Harry Sees Mel Gibson's APOCALYPTO At Fantastic Fest!!
Published at: Sept. 25, 2006, 11:40 p.m. CST by merrick
Just got in from the FANTASTIC FEST screening of APOCALYPTO tonight. From seeing the film for a second time in the same day. After the second screening, I have to say it plays even better. The themes about how the industrial needs of a civilization, even a primitive one - lay the groundwork for moral, societal and physical decay really begin to come out. Then there's just the pure B-movie pulp of an action film. I heard at least 5 people afterwards say that it was a Mayan Western. Louis Black, editor of the Austin Chronicle was heard to say, many times, that "It's like a Terrence Malick film with a B-movie Plot!" - and if you know Louis, you know how heartfelt and excited that was. One of the reasons that Louis Black and I are friends and have known each other for the last 30 years is that... We love High Art and Low Art. And most of all we love it when the two converge. This is a B-movie with the soul of a great artist and the production values of the best of Hollywood. Watching it the second time - the temp score kills me, but he's got James Horner working on a score that will use 100% primative instruments. He's set to trim some more out, and man... to hear this with the final sound mix and color graded and with the fx in. I just can't wait. The film received a standing ovation from the audience and it was absolutely earned. Can't wait to hear from the others that were there. Send in your reviews, positive or negative to Harry@AintItCool.com - What a fun night!
I love secrets. Secrets are awesome things. Watching people guessing secrets are even better. At roughly 1pm today at the Alamo Drafthouse Downtown, at a private screening held by Mel Gibson for myself and the Native American Pow Wow Association of Austin (I believe that’s their name) of APOCALYPTO. Five minutes ago, it started for a second time today in Austin at the ALAMO DRAFTHOUSE SOUTH as part of FANTASTIC FEST 2006. Tonight’s audience will be treated to not just a screening of this rough masterpiece, but also by the presence of Mel Gibson and his star,Rudy Youngblood. And I’m one of the lucky fuckers that gets to see this twice.
The film isn’t done. Some visual effects aren’t in place, the sound design is completely not done, the score is 100% temp tracked and somewhere in there is 5-10 minutes that will be coming out. I imagine this will come out of the Mayan civilization outskirts. It’s all quite nice, but it’s the only fatty and drag-ish area of the film. Otherwise, what we saw this early afternoon is a film of immense power.
APOCALYPTO opens with a hunt. The prey is a bizarre prehistoric looking creature that we know as the Tapir. As a real animal – it just doesn’t look real. It seems malformed. In this opening sequence it is being chased and herded into the direction of a trap. A killing trap of brutal lethality. The hunters use nets to create the walls that herd the creature. And when it trips the trap. WHOOSH – Spurt. It is dead. The rain forest hunters of a small Mayan tribe just inland from the coast are good simple people. As they cut up their prey – divvying up the good parts – the heart, the liver, the balls… Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood) is authorative and seemingly fair. The scene is filled with humor, pranks and just… good fun. Then – the wind changes and the tone of the jungle changes and suddenly the party grows still – Jaguar Paw cries out to the forest in his Yucatec tongue, “WHAT DO YOU WANT?” – suddenly a few shadowy figures come forward – they seem weathered, weary and peaceful. Like a scared bunny that has run too much this day, they come forward seeking safe passage – the wish to make a “new beginning” as their village had been ravaged this day. By who, whom or what – we don’t know… Jaguar wants to press, but his father insists that he let them be.
We return with the hunters to their village. This isn’t the majestic pyramids of the Maya Empire, but a small village… huts… Everyone knows everyone’s business. One man’s inability to breed becomes the entire society’s “sit com” by today’s standard. A joke they seemingly never get tired of. I spent one 3 week period in my life in a village like this one, outside the Mayan ruins of Palenque. My first grade teacher’s husband was there on a dig for the University of Texas – and directed my parents to this amazing place. No hotels at that time, just a small village with simple folks. Many speaking this same dialect of Yucatec, a beautiful language. The money my parents gave them afforded them to slaughter a wild boar to feast upon. Wonderful place. I remember mostly the sounds of the rain forest and the light… This place that Mel found to shoot this film had that primal rainforest feel. When the final sound mix comes in, I can’t wait to hear these quiet sequences.
By the next morning, again there is a tone shift. Jaguar had woken from a troubling dream of the leader of the wandering people, clutching his own heart and telling him to Run. A disturbing dream. As he awakes – a village dog is barking – his pregnant wife asks him to go kill it. It’s the adorable whining of the one you love telling you to answer your phone or hit the alarm… or kill the dog. We still want to kill the dog some mornings, don’t we?
Only, this time… somewhere in the jungle, someone else has killed the dog. And Jaguar Paw hears it. Sees the fires of strangers, the initial violent intent as a stealthy force is coming into the village. This attack… you’ve never seen anything quite like this. Strangulation weapons, brutal obsidian axes and clubs. The force that comes in is from a “civilized” Mayan culture… Their dress is more ornate, weapons more refined… and they know what they are here for. They are here for slaves – and anyone that is too much trouble – they will be killed.
Jaguar Paw puts his young son and very pregnant wife at the bottom of a natural well/crevice… essentially a hole in the ground. He then goes to help fight off those that are attacking his people. However, these intruders know what they’re doing. They know how to fight, hunt and capture people. And our hero is no different. He is captured. He is about to be taken on a journey that he is not prepared for. He will be marched to a great Maya city. He will witness and be a party to ritual sacrifice. He will see slavery and cruelty and poverty that he will not truly understand. The sun will disappear and reappear and there will be prophecy, death and more.
To tell of the rest of the film, would be a crime, but I will say it unfolds unflinchingly. As we are all aware, Mel doesn’t shy from arterial sprays and he does not turn away from maimings. Watching this film – I felt like I was transported from the here and now. Placing the wife and child at the bottom of a pit that would fill with rain water and drown his family to create urgency for Jaguar Paw to escape and return to their aide… well it’s awesome, it’s that great Crichton time trap – that ups the suspense and urgency. It may not be the end of our world at risk here, but it is certainly the end of Jaguar Paw’s world.
The native Americans gathered at this screening seemed to love it. Asking questions about the accuracy and reality of what they were seeing. One member of the audience asked Mel if he was saying that the decay of the Mayan empire was solely from within, as he feels the influence of European invaders had a lot to do with it. Mel responded that he has always felt that the seeds for different civilizations demise always start from within, as a healthy society can repel any foreign invader – especially one like this with a warrior caste and a vast civilization He does see the film as a metaphor for where we are today, but moreso he sees the film as a work of entertainment. Something to transport the audience.
Is this the great film of the Maya Civilization? It is the most audacious and successful attempt at that period. Mainly due to the fact that the story is such an intimate experience. The whole film rests upon the shoulders of actor Rudy Youngblood and his Jaguar Paw character. To think that this cast is nearly all first time actors. People that Mel found on Docks and wandering the streets of Mexico City… is astonishing. The faces and the stories on these faces are great. The make-up, costumes and recreation of a lost culture are exquisite.
What I saw today was a very rough jewel, when I see it again, the day before Butt-Numb-A-Thon – I trust I will see an immaculate jewel. This could very well be the best film Mel has made when he’s done with it. How commercial will it be? I haven’t a clue. The story is incredibly involving and constantly thrilling. However, too often I’ve seen films of this type lost on audiences today. That Mel would even attempt this movie is a triumph, that it is in and of itself a triumph is a blessing.
Can’t wait to see it with the audience tonight. They’re in for a very special treat. Wish you were with us!