By Shawn McKenzie 12/14/2006
Sometime in the 16th century in Mesoamerica, a Mayan villager named Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood) goes hunting for a tapir (a wild boar) with his dad Flint Sky (Morris Birdyellowhead) and other villagers. One of the hunters who is included in this hunting party is Blunted (Jonathan Brewer)…a big guy who has had a hard time impregnating his wife Sky Flower (Iazua Larios)…much to the discern of his mother-in-law (María Isabel Díaz.) This has led to him being the target for a series of practical jokes (poor guy…though I admit that some of them were kind of funny.) While they trick Blunted into eating the tapir’s testicles, another tribe requests passage through their hunting grounds. It seems that they’re the survivors of an attack of a band of Holcane Warriors who raped and killed many of them in their village. Despite Flint Sky’s warning not to let fear rule his head, Jaguar Paw can’t help but have visions of a nightmarish attack. Unfortunately, the premonition comes true, as those Holcane Warriors, led by Zero Wolf (Raoul Trujillo) and his murderous lieutenant Snake Ink (Rodolfo Palacios), attack their village. Jaguar Paw is able to save his pregnant wife Seven (Dalia Hernandez) and their young son Turtles Run (Carlos Emilio Baez) by hiding them in a deep well, but Snake Ink kills Flint Sky in front of him, while Zero Wolf captures him for the purpose of being a human sacrifice. Jaguar Paw and the other human sacrifices are covered in blue paint and are taken to a Mayan city, where they await a brutal ritual by a High Priest (Fernando Hernandez)…who has their hearts removed, decapitates them, and has their headless bodies thrown down the front steps of a pyramid. Along the way, an Oracle Girl (Maria Isidra Hoil) inflicted with smallpox warns the warriors of the darkness of the sun in the day and the man who runs with jaguars. Jaguar Paw is just about to be one of the sacrifices, when an eclipse happens (“the darkness of the sun in the day”), and they decide to do their version of The Most Dangerous Game by allowing him to get a head start before they come after him to kill him. Jaguar Paw spends the rest of the movie trying to evade the warriors while trying to get back to his wife and child.
It seems like a little controversy can either help or harm a celebrity. For some odd reason, in the latter half of 2006, it seems to have helped a few of them. Mel Gibson is one celebrity who has apparently helped his movie Apocalypto with his controversy.
Over the weekend, the movie topped the box office with $15 million. That feat could be head-scratched at…because it had so many things going against it. First…there was Gibson’s DUI bust/anti-Semite rant last July. Some moviegoers may have been turned off by that fact…resulting in not even giving the movie a peek. Even if he hadn’t gotten in that PR boo-boo, there were other factors that could have hampered the box office results. It is barely skating in the “Fresh” side of the Tomatometer (it is getting a 65% Fresh rating as of this writing…and the lowest rating a movie can get to be considered Fresh is 60%.) Also, there are no known stars. Since the movie has now become a hit, I believe that Youngblood may land on the celebrity map soon, but it will probably be with his first English language movie that he will become a household name. Speaking of the English language…people may have not wanted to watch a movie in subtitles for two hours and 19 minutes (the length is another factor as well.) Obviously, moviegoers didn’t mind watching the subtitles in Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ two years ago, with all of the characters speaking Aramaic, so the subtitles thing didn’t scare them off here. Besides…there is less dialogue here than in Passion, and there is much more action (more on that later.) One factor that I have heard that might turn off moviegoers is that its excessive violence may sicken audiences…but if the box office receipts of movies like Hostel and the Saw movies didn’t do it, I doubt Gibson’s movie would.
There has been a long history of celebrity scandals affecting box office receipts. I for one don’t take a celebrity’s off-camera antics into consideration when I critique their artwork (except for the work of documentarian Michael Moore…since his film work antics are his controversy.) Some people don’t like Roman Polanski for escaping charges of having sex with an underage girl by living overseas, but he was rewarded with a Best Director Oscar for 2002’s The Pianist. Yet Tom Cruise’s yearlong lunacy affected the box office receipts of Mission: Impossible III…arguably the best chapter in the franchise.
It’s not just moviemakers whose scandals have affected their art. Michael Richards, a.k.a. Cosmo Kramer on NBC’s “Seinfeld,” went on a racist rant in a comedy club recently, but the controversy only boosted the sales of the show’s seventh season box set. On the flipside, despite their latest album going to number one (and recently earning a Grammy nomination for Best Album), and being the subject of a critically-acclaimed documentary…the Dixie Chicks are still suffering from diminished concert ticket sales, and they can’t even get arrested on country radio after three years.
So…what do I think about the movie itself? To be honest…I came into the movie thinking I might not like it. It wasn’t for the reasons listed above…it’s because I wasn’t too crazy about Passion. Aside from the subtitles, the movie was closer to Gibson’s Oscar-winning 1995 movie Braveheart, in that it was extremely violent, yet a little more inspiring than the watching Jesus’s extended torture scene in Passion. Even though Gibson swears that it isn’t more violent than Braveheart, I have to disagree…though I really didn’t care. I actually thought Jaguar Paw’s “MacGyver”-like ways of dispatching of his foes while chasing him in the latter half of the movie was cool to watch.
What was my major quibble with the movie? It was that the characters seemed to use modern slang occasionally in a setting that took place hundreds of years ago. In one part of the movie, when Jaguar Paw had poisoned one bad guy, another bad guy looks at his colleague and says “you’re f***ed” while he lay dying. Would they really say that back then? Did that word even exist in that time? That would be like a character using the ‘80s slang word “gnarly” in a movie that took place in a World War II flick.
Otherwise, I do recommend Apocalypto to fans of people who like creatively violent movies. I think that Gibson’s controversies may hamper any Oscar notices (which also affected the notices for Passion), but it looks like it will at least be a box office hit. Hey…I’m not the biggest fan of Gibson because of his real-life stupidity…but the man can make a good movie when he wants to, and this is proof of that.
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