Just Push Play: DVD Review of ’Apocalypto’

Jorge’s take: 4 Stars

Mel Gibson can afford to be a true artist. Marketing forces don’t influence the kind of story he tells nor how he presents it. And whether you think he’s offensive, sadistic, or over-the-top, you must admire his talent for discovering stories others have overlooked.

In “Apocalypto,” Gibson risks making a movie that could get lost in a library basement along with archives of National Geographic.

The outcome is a beautiful work that could be the start of a modern movie genre. The actor-turned-filmmaker runs against Hollywood orthodoxy on at least three factors.

Gibson focused on a pre-Columbian civilization that most people might associate with a classroom lecture in anthropology or the Western conquest of America. Not the stuff of a Friday night at the mall theater.

He took his signature portrayal of violence that he’s been criticized for in the “Passion” and “Braveheart,” and stamped it across “Apocalypto.” No brutality is spared in this movie.

Worst of all, he makes viewers work a little by reading subtitles. Who wants to read when they want to wind down?

Only a good story line could outweigh these unfavorable circumstances.

Yet “Apocalypto” does more than tell a great story, educate us about the sophistication of Mayan culture, or remind us of how evil man can turn against his neighbor. This movie is a window into our humanity, or perhaps, our current state.

Is sophistication a mark of cultural progress or a threat to human dignity? The price, according to this movie, could be the extinction of civilizations.

Mike’s take: 3 and 1/2 Stars

I will go so far as to say that if it wasn’t for his controversial and very public tirades, Mel Gibson could be considered the most talented and relevant new director in Hollywood today. Well, not exactly new. Nearly 15 years ago, he received little fanfare for “The Man without a Face” and then went epic with “Braveheart.” He turned deadly serious in “The Passion of the Christ” and matured his own passions in the latest DVD release of “Apocalypto.”

Gibson knows a little something about the end of the world; having made his bones in film playing the post-apocalypse hero in the “Mad Max” series. But behind the camera, his vision is startling unique and shocking. The story is a Darwinian drama about a Mayan tribe struggling for survival. Gibson drops viewers right in the middle of the action, and you quickly become absorbed with these strange savages, and realize, hey, they’re not so different from me and you. So strong is the relationship Gibson builds with the tribe, that I found myself completely awe-inspired by the story; something I never appreciated from any National Geographic special.

The violence is cruel and unfiltered; just the way Mel likes it. Is he too extreme? No way. He has defended the authenticity of it all, and I believe him. I admire him as a director for his discipline and vision. After being mocked (“South Park” for example) and critiqued for the ultra-violent “Passion,” it would have been Spielbergian of him to tone it down. Yeah, I’m judging Spielberg. After “Raiders” was panned for being too scary (remember the brain feast, and the heart transplant?), Spielberg actually apologized for his dark vision and made the third Indy film to compensate. Mel offers no quarter and no apologies for his vision, and for that I applaud him.

If I had more time, I would have liked to have watched the film with Gibson’s running commentary throughout. The documentary extra was pretty insightful, but didn’t go into the accuracy of the language used in the film, or how they cast the Mayan tribe people. The feature does detail the weaponry, cinematography, settings and costumes, all of which collaborate into making this a visually-fascinating film.