Mel’s Black and White World: IN COLOR!, 9 December 2006
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA
Mel Gibson was most definitely “off the wagon” during the making of his insanely entertaining Mayan epic “Apocalypto.” Sometimes you need a slightly crazy director to make a truly engaging action film.
Mel Gibson lives in a black and white world where the lines between good and evil are as clear as night and day. Glossing over the finer points and historical accuracies that a more conscientious director may have reveled in, Gibson presents a simple story of one brave hunter from a small village trying to survive in a big bad world of decadent, superstitious, and villainous urban dwellers who have ravaged his home and carted him off for human sacrifice. His young pregnant wife and son are left behind in hiding and waiting his return lest they starve to death. Our hero is clearly the most athletic and handsome man in his village, his wife the most beautiful and attractive woman, and his son the cutest kid. It makes them immediately endearing to the audience. It’s simplistic and manipulative, but as it was in “Braveheart” routing for the pretty people is easy to do and we the audience love to do it. Gibson also does a nice job of setting up the characters showing his usual juvenile macho sense of humor in some male bonding scenes that involve the graphic killing of a tapir. The acting, all amateurs, is surprisingly good and a big plus for the film.
Of course, what people come to see is the barbarism and violence that has become the signature of a Gibson production. The film bleeds from head to toe with a tense, white-knuckle, visceral, gritty feel and gore that would make our modern grind-house directors green with envy. Gibson taps again into his obsession with the basest of human vices and the most primordial acts of an unforgiving natural world and dwells on it here in a way that can almost be described as beautiful. In addition to the prerequisite human sacrifice scenes (full of de-heartings and be-headings), there’s an absolutely fantastic jaguar attack to the face, a skull cracking and skin ripping battle to the death, a hornet attack, a human birth underwater, and the best snake bite staging I’ve seen in years. Combine that with fantastically paced foot chase scenes and a gritty earthy feel to the set designs, costumes, and makeup and you get a top notch period piece action adventure film.
Gibson only vaguely alludes to the greatness of the actual Mayan civilization. He does show rather accurately the building of their mythic temples and sprawling and complex urban buildings, though he focuses on the fact it was slave labor that was used. When we get a brief glimpse of the Catholic Spaniards landing ashore near the end of this gut-wrenching experience, it almost comes as a relief to know that this culture is about to come to a tragic end. Sure, it spawned a heroic man with a pretty family for us to route for, but for the most part Gibson shows the majority of Mayans as insane as he his. It’s a crazy mixed up world Gibson lives in, but when he taps into that primitive desire to see things in black and white with no moral ambiguity, it’s quite a colorful event to watch in awe, even if the brightest color he shows us is blood red.
Originally published on the Internet Movie Database