Apocalypto (Blu-ray) (2006)

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Released 13-Jun-2007

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Featurette-Making Of
Deleted Scenes-x1
Audio Commentary-Gibson & Safinia
More…-High Definition "Movie Showcase"
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2006
Running Time 138:21
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Mel Gibson
Studio
Distributor

Icon Entertainment
Starring Rudy Youngblood
Dalia Hernández
Jonathan Brewer
Morris Birdyellowhead
Carlos Emilio Báez
Amilcar Ramírez
Israel Contreras
Israel Ríos
María Isabel Díaz
Espiridion Acosta Cache
Mayra Serbulo
Iazua Larios
Lorena Hernández
Case ?
RPI ? Music James Horner


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Unknown Audio Linear PCM 48/24 5.1
Audio Dolby Digital 5.1 (640Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
French
Spanish
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Apocalypto is the latest in Mel Gibson's long line of bloodthirsty, historical epics. Despite Gibson's strange fascination with torture and violence, 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 is now available on a 50GB disc, with uncompressed 48 kHz/24-bit surround audio, and a high definition transfer, presented in 1080p, encoded using AVC MPEG-4 compression, directly from the original HD master. Apocalypto is a visually stunning film, and in high definition, it is a truly jaw-dropping, home theatre experience!

    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 Aramaic.

    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 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.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Apocalypto is a visually stunning film, and in high definition, it is a truly jaw-dropping, home theatre experience! Apocalypto was mainly shot with high definition 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 high definition 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.

    Apocalypto is presented with a high definition transfer, having been expertly authored in 1920 x 1080p. It has been encoded using AVC MPEG-4 compression, directly from the original high definition master, averaging around 29-34 Mbps. The transfer is presented in a widescreen aspect ratio of 1.85:1, in a native 16x9 frame. This is the film's original theatrical ratio.

    The sharpness and clarity of the picture is astounding, indeed, there are sections of this film, such as the sweeping, overhead tracking shot, when Jaguar Paw stands at the top of the waterfall, that I watched, and re-watched in disbelief. Also consider the intimate detail that can be seen in close-ups, such as the intricate jewellery and ornamental piercing of the characters. Watching this film reminds me of the buzz I got, about 10 years ago, when I first saw a DVD. For example, consider the perfect detail in the shot of the spider web at 23:17, or the overhead shot of the men walking on the cliff edge, where the pebbles and stones in the riverbed below are all clearly delineated at 48:39, or the scene with the crowd, in which every single person in the background is clearly defined at 70:05.

    The black level is also excellent, with true deep blacks. The shadow detail is fantastic, for example consider the scene where the slaves are led through a shadowy tunnel at 69:22.

    One of the many amazing achievements in cinematography with the new high definition digital cameras, is that many of the scenes in Apocalypto are filmed using natural light, or firelight. For example, the tribal fireside moments are all captured without any artificial lighting, and the resulting effect to the look and mood of the image is truly marvellous. The colour is excellent throughout, and as with the DVD, there are a palette of perfectly-saturated, earthy tones which suit the movie's style and mood. The flesh tones are accurate.

    Apocalypto comes to Blu-ray as direct transfer from the high definition 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. Some short sections of the film were shot with traditional, 16mm and 35mm film for effect, such as the dream sequences. These moments are intentionally grainy and now really seem to stick out when I watch this film in high definition, as opposed to DVD.

    As mentioned above, the film's dialogue is all in Yucatec (Mayan), but there are English subtitles throughout. French and Spanish subtitles have also been provided.

    This is a BD-50 (50 GB Blu-ray disc), with the feature divided into 19 chapters.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The sound design of the movie is excellent, and it is no surprise that Apocalypto picked up Oscar nominations for both sound editing, and sound mixing.

    Originally released theatrically with Dolby Digital, dts, and SDDS audio, there are three audio options on this Blu-ray disc: The feature is presented with an immersive, uncompressed, Linear PCM 48 kHz/24-bit 5.1 surround audio, encoded at a whopping 6.9Mbps! There is also a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio option, encoded at 640Kb/s, and an audio commentary with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio (192 kbps).

    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, but obviously not the sort of surround barrage that films like Black Hawk Down (Blu-ray) provide. The rear speakers are used effectively to help carry the score, such as at 61:45, 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 70:10, or the rain storm at 126:38. Obviously the uncompressed, Linear PCM surround audio, is the option of choice, with an unmatched range, depth, and clarity. Indeed, the very noticeable difference between the Blu-ray and the DVD disc is in the clarity of the ambience. For example, consider the background sounds in the slave market at 66:41. If you close your eyes with the Blu-ray playing, you would believe that you were standing there yourself.

    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.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    As with the DVD, there are only a few extras, but they are all genuine and interesting.

Menus

    The menus are animated, with audio.

Featurette - Becoming Mayan: Making Apocalypto (25:13)

    Presented in a widescreen aspect ratio of 1.78:1, in a 16x9 frame, 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. The feature is divided into various chapters, particularly looking at the Mayan culture and beliefs, as well as the movie's locations, costumes, makeup, and weapons. The feature appears to have been shot in high definition, and the quality of the content and presentation is excellent.

Deleted Scene (0:37) - Deer Scene

    This scene can be viewed with/out commentary by Gibson and Safinia. Strangely, the image quality of this deleted scene is awful, and resembles an emailed MPEG blown up on a big screen.

Audio Commentary

    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. Of particular interest, are their comments regarding the film's locations and actors, and the amazing high definition digital cinematography.

Movie Showcase

    Apocalypto is undoubtedly a demo disc, to show off all your fancy new high definition screens. To help you do this, three scenes from the film are provided that show off the incredible image that high definition can provide. They are the scenes of the crowd of people at the Mayan Pyramid, a scene amongst dense jungle foliage, and the aforementioned scene with the sweeping, overhead tracking shot, when Jaguar Paw stands at the top of the waterfall. The last is my favourite and will be played to any visitor to my home, who asks me if it's worth upgrading to high definition. It speaks for itself.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    Apocalypto has been released on Blu-ray in Region A (North America), and in terms of content our disc's are identical. Apocalypto has also been released on DVD, but will not be released on HD-DVD.

Summary

    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 simply the best I have seen in any format - DVD, HD-DVD, or Blu-ray.

The uncompressed surround audio is enveloping and of exceptional quality.

With the exception of the Movie Showcase, the extras are the same few that were provided with the DVD release. They are slim, but genuine and interesting.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Brandon Robert Vogt (warning: bio hazard)
Monday, June 25, 2007
Review Equipment
DVDSony Playstation 3 (HDMI 1.3) with Upscaling, using HDMI output
DisplayPanasonic 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 DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationSamsung Pure Digital 6.1 AV Receiver (HDMI 1.3)
SpeakersSamsung

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