It hurts me to put more cash in the pocket of Mel Gibson – that mad, bilious, drink-addled anti Semite – but Apocalypto is really worth seeing. Not for the violence (which is crushing) nor for the storyline (which is anachronistically middle class) but for the sumptuous, rich, remarkable and utterly alien world of the declining Mayan civilisation. It’s like watching the patrons of the Mos Eisley Cantina invite their mates to a street party; breathtaking.
The plot is simple; bad guys attack nice guys in idyllic rural setting. Hero hides wife and child but is enslaved and taken to decaying capital. Human Sacrifices! Hero escapes and is chased home through the jungle. However, the fact that this pared-down tale is spun with such riotously vivid and thought-provoking imagery – and in Yucatec Mayan language no less – is what makes this production so remarkable. Yes, there were the usual complaints of gross historical innaccuracies and accusations of racism. Even the offer of salvation through Catholicism slips in at the end – though of course in my personal interpretation, the arrival of the Spanish priests is an immense “oh shit” moment when you know that how ever bad things have been for Jaguar Paw and his family, they are about to get much much much worse.
Gibson filmed Apocalypto mainly in Catemaco, San Andrés Tuxtla and Paso de Ovejas in the Mexican state of Veracruz with a cast of mostly non-professional local and native American actors and extras. The waterfall scene was filmed at Salto de Eyipantla near San Andrés Tuxtla. Apparently the DVD (we saw it on pvr) includes a 25 minute documentary entitled “Becoming Mayan: Creating Apocalypto” which interviews the Mad Nazi and his co-writer Farhad Safinia about these Mexican locations and on the challenges of building the Mayan city. Other members of the creative team talk about recreating the Mayans through costumes and make-up and weapons consultant Simon Atherton discusses Mayan weaponry.