Apocalypto, Blu-ray (2007)

by | May 25, 2007 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Apocalypto, Blu-ray (2007)

Directed by Mel Gibson
Studio: Icon/Touchstone Pictures 53644
Video: 1.85:1 enhanced for 16:9, 1080p HD
Audio: Mayan uncompressed 5.1 PCM; English Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish (English SDH on extras)
Extras: Commentary track by Gibson and writer/co-producer Farhad Safinia; Featurette – “Becoming Mayan: Making Apocalypto;” Deleted “deer” scene; Movie showcase
Length: 138 minutes
Rating: ****

Mel Gibson gets to deal with hand-to-hand battles scenes involving blue-painted warriors again, as he did in Braveheart, but this time we are in an entirely different world – The New World.  It is the beginning of the 16th century and the Mayan culture – in some ways very advanced and in others grossly savage and cruel – is at a nadir of decadence. It is a recommendation for the extras with DVDs that when I saw Apocalypto at the theater I had thought the marauding warriors were Aztecs subjugating the milder Mayas as the Romans had the Greeks. Was I wrong! I learned from the excellent HD featurette that they were all Mayans; it was just a case of the ostentatious rulers of the Mayan capitol raiding the countryside to secure men for human sacrifices to their gods.

Young Jaguar Paw is the main protagonist, living with his father the chief and his pregnant wife and small son in the quiet little jungle settlement.  The sylvan scene is shockingly shattered by the attack of the warriors seeking recruits for their sacrifices. The rest of the film is really an enlarged chase movie as Jaguar Paw and others are marched to the capitol, the sacrifices are halted just before his death, and he escapes a seemingly-impossible opportunity to run away under a rain of arrows, spears and rocks. His pursuit by the scary leader of the posse continues all the way back to his settlement where his wife and son have been left in a pit during the initial attack.  But Jaguar Paw’s love of his family and revenge for the killing of his father give him strength to fight to save  his way of life. The penultimate scene is a masterpiece of historic confrontation which I will leave to the reader to discover, along with the many other shocks and surprises of this high-adrenaline film.

Yes, being Mel Gibson you know it’s got to be gory and bloody, and it is, but though verging on exploitation I think the subject is so appropriate and the cinematography so excellent that it works perfectly. This is definitely a film for which hi-def was designed: One sees every detail of the vegetation in the jungle, and the hundreds of differently-costumed people in the crowd scenes around the sacrificial pyramids. The transfer appears to have no artifacts at all. The production used over 700 extras, and each one had to have their unique body paint and faux-jade ornaments put on each morning before shooting because it was never known which specific actors Gibson wanted closeups of. The huge pyramid sets are compared in the featurette to the type of construction De Mille had done, and which has seldom been attempted by moviemakers since.  In addition to the extreme clarity of visual details, the uncompressed 48K PCM surround puts the viewer in the most realistic jungle ambience, and startles with exploding sounds such as a tapir running by for its life, or the roar of an immense waterfall. If you don’t have a subwoofer you’ll miss a good part of the impact of Apocalypto. And did you notice in the heading?: The entire thing is in Mayan with subtitles! That must be a first.

 – John Sunier