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Mel Gibson's ‘Apocalypto' Fresh and Ferocious
December 4, 2006

By James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
contributor to

Much like "Apocalypto's" jaguar image, in his latest movie Mel Gibson confirms that he is an untamed, feral, and fiery filmmaker.

In contrast to so many successful folks in Hollywood who seem self-obsessed, Gibson's primary obsession still remains his art.

As in his previous film, "The Passion of the Christ," Gibson has put his own money where his mouth is and financed the latest production.

Prior to the script having been penned, I had the privilege of hearing the framework of "Apocalypto" straight from the filmmaker's mouth. Scene by scene Gibson enthusiastically narrated the "Apocalypto" story to me as if his artistic inspiration came to him in holistic-like Mozart fashion.

Embodied throughout the film is the characteristic element of surprise, not singly because of the majestic Mayan vistas but because of the movie's high-intensity organic action.

In a seeming return to his roots, Gibson recaptures some of the same qualities manifest in his early career, a la "Mad Max" and "The Road Warrior." Interestingly, Dean Semler who also lent his creative cinematography juices to "The Road Warrior," does the same in "Apocalypto," this time with Panavision's new high-definition Genesis camera system. Semler generates stunning visual imagery that combines the precision of the new technology with the warmth of analog film.

Like the "Mad Max" series, at its heart "Apocalypto" is a quintessential chase movie. It has the same brisk–paced, popcorn chomping action as Gibson's early films but provides a unique setting while still accomplishing the incorporation of universal themes.

As characters move at breakneck tempo through ancient Mayan scenery, one barely notices that the dialogue is in the Yucatec Maya language with accompanying English subtitles.

Co-penned by Farhad Safinia, the tale revolves around a peaceful rural tribe, which is brutally attacked by a slave-owning, human-sacrificing, urban tribe.

The central character, Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood), manages to hide his pregnant wife and young son from vicious assailants by lowering them into a deep hole. The movie becomes a breathtaking race through the forest, with scene-stealing villains Zero Wolf (Raoul Trujillo) and his sadistic sidekick Snake Ink (Rodolfo Palacios) in frenzied pursuit of Jaguar Paw.

Gibson seamlessly weaves into the movie a number of thought-provoking themes that are pertinent to our present times; i.e., respect, or the lack thereof, for human life, transcendent nature of familial love and supernatural providence.

Nevertheless, the film is rated "R," which is wholly appropriate. "Apocalypto" should not be considered family fare. A cautionary note: There are scenes in which beating hearts are removed, heads are severed, and women and children are murdered.

However, for adults and mature teens, "Apocalypto" is an innovative, absorbing and exciting multi-sensory cinematic experience.

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Copyright © 2006
James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
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