Clearly at the point of his career where he does what he wants, Mel Gibson follows up "The Passion of the Christ" with "Apocalypto", an action-adventure film that takes place towards the end of the Mayan empire. The film focuses on Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood), a young man living in a Mayan tribe with his pregnant wife, Seven (Dalia Hernandez) and child. In the opening scenes, the men of the tribe go on the hunt, joking with one another as they prepare the meat.
After a period of calm as the camera watches over the tribe, a nightmare descends, as a savage tribe sneaks into the village early in the morning, laying waste to the village in a horrific scene. Jaguar Paw manages to sneak his wife and child out of the area and into a nearby pit where they'll be safe. However, when he heads back to the village to try and help save the others, he's captured and taken away with the rest of the survivors, who will be sacrificed or sold as slaves.
As the group marches, Jaguar Paw looks for any way he can to try and escape from the group to go back to save his wife and child, who have been lowered into the pit for safety and are now unable to climb out on their own. Once he does manage to escape, he's not free and clear: it's a persuit through the jungle to try and evade the hunters who had captured him in the first place.
I didn't quite know what to expect of the movie, but the film itself is really more of a straightforward adventure film than I'd expected. The picture's stunning cinematography (shot with Panavision Genesis HD Cameras in some scenes, as well as some 35mm and 16mm) by Dean Semler does an amazing job capturing both the incredibly tense action sequences and the magnificent scenery. While I'm certainly no expert on Mayan history, the sets are also quite astonishing in their detail and certainly appear as if they're accurate. Youngblood carries the film quite well, with a terrific performance as a man determined to do whatever it takes to save his wife and child. The supporting efforts are excellent, but one small effort is also worth noting: a young, sick girl who the captured tribe passes by who predicts what will happen is about the most genuinely spooky child actor (and this girl isn't even a professional actor) I think I've ever seen.
"Apocalypto"'s story is pretty simple and familiar at its core, but Gibson manages to take it and make an incredibly fast (over 2 hours feels like half that), intense and occasionally moving period adventure picture that I found very involving throughout.
VIDEO: "Apocalypto" is offered in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen by Touchstone Home Entertainment. The presentation is a stunner, as the image remained consistently sharp and detailed throughout, with small object detail often quite impressive. No instances of edge enhancement, print flaws or artifacting were spotted on this impressively crisp and clean presentation. Colors looked beautiful, as the rich greens and other colors of the lush jungle appeared bold and well-saturated throughout the show. This was a gorgeous transfer that looked vivid and striking at all times.
SOUND: The film is offered here in Dolby Digital 5.1 or DTS 5.1. The audio is in Mayan, with English subtitles. The presentation certainly puts the surrounds to excellent use, with the rear speakers pumping out a great deal of jungle ambience, as well as some sound effects during the intense action scenes. James Horner's score sounds rich and bassy throughout and sound effects certainly have a deep, low-end punch. While I don't understand Mayan, the dialogue certainly seemed clear and well-recorded.
"Becoming Mayan: Creating 'Apocalypto'" is a 26-minute documentary that offers a solid behind-the-scenes look at the production, from creating the sets to costume work to weapons to filming some of the larger sequences. I was impressed, as I thought some of the larger sets and scenes were created using CGI, but what I thought was CGI was actually quite real and built for the film. Overall, this provided an enjoyable overview of the production.
Finally, we get a very brief deleted scene with commentary.
Final Thoughts: "Apocalypto" is an incredibly fast (over 2 hours feels like half that), intense and occasionally moving period adventure picture that I found very involving throughout. Despite having a cast of almost entirely non-professional actors, Gibson manages to get some very memorable performances. The DVD presentation offers stunning video quality, excellent audio and a couple of great extras.