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Movie Review: APOCALYPTO

Is it possible to judge Mel Gibson's film works now without burdening them with his recent public embarrassments? As open-minded as a viewer may try to be while sitting through his new directorial effort "Apocalypto", you may find yourself questioning the the psychology of someone who seems so preoccupied with graphic displays of violence. But think beyond his recent scandal. Think back to "Braveheart" and "The Passion of the Christ", both films that never seemed so alive as when they were splattering the screen with meticulously detailed flesh shreading carnage.

I understand the subjects themselves warrant some level of savagery, but in the hands of Mel Gibson -- the director -- this element is amped all the way up to overkill.

The real shame is that Gibson is a genuinely talented filmmaker. He has a sense of pacing, a knack for inspiring great performances and a flair for mind scorching imagery that rivals any of our current cinematic heroes. What he lacks is good judgement.

"Apocalypto" is essentially a torture/chase concoction concerning the decline of the Mayan civilization. The villagers who are not raped or sliced, are captured and taken as participants for human sacrifice. This lavishly staged ceremony lovingly places us in the middle of a Lynch-land filled with ghostly faces and severed pumping hearts. Gibson shows his strengths as a visual storyteller, especially in this sequence. But this imagery is the only element you're ultimately left with when you leave the theatre. Like his work in "The Passion of the Christ", the film's moral lessons are drowned out by the excessive bloodletting.

Gibson used all non-actors on this film and manages to pull amazingly authentic and emotive performances from each of them. The cinematography by Dean Semler is flawless. The score from James Horner is one of the best of the year, a tribal moan that seamlessly moves from meditative to manic.

When you consider the enormity of Gibson's task, the fact that the finished film came to fruition at all seems like a small miracle. He does manage to create a rollercoaster of emotions -- none of them very pleasant -- from dread to convulsion to disgust. He's given the film a lot of graphic, sickening details but no real insight, a predicament similar to the kind that infected "The Passion of the Christ". That film had the potential to be an enormously inspiring outreach effort. But, when most people stepped out of the theatre, they were shaken by the blood-splatter and little else. The message of the film seemed to have gotten lost in translation. "Apocalypto" plays like a carbon copy of that film; it's "The Passion of the Christ" in the jungle -- with the same accomplishments and failings.

Gibson is a true artist who seems to only want to brutalize his audience. What does he really want us to come away with when we view his films? Enlightenment? A moral reminder of man's inhumnity to man? If so, then how can he actually believe he's succeeded in meeting this goal? His brutish instincts keep these messages out of reach.

Gibson may be well-advised to leave the serious messages alone and use his finely-tuned impulse for brutality where it belongs: slasher films. C+

You can find this and many more in-depth film reviews at blog.myspace.com/raycejamey

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