Sometimes the basic facts surrounding a movie can be off-putting. When Apocalypto came out in 2006, it had that stigma attached to it. I'm sure that I wasn't the only person who thought that Mel Gibson directing a foreign language film about the fall of the Mayan civilization was doomed to failure. I feel like I have said this a lot in the last few months, but the best thing about Apocalypto is the surprise element that comes with the fact the movie doesn't suck. Between the fairly exciting chase and action sequences and the absolutely stunning production design, Apocalypto is definitely better than I thought it would be.
Everybody in Central America seems to be living the good life. They eat tapir balls, laugh and joke and sexual inadequacies and generally have a rousing good time around the campfire. This until they get brutally attacked by some highly trained soldiers with rape on the mind. The ensuing journey leads into the decaying heart of the civilization and results in the worlds longest foot chase. There's also butts. Lots and lots of butts. The movie has brown butts, white butts, blue butts, muddy butts, young butts, old butts, angry butts and dead butts. The film is directed by everyone's favorite racist, Mel Gibson, and stars a bunch of obscure actors. The film managed quite a few Academy Award nominations, deservingly for sound and make-up, and was positively received by critics and the movie-going public. Apocalypto seems to be liked by everyone who finally sees it and looks to be on it's way to cult status.
What stands out more than anything about Apocalypto is the attention to detail. Every detail in the film is amazingly well done and the film is really beautiful to look at. This is slightly marred by the films digital filming, which gives the sequences and odd look if there is too much movement, but this is a minor spot on an otherwise astounding looking film. Aside from the stellar visuals, the thematic elements of the film are also solid. Gibson started out with a clear goal and he succeeds in telling his story and getting his themes across beautifully. All this is done while providing the audience with a really awesome action movie in the process. The chase through the jungle is just as exciting as anything in other modern action films and a testament to Gibson's skill as a director. Many people would struggle to create something exciting without at least having something explode. Here we have something as exciting and implausible as something Michael Bay might produce, but it all happens in the jungle. My one major complaint about the film is the strange subtitling choices. Somewhere in the production the idea for a modern translation of the dialog was decided on. I understand why the idea seemed like a good one, but seeing a phrase like "They're Fucked" in a movie set in the 1400 or 1500's just seems off. I don't expect old English, but I also don't expect them to be throwing the phrase "balls" around constantly.
Apocalypto is a movie that, unfortunately suffers from the stigma attached to it's director. Regardless of if you like Mel Gibson, this movie deserves a chance. It's beautifully made and a generally exciting way to spend two hours. I wouldn't quite call it a movie you must see, but it's certainly better than a lot of other films on the list. If you give the movie a genuine chance, it just might surprise you the same way it surprised me.