Saturday, February 3, 2007

Rudy Youngblood, Dalia Hernandez

"When the end comes, not everyone is ready to go."

Cinema 1, Shang Cineplex

Jaguar Paw

Just when you thought Mel Gibson couldn't get crazier, he comes up with an intensely gripping film about an extinct civilization filmed in an ancient dialect with an ensemble of unknown actors. And guess what? I believe this film is his most brilliant masterpiece, to date.

Apocalypto is the story of a young Mayan Indian named Jaguar Paw whose village is ravaged by a rival tribe. He, along with some men and women are then taken captive and go on an arduous journey towards the center of the Mayan kingdom. There, the rulers believe that to appease the Gods, they must build temples and offer the captives as human sacrifices. Jaguar Paw manages to escape and flees back to rescue his family while being pursued relentlessly by his fierce captors.

From the moment Jaguar Paw is captured up to the time the end credits roll by, every sequence is fast paced, fraught with dramatic and sometimes violent scenes with an overwhelming sense of excitement enough to make your blood pressure rise. An intense gripping tale of one man's desperate attempt to stay alive.

The setting is surreptitiously authentic. Everything you would imagine an ancient city would resemble, it is like walking back in time. From the rustic villages, the attires of the cast, the weapons of the warriors to the chaotic ambiance of the Mayan kingdom (a place of pestilence and debauchery) and the elaborately majestic sacrificial ceremonies. Mel Gibson obviously did his homework by researching extensively.

Despite being maligned for using Aramaic as the main language in "The Passion of the Christ", Mel Gibson does it again. This time the characters speak in an ancient Yucatan dialect with English subtitles, which in my opinion is a good thing since there is nothing more irritating than to hear an actor speak in English with an accent one can't comprehend. I have no qualms about reading subtitles, besides the dialogue in this film is minimal so it doesn't matter which language they speak. Although I sort of chuckled when one of the warriors used the *F* word, probably Gibson's way of diffusing the tension of the chase.

Using first time actors helped elevate the plot. There was no pretty faced Hollywood star to distract you from being drawn into the storyline. But it doesn't mean that they couldn't act, because the ensemble cast all did a good job in portraying interesting characters with fascinating names like Curl Nose, Sky Flower and Hanging Moss. Rudy Youngblood as Jaguar Paw did bear an uncunning resemblance to Alessandro Nesta except with longer hair. In case you aren't into soccer, he is an Italian Serie A player.

I am a fan of the cinematography aspect of a film more than anything else. Shots from awkward angles, expansive frames of a vast backdrop to close range camera work all make a film worth seeing twice even thrice, just so you can notice those small intricate details. Mel Gibson has a very good eye when it comes to positioning his camera to capture stunning imagery, well in this movie anyway. A view from the top of the trees like when Jaguar Paw looks up at the sky to implore the Gods not to make it rain. The wide shot of the ragingly turbulent waterfall. Or close range scenes like the shot where Jaguar Paw's dripping blood falls unto a leaf then drops upon the back of one of the warriors. The way the last scene (on the black sand shore line) was disclosed gave me goosebumps. It is worth seeing it all unfold on a wide screen where your eyes are treated to a visual feast.

Mel Gibson is probably the second most maligned person in Hollywood (after Tom Cruise) after making some anti-Semitic remarks but you have to hand it to him for being brave enough to come up with a brilliantly provocative tale of survival amidst all odds. Perhaps at some time in his own life, he probably felt like Jaguar Paw battling against the bad publicity over his controversial statements. A case of art imitating life. huh?

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