Movies to See Before the World Ends: Apocalypto

The Mayans, the wise race of ancients who created hot cocoa, set December 21st, 2012 as the end date of their Calendar, which the intelligent and logical amongst us know signifies the day the world will end, presumably at 12:21:12am, Mountain Time. From now until zero date, we will explore the 50 films you need to watch before the entire world perishes. We don’t have much time, so be content, be prepared, be entertained.

The Film: Apocalypto (2006)

The Plot: In the early 1500s, a family group of Native Americans live a happy life in the rainforest jungle. Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood) is becoming a strong hunter under the guidance of his father Flint Sky (Morris Birdyellowhead). However, Jaguar Paw’s nightmares tell of a change that is coming. A group of bloodthirsty warriors attack the village, killing many and enslaving the rest. The warriors bring the victims with them a massive Mayan city, and the women are sold while the men are taken to the top of a pyramid for human sacrifice. Jaguar Paw tries to survive and eventually get home to his pregnant wife and child whom he left in an underground cave.

The Review: After Mel Gibson defied convention and led his film The Passion of the Christ to box office success, he set his sights on Apocalypto. Like The Passion of the Christ, in which the actors spoke Aramaic, Latin, and Hebrew, Apocalypto featured a foreign language track of ancient Mayan dialects. Also, like The Passion of the Christ, Apocalypto is an intensely violent and bloody movie that more than earns it’s R rating.

Gibson has spent as much time in the news this past decade for his angry and often bigoted rants as he has for any work he’s doing in film. In many ways, these circumstances of his later life have overshadowed an otherwise powerful and impressive career. Not to excuse his behavior, but if you refuse to watch a film because the director is an asshole, you won’t be watching very many films. Hollywood is full of assholes, and some of them make pretty awesome movies.

With Apocalypto coming out on the heels of The Passion of the Christ, it had a lot to live up to. It didn’t completely live up to that, simply because it was unlikely anything would top that film’s $370m domestic take or its staggering $611m worldwide gross. Plus, there was no organized effort by any religious groups to see Apocalypto, as was the quite obvious case for The Passion of the Christ. The $121m worldwide gross of Apocalypto is strong, especially for an American film without a lick of English in it, but it was still seen as soft in comparison to its predecessor.

In this respect, Apocalypto is a more interesting film to watch now, six years later. I felt less expectation and more curiosity. Apocalypto only had to overcome my memory rather than top one of the top grosses of all time.

The most fascinating aspect of this film is how it shifts focus periodically. It starts off as a pretty straightforward historical drama, but soon it turns into an “it can happen” type of horror movie, much like we’ve seen with The Last House on the Left. The horror elements are balanced with action elements, which are amazingly composed.

Say what you will about his personal beliefs, but Gibson is a strong director with a powerful eye. This film looks gorgeous, and it’s certainly committed. Like The Passion of the Christ, the use of archaic language immerses the viewer more than seeing ancient Mayans speak common English. It was cool cinematic experiment that never caught on outside of Gibson’s own filmography, but it’s pretty neat to watch nonetheless. Plus, the journey from the jungle to the Mayan city is a fascinating exercise in contrast and excess.

Ultimately, Apocalypto is a visceral and powerful revenge film comparable to high end movies like Kill Bill and low-end video nasties as well. It is surprisingly engrossing, and also terrifying in many way.

But why spend 138 minutes watching this film when you only have 322,379 minutes left to live?

For all of the talk about the Mayan calendar predicting the end of the world, few people are actually talking about the Mayans themselves. Not that Apocalypto is a substitute for a college degree in Mesoamerican history, but it will help you get in the spirit of the coming destruction that will surely rain down on us in December. On the other hand, when the characters reach the Mayan city, you get a look at a culture gone mad, living in ancient excess. It might just relax you a bit and slow down the December 21, 2012 panic because you might realize that while their society was crumbling beneath them, they were enslaving people, engaging in human sacrifice and misinterpreting the meaning of an eclipse. Do we really want to believe predictions made by a society that imploded in on itself like this? I guess we’ll find out in about six months.

Apocalypse Soon movies also come in English

Kevin Carr crawled from the primordial ooze in the early 1970s. He grew up watching movies to the point of irritation for his friends and was a font of useless movie knowledge until he decided to put that knowledge to good use. Now, Kevin is a nationally syndicated critic, heard on dozens of radio stations around the country, and his reviews appear in a variety of online outlets. Kevin is also a proud member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), and the Central Ohio Film Critics Association (COFCA).

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