There’s this very bright older guy who teaches a film course at a major university, and a somewhat younger man who works with him — call him College Guy — saw Mel Gibson‘s Apocaylpto recently, and he shared his views a couple of days ago. College Guy is bright and knowledgable so I figured it couldn’t hurt to add his view to the mix. The pic opens in three weeks. Gibson and his homies will have to show it to guys like me sooner or later.
“In many technical ways, Apocalypto is as ambitious as The Passion of the Christ. But in the gut-level storytelling ways that really matter, it comes up short all over the place. It’s a by-the-numbers chase film with minimal characterization and just enough Mayan flavoring to justify the film’s impressive atmosphere. The main problem with Apocalypto, I think, is that it doesn’t quite know what it’s about.
“The themes of apocalypse and social disintegration that one might expect from this film after seeing the trailers, for example, are little more than a footnote in the film’s overall structure. Yes, there’s a solar eclipse. Yes, there’s a little girl who, at the film’s one-hour mark, makes cryptic prognostications about the fate of the hero. Or humanity. Or something.
“95% of this film is about a man named Jaguar Paw running and fighting. But Apocalypto is an action film without a truly active hero. In fact, it isn’t until about 20 minutes into the film that you begin to realize Jaguar Paw is the hero of the film — a signal that these characters are more or less interchangable. One thing for sure: Jaguar Paw is a very good runner.
“From what I understand from his interviews and website for the film, Gibson has attempted to draw parallels between the brutality of the Mayans and the senseless violence surrounding the Iraq war. Mel’s discussions of
this film, however, are far more interesting, and far more nuanced than the film itself. I suspect that during the writing and production of Apocalypto, no one dared to challenge Mel’s belief that his film is indeed about more than a violent foot chase through the jungle.
“To be fair, the version of Apocalypto that I saw had a bare-bones temp musical score and unfinished visual effects (although I barely noticed deficiencies in the latter). But neither of these factors had any bearing on the narrative itself, which is fairly flat throughout, and will likely remain that way when the film opens in a few weeks.
“I find Edward James Olmos‘s observations confusing — there’s not much to grab on here that would generally make a film memorable: no larger message with which to pepper a press kit without straining, no hero that fuels the story in an active or truly defiant way, no antagonist that operates above and beyond the expected physical violence that Gibson injects into all of his films.
“I suspect this film will open as a curiosity and register as a big disappointment. Framing an action chase film in Mayan civilization is a compelling idea, but there’s not enough of an attempt to take advantage of the environment in which the film is set. Gibson and his team seem to want to frame this film as some kind of immersive, historical thinkpiece, but unfortunately there’s barely a whiff of that in the finished product.
“Plus there’s the expected fissure between action-movie buffs and, you know, people who actually read subtitles. This film will likely leave both camps more than a little blue-balled.”