Mel Gibson has to be applauded for not bowing to 'Hollywood' pressure to dub this movie in English. Certainly the success of The Passion of the Christ would have demonstrated that movie goers don't need to have English dialogue to turn out to cinemas in big numbers, and the worldwide box office take of $US120 million for Apocalypto was triple the films production budget.
At its core Apocalypto is a survival movie. Following a wonderful build-up to tribal life, then the terrible overrunning and destruction of that idyllic lifestyle the movie breaks into two main phases, being captured and transported to the city, and then trying to escape from that city and returning home while being pursued through the jungles. There really are some glorious scenes including one at a waterfall which is not only reference quality on Blu-Ray but a thrilling moment with some astounding cinematography with the camera tracking over the (real) waterfall.
The actors in this movie also deserve praise. There are virtually no known actors here, with many never having been on a film set, and most not actually speaking any English at all. Most of the actors have come from Mexican or American Indian heritage, and each looks original enough, especially when the makeup was applied, and costumes worn. Many of the sets were physically built, including those in the city which adds authenticity to the production (why the hell couldn't Steven Spielberg do that for Indiana Jones 4!).
I must mention that while the movie is rated MA15+ here in Australia I didn't find it as gory as The Passion of the Christ, or even Braveheart for that matter. That's not saying there isn't blood and gore (there are some decapitations, although you never see the actual cutting), but there's not as much as I expected.
While I never saw this movie at the cinemas this Blu-Ray version was certainly an eye-opener and a great experience. There are plenty of thrills in this movie, and Mel Gibson has proven, yet again, that he can certainly direct a good action movie, but it's also a movie which non-action fans will also enjoy with a bit of romance and comedy thrown in for good measure.
Being shot on digital cameras this transfer has been taken directly from a digital source meaning there are no film artifacts present. Shadow detail (with many scenes in dark or poorly lit areas) remains impressive. The only complaint we do have to level at the picture is the appearance of grain in some sequences, possibly due to some scenes being filmed on 35mm film. I don't have anything against film grain, but when those scenes stand out from the rest of the picture it becomes noticeable.
As we have previously mentioned there is no English soundtrack in this disc with the dialogue spoken in Mayan. There are two audio formats available Linear PCM at 6.9Mbps, and Dolby Digital 5.1 at 640kbps. Both options will provide a brilliant audio experience with the PCM track offering slightly improved fidelity. Surround sound channels are used frequently throughout the movie and dialogue is clear (although, obviously not in English).
Certainly deserving attention is the wonderful music score from James Horner (Titanic, A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13, Braveheart, Aliens). Not only has he used traditional musical instruments, but also more obscure instruments which offer a unique sound.
Subtitles (which will be required unless you happen to speak Mayan!) are provided in English, English for the Hearing Impaired, French and Spanish. If you're really keen you can turn the subtitles off! Importantly the text is clear and easy to read with only a handful of occasions where it blended into the background for a few moments.
Audio Commentary by Writer/Director/Producer Mel Gibson and Writer/Co-Producer Farhad Safina: Mel Gibson has always been a very lively character and this comes across in this entertaining commentary. There are plenty of stories told about the production of this movie, and quite a few amusing moments along the way. Indeed the commentary does cover some topics such as scenes which were a bit longer, and we assume more brutal - one example being the scene where the woman has her baby snatched away in the village. There was more there, but it was probably deemed to violent/impactful.
Becoming Mayan: Creating Apocalypto (25:13/HD): Besides the commentary this is other extra worth spending some time looking at as it covers major topics such as shooting on location, costumes, makeup and weapons. While a lot briefer then we hoped for this remains an interesting featurette which is presented in High Definition using the VC-1 codec (but only Dolby Digital 2 channel 192kbps audio).
Movie Showcase (3:36/HD): Three scenes (Temple, Jungle, Waterfall) are showcased as examples of High Definition at its finest. I guess it saves you skipping through the movie...
Review By: Dave Warner