exactly what is Gibson trying to say with Apocalypto? According to an interview he gave, Gibson wants us to consider the parallels between "the decadence of the Mayan empire on its last legs and our contemporary, spiritually and environmentally ravaged world". It seems that according to Gibson, the Spanish defeated the Mayans because their society had become divided and decadent. Strange, I thought it had something to do with the fact that the Spanish invaded with superior weapons and armour, and then introduced Christianity, a variety of diseases, and alcohol.
Furthermore, Gibson's recurrent movie theme about the cruelty of humans toward other humans becomes a little unclear here. On one hand he claims in Apocalypto that "man has a hole that can never be filled", as "his greed and desire are insatiable". But on the other hand, we have selfless and virtuous main characters, such as Jaguar Paw and Blunted. Also, the film posters featured the tagline: "No One Can Outrun Their Destiny". What exactly does that mean? That Jaguar Paw should have accepted his fate, and not tried to rescue his family? Or perhaps we should all accept a Calvinistic belief in preordination?
Of course Gibson is not alone in making violent films, but unlike, say Martin Scorsese or Sergio Leone, the violence here actually seems to be guiding Gibson's creative decisions, rather than being merely an aspect of the story-telling.
As for the story, Apocalypto begins with the trapping, graphic impalement with spikes, and then dismemberment of a tapir in the jungle. We then meet a small group of hunters, including Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood), Blunted (Jonathan Brewer), Curl Nose (Amilcar Ramirez), Smoke Frog (Israel Contreras Vasquez ), and Cocoa Leaf (Israel Rios). Leading them is the wise Flint Sky (Morris Bird). As viewers, we get to enjoy a relatively light-hearted moment, as we watch them trick one of their naive members, Blunted, into eating the dead animal's severed testicles.
However, a dark sense of foreboding sets in, as the hunters come across a ravaged band of escaping survivors from another village. Jaguar Paw is told by his father not to be afraid, but he seems to have a sixth sense, and knows that something is not right.
The Hunters return to their peaceful Mayan jungle village, and here we glimpse the warmth and friendliness of the people, living in harmony with nature, and each other. Jaguar Paw loves his small son (Carlos Emilio Baez), and he is excited, as his young wife, Seven (Dalia Hernandez), is pregnant with their second child. But as with Braveheart, the peaceful domestic interlude is really only here to make the subsequent slaughter feel more personal.
Indeed, it is not long before we see what the refugees were fleeing from. Jaguar Paw's peaceful village is invaded by a bloodthirsty group of marauding, mercenary, warrior Mayans, who put the village to fire. The attackers club, knife, and torture many of the villagers. Even the women and children are not spared. After hiding his family in a deep, dry well, Jaguar Paw helps fend off the invaders, but he is captured. His family's fate is now as perilous as his. As this is a rainforest, Jaguar Paw will have to figure out a way to escape his captors, and make his way back home, so that he can rescue them, before the rains come, and the well drowns his family.
Beaten and bloodied, Jaguar Paw is shackled to a pole with other survivors. They are forced to watch the horrific slaughter, torture, and rape of their loved ones, before having to endure a long, cruel march to the Mayans' city, where an even more awful fate awaits them.
When the women arrive in the city, they are immediately sold as slaves. Meanwhile, the men are painted blue and led directly to the sacrificial altar with a disturbing, assembly-line efficiency. Here, the men are lined up on top of a huge stone pyramid in the centre of the city. The victims are held down on the altar, one at a time, while a priest carves out their still beating hearts from their chests, and holds them aloft. The victim's heads are then severed from their bodies, and the heads, and corpses, are then rolled down the temple steps into a pile of human flesh. As with all public executions throughout history, the crowd revels in the spectacle and celebration. Indeed, according to many respected sources, the Mayan culture flourished through human sacrifice.
Jaguar Paw is next in line, but a twist of fate saves him from death on the altar. Instead, he and the other captives are immediately sent to a ball court for some sport. The captors order the survivors to run across the field, as the captors attempt to kill them with spears and arrows.
Badly wounded, Jaguar Paw escapes, only to be frantically chased through the jungle by his former captors. These vicious warriors will not stop their pursuit of him. They are relentlessly led by a ruthless bully, Zero Wolf (Raoul Trujillo), who exudes an aristocratic bitterness. His second-in-command seems to be Snake Ink (Rodolfo Palacios), a psychotic weasel who delights in slitting throats.
However, this is no cheesy exploitation movie, Apocalypto is a first-rate adventure epic built around our heroes' inspiring will to survive and to rescue his family. When Jaguar Paw's jungle chase gets going, Apocalypto is thoroughly gripping and thoroughly entertaining. Indeed, the expert camera work, largely shot on location, has a kinetic energy, and Jaguar Paw, and the viewers, barely stop for a breath. In its second half, Apocalypto develops into a straight-ahead chase movie, with more cliff-hangers than an Indiana Jones movie.
