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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > History > Action > Ancient Civilization > Apocalypto (Blu-ray + DVD-Video) + Lost King Of The Maya (WGBH DVD-Video set)

Apocalypto (Blu-ray + DVD-Video) + Lost King Of The Maya (WGBH DVD-Video set)


Picture: B+/B-/C+     Sound: B+/B/C+     Extras: C+/C-     Film: B-     Episodes: B-



Mel Gibson is a good filmmaker, no matter what the controversy, producing as many interesting films as he directs or stars in.  One theme that has been developing in films he is involved with is about the struggle of men against men, with an emphasis on raw masculinity and its limits.  Apocalypto (2006) continues that exploration and is actually more successful that the problematic Braveheart in this respect.


Not that many would agree with that, but you can start with our other critic’s original theatrical review of the film with details about the film’s storyline and why he did not think it worked like it could have:





Now I concur with much of what was said there, yet I still enjoyed the film overall a bit more.  For one thing, I liked its pacing more and thought it tried to take us somewhere we had not been before.  Yes, some things were things we had seen, but Gibson made the film unflinchingly and it has some good punch to it.  Though it is in a foreign language, the story is also told by visual means.  In effect, it creates its own unique world out in the middle of nowhere and asks us to think as the action moves forward.


Rudy Youngblood is compelling as Jaguar Paw, the lead Mayan who watches his world and his new family suffers from the invasion of a more advanced tribe.  Though it is not the best film of last year, it is one of the better and more ambitious ones and if you have not seen it, I recommend giving it a shot.


Before I get into the politics of the film, which are very interesting, there are the versions issued we looked at.  The film was mostly shot in digital High Definition with some 35mm and even Super 16mm footage shot, looking surprisingly good in 35mm prints.  The ever amazing Dean Semler, A.S.C., A.C.S., delivers once again.  Though there is detail phasing resulting in lost focus when objects move as the camera moves or people move, it is not as much a problem in the 35mm print I saw or in the 1080p 1.85 X 1 digital High Definition version on Blu-ray.  Unfortunately, the DVD-Video suffers more than the 35mm version from this and the 480 lines of the DVD cannot seem to capture this properly for whatever reasons.  As for the HD, it is one of the few good such shoots to date and the makers have said lighting the outdoors would not have been as financially feasible on location with film.


I would have liked to see more of it filmed, but Semler makes it work and it is very good overall, especially in Blu-ray.


The sound mix is also very good on this film and the DTS on the DVD is preferable to the Dolby Digital 5.1, while the Blu-ray goes one better by offering only Mayan 5.1 48 kHz/24Bit PCM sound.  James Horner delivers one of his better scores of late and the result is a mix with much character.  Both version sound good, but the PCM is especially impressive.


Extras are the same on both discs, including deleted scenes with optional audio commentary by Gibson and writer/co-producer Farhad Safinia, who also offer a feature length audio commentary track, plus there is “Becoming Mayan, Making Apocalypto” which all offer much information that enhance the final film.  The deleted scenes have their moments, but I think I like the final cut as it stands.


So then there is the controversy about if Gibson made the Mayans look bad.  The criticism was that he was stereotyping them and making them just “look like a bunch of bloodthirsty murders” or something to that effect.  Since everyone here was Mayan and not from the same tribe, it seemed to me that within the narrative, it was not making some grand racial or racist statement and that misses the point of the film.


As it turns out, Gibson was more detailed and careful than anyone seems to have given he and Safinia credit for.  As I thought I had recalled correctly, it turns out even native Mayans and archeologists do not know everything about the past and history of this great and remarkably advanced ancient civilization.  Furthermore, any item one might consider “barbaric’ is often sincerely from ancient beliefs and rituals not just unique in conduct to The Mayans.  Enter WGBH Boston Video with their DVD release set to coincide with release of Gibson’s film on video.


The Lost King Of The Maya (2001) is fine installment of the NOVA series about how an archeological dig led to priceless information about the life, rule and death of King Yax K’uk Mo, who was not the most sane ruler and played a murderous variant of soccer that used human heads; those of the loser.  The stories of this were dismissed until the facts were discovered and artifacts translated.  We learn of the Blood Lords of the Mayan city of Copan and their 400-year reign of at least semi-terror.  That proves that anyone objecting to Gibson’s portrayal of similar activities is ignoring history.


Then from the Odyssey series comes the bonus show Maya Lords Of The Jungle (1981) that asks the other question; why did this civilization eventually collapse?  An older program than the NOVA installment, it digs (figuratively and literally) into the tale about why the collapse happened.  Both ask the question and Gibson at least tries to say it was about lack of family, progressive government and (implied?) no religious faith that preserved life properly.  The film also says that it takes survival of the fittest, individual or civilization to survive.   All in all, see the film and after its extras, strongly consider checking out the WGBH set.


Both WGBH DVDs are 1.33 X 1, a little soft and run about an hour each, have Dolby Digital 2.0 sound that is lite stereo at best and The Lost King Of The Maya also offers a single extra (both have weblinks, if that counts) of DVD-ROM printable educational materials, which might as well apply to the Gibson film to boot.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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