Apocalypto - Blu-ray
Mel Gibson may or may not have terminally damaged his impressive film career with his well-publicized antics last summer, but no one can accuse him of being a hack filmmaker. His box office draw as an actor may not be what it once was, but he does know how to direct a movie.
Apocalypto is Gibson's second straight effort that is not only spoken completely in a foreign language (Mayan here) with subtitles, but is also drenched in violence and blood. It's not for the squeamish, with four severed heads bouncing down pyramid steps, two hearts ripped out (thankfully they don't show the ripping part—or at least I don't think so, as I might have been diving for cover at that point!), numerous impalings, spear and arrow piercings, dead bodies, and bloody fights. Fortunately, you can see most of the violence coming and act accordingly. And if you compressed the violence together in one stretch, it would only take up perhaps 20 minutes of the film's 138 minute running time. Still, you may be put off by it (the movie carries a well-deserved R-rating) and that would be understandable.
But don't be put off by the foreign language and subtitles. They didn't distract me at all, and after the first 15 minutes I absorbed them almost subconsciously.
The bulk of the film is a gripping capture, escape, and chase story, taking place in the late Mayan period somewhere in the jungles of Central America just before the arrival of the Spaniards. It's a fascinating glimpse into a civilization most of us know nothing about. I've read speculation that Gibson is drawing an analogy here to current times and events, but if he is, it's pretty obscure. A reflection on man's inhumanity top man, perhaps, but that's hardly a new theme.
This Touchstone Blu-ray release is another in a string of exceptional high definition discs from the Disney organization. The video transfer is nearly top notch. Two weeks ago I would have said top notch, but that was before the recent releases of the Matrix Trilogy on HD DVD and the first two Pirates of the Caribbean films on Blu-ray raised the bar. This isn't quite in the same league.
But it's sharp and crisp throughout, even when you might wish that it wasn't (those bouncing heads!), vividly colorful (the jungle greens, in particular, are rich and natural; if they look over-ripe, look to your display as the culprit), and free of any obvious artifacts (there's a lot of running water, and I saw no macroblocking). The photography is unusual in that the film was shot on both high definition video (with Panavision Genesis HD cameras) and film (35mm and 16mm). Not knowing this beforehand, I noticed no obvious transitions, though a knowledgeable cinematographer probably would.
Both Dolby Digital and uncompressed 48MHz/24-bit PCM 5.1-channel soundtracks are provided. Even the Dolby Digital track I auditioned was potent and dynamic. There are, of course, no explosions, breaking glass, or other trappings of modern society here, but the jungle sounds and spare but superb music track (lots of deep, pounding drums!) more than make up for it. I had no clue that the score was composed by James Horner until the end credits. Apart from the pan-pipes (totally appropriate here, for a change) this is not a typical Horner score.
This is not an easy movie to watch, but it is a compelling one.
Film: 8.5 (out of 10)… Picture: 9.5… Audio: 9.0
(Reviewed on a JVC DLA-RS1 1080p projector and Stewart Studiotek 130, 78" wide, 16:9 screen, with a Pioneer BDP-HD1 Blu-ray player player, Denon AVR-4306 AV receiver, Revel B15 subwoofer, and Aperion 633-T L/R (newest version), 634-VAC center, and 632-LR (surround) speakers.