Furthermore, everything about this Mel Gibson production is outstanding. The scenes ranging from the quiet, personal jungle settings, to the chaos and grand spectacle of the capital city are brilliant in execution. Indeed, one cannot ignore the artistry of Apocalypto. Indeed, the work by Production Designer, Tom Sanders, Costume Designer, Mayes Rubeo, and Hair/Makeup Designer, Aldo Signoretti, are all first rate, as they really do transport us to another time and place. The film has an authenticity in its look and feel that cannot be easily dismissed. Many of the actors are making their debut, indeed, apparently some of them had never even seen a film. Their naturalistic acting, speaking in Yacatec, combined with their fascinating faces and expressions are totally absorbing.
Perhaps one of the outstanding features of the film, is Aussie, Dean Semler's stunning cinematography with Panavision's new High-Definition Genesis Digital Camera, which I cover in more detail in the following Video Transfer section.
The transfer is wonderful, and looked beautiful on both my widescreen television, and when I viewed it with a DLP. Apocalypto was shot with digital cameras, edited on computers, and was designed to be screened theatrically with digital projectors. Following Click, Apocalypto is the second feature film, Dean Semler has shot with the Panavision Genesis, a digital camera that uses film lenses and accessories. As reported in an article appearing in the American Society of Cinematographers, during preproduction in Mexico, Semler shot various tests with the Genesis and viewed the results on a hi-def projector in the production’s dailies trailer. “I couldn’t believe what I had just seen,” Semler recalls. “I had looked at a firelight test, a flare test, a strobing test, and a long lens in the jungle at night, and I was just astounded. I said to myself, God almighty, where’s this going? . . . I didn’t break down and weep or pound my fists in the dirt, but it was a big moment for me, realizing we could now do things we never thought we’d be able to do. This is a revolution in cinematography.” This interesting article can be found here.
The transfer is presented in a widescreen aspect ratio of 1.85:1. It is 16x9 Enhanced.
The sharpness of the picture is excellent, for example, consider the shot of the dense jungle foliage at 8:05, or the detail in the close-up of the face at 36:03. The black level is great, with true deep blacks. The shadow detail is also great, for example consider the scene where the slaves are led through a shadowy tunnel at 66:19.
The colour is also excellent, with a palette of perfectly-saturated, earthy tones to suit the film's style and mood. The flesh tones are accurate.
Apocalypto comes to DVD as direct transfer from the digital master, and as this 'film' never went through a film process, there are none of the blemishes in the source material we have come to expect and begrudgingly accept. In short, there are no problems with MPEG, Film-To-Video Artefacts, or film artefacts.
As mentioned above, the film's dialogue is all in Yucatec, but there are English subtitles throughout.
This is a dual-layer disc, with the feature divided into 18 chapters.
Originally released theatrically with Dolby Digital, dts, and SDDS audio, there are three audio options on this DVD: The feature is presented in English Dolby Digital 5.1, encoded at 448Kb/s. There are also two Dolby Digital Stereo audio options, both encoded at 192Kb/s.
The audio sync is excellent throughout.
The musical score is provided by James Horner who combines primal-sounding chords and notes with some Latin American motifs, and even some Sufi music by the late, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.
The surround presence and activity is wonderful and immersive. The rear speakers are used effectively to help carry the score, such as at 61:14, and provide a lot of ambience. There are a number of rear directional effects, which includes panning between speakers, such as the cheering crowd at 67:30, or the rain storm at 120:34.
This is not a LFE-heavy track, but the subwoofer is still used effectively at times to support the dark and uneasy mood of the film, such as the ominous rumbling sounds.
|Surround Channel Use|
There are only a few extras, but they are all genuine and interesting.
The menus are animated, with stereo audio.
Featurette - Becoming Mayan: Making Apocalypto (24:12)
Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, 16x9 enhanced, with Stereo sound, this interesting, making-off featurette features interviews with Gibson and Safinia. A lot of behind-the-scenes footage is included, and some clips taken from the finished film.
Deleted Scene (0:37) - Deer Scene
Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, non-16x9 enhanced, with Stereo sound, this scene can be viewed with/out commentary by Gibson and Safinia.
Writer/Producer/Director, Gibson, and Co-Writer/Co-Producer, Safinia, provide a chatty, often light-hearted, commentary filled with jokes and anecdotes. They provide a lot of information about the actors and locations in this scene-specific commentary.
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
Apocalypto was released on DVD in Region 1, and the R1 version is basically the same as our version, except the R1 offers the option of dts audio as well.
A Blu-ray version of Apocalypto will also be released as well, with 1080p video, and the choice of uncompressed PCM 5.1 or Dolby Digital 5.1 (640Kb/s) audio. However, it seems that Apocalypto will not be released on HD DVD.
Despite the confronting depictions of cruelty and violence, Apocalypto is a harrowing and exciting adventure story, as well as being a compelling drama that never lets up.
The video quality is excellent.
The audio quality is also excellent.
The extras are slim, but genuine and interesting.
|DVD||Sony Playstation 3 (HDMI 1.3), using HDMI output|
|Display||Panasonic High Definition 50' Plasma (127 cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.|
|Amplification||Samsung Pure Digital 6.1 AV Receiver (HDMI 1.3)|