Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Apocalypto Too Bloody for Its Own Good

If you admire predictability and grotesque cinematic violence, then dust off your movie watchin' boots and reserve your tickets to Apocalypto today!

Otherwise... stay home. I certainly wish I had.

It's not so much that everything about this movie was bad — I certainly appreciated the acting, for one — but that it contained nearly every contrived writing device known to man. Even the foreshadowing leaves a lot to be desired, with the not-so-subtle premonitions of a small-poxed Mayan girl foretelling the movie's conclusion with tones reminiscent of a Shakespearean witch.

And if you, like me, aren't wholly aware of what this movie is about, allow me to summarize: we all know the Mayans were among the most advanced civilizations in the so-called "New World" before the Europeans came along and slaughtered the masses with their religion, weapons, and plagues. Well, this movie isn't so much about that literal collapse as it is the decline and fall of the Mayan empire on the eve of the white man's en masse arrival (I'm not certain of the intended year, but I'd position this film sometime within the first decade of the 16th century). Or, more specifically, it depicts the differences between the metropolitan centers... and those clans living on the periphery.

Suffice it to say this contrast is a bloody one and — from what I read in a Newsweek commentary last week — not entirely accurate, either. But here's where I admit my limitations in regards to South American history, thereby reserving my judgement for the portrayal of said violence (rather than quibbling over details).

It's only now — after having seen Mel Gibson's Passion and then this newest bloodbourne history-as-horror film — that I'm starting to rethink my impression of Braveheart — a film I had previously enjoyed. But I'm starting to think Gibson has become obsessed not only with sacrifice (personal, spiritual and physical), but also with graphically portraying the violence therein.

Do I need to see a human heart torn from the chest of a living man, his body writhing in agony as it comes to terms with imminent death? OK, maybe once to get the point.

But not twice. And certainly not three times. Or four.

And whereas the most brutal scenes in Braveheart and Passion both occur in one lump sum at the end (that drags increasingly on in the latter), the gore in Apocalypto begins in the opening scene — and continues on to the end, with only a few brief moments of sunshine.

It's not just the violence that got to me. Admittedly, I don't care much for gore in films, but I do appreciate it more when it's well-used in parts to further a compelling story-line (my previous impression of Braveheart). But Apocalypto is just so... predictable. And not in the we-all-know-the-end-of-this-story way that Passion was. Rather, Apocalypto is replete with the breed of symbolism that you'd want in a story you'd assign to a ninth grade literature class. You know, the sort of symbolism that's so obvious, it just stops short of punching you in the face?

That's what happens for much of this film, with the end literally connecting in a 1-2 punch that left me snorting in my seat.

So how can I even sit here and say it's not all bad? Well, as I said before... the acting was good, and it's easy to empathize with the main characters. And there is a decent enough story at this film's core. But the execution thereof was, well...

A little too bloody... and anything but brilliant.


michele said...

One of the things that struck me about Braveheart was the extended battle scene. But I like Braveheart so I'm wondering if I really want to see Apocalypto if it's going to sour me on his other movies... I'd rather continue to enjoy it instead of seeing it for what it is.

Winter said...

I was told I shouldn't see it, but I can't help but like Mel..

thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy said...

Well, I just heard that the lead movie critic on NPR just named Flags of our Fathers number five on this "TOP TEN FILMS OF 2006" list. And I didn't care for that movie, either.

So I could be wrong about Apocalypto. Or it may simply suit some personalities better than others. I dunno. I didn't care for it. But it does have a "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes... though only by a slim margin.

James Burnett said...

Hmmm. I think you just saved me from a Christmas Day embarassment. My mom-in-law is on her way to Miami for the holidays. And she told my wife and I we should all go see a movie Christmas Day afternoon, and she suggested I pick the film 'cause I usually keep myself up to date on the previews, critiques, etc. But I hadn't read anything about Apocalypto. And seriously, I was considering it (in spite of my distaste for Gibson personally). But if it's that violent, I think I'll stick to Pursuit of Happyness or something like that.