Blood always flows freely in a Mel Gibson film and Apocalypto is no exception. Once again Gibbo sparked debate with his graphic depictions of rape, torture and human sacrifice, but this portrait of the Mayan civilisation in upheaval was also deemed "thrillingly kinetic". It got a good head start at the box office, considering it was filmed in an ancient language, but sharply nose-dived in its second week
A New World
"We felt we were on the frontier of doing things that had not been done before," says Gibbo in a half-hour investigation into the year-long making of this epic. It begins with location scouting trips to Mexico, where Gibson ventures deep into the jungles and eventually sets up base outside the town of Catemaco. Then begins the task of erecting a Mayan city, complete with twenty-storey pyramids.
Gibson and his co-writer/producer Farhad Safinia emphasise the importance of research in portraying every aspect of the Mayan culture, which extends to a close-up look at costumes, make-up and weapons. Obviously the weapons design was the director's favourite part, marvelling at how you can fashion a nifty blowdart from a pin and a couple of cotton buds. Don't try this at home kids!
Gibson is a little more light-hearted for his commentary with Safinia, noting the diva-like mentality of a stunt tapir and the surreal nature of working with actors who "aren't wearing any trousers". But for all the joshing, there's no doubting his commitment to this project. He reflects on the unique challenges of working in the jungle, including a constant battle with the elements and the local wildlife. On one surprisingly cold day, he recalls a deadly snake slithering out of the undergrowth and wrapping itself around the leg of a four-year-old extra. Thankfully there were snake wranglers on hand to "extract" the creature, and the boy survived.
The Forest And The Trees
One deleted scene is presented with optional commentary by Gibson and Safinia, but they needn't have bothered really. It paints a brief picture of impending doom with the Mayans trekking through the jungle into thickening smoke as an injured deer stumbles out through the trees in the opposite direction. "The point being," says Gibbo, "that even a dumb animal had the sense to get away." Not that he's patronising the natives or anything...
An ambitious film such as this warrants a more detailed look at how the major set pieces were achieved (eg, the waterfall jump), but there is enough behind-the-scenes footage of Gibson at work - along with word from the man himself - to convey his passion for this story. It's worth seeking this one out.
Apocalypto DVD is released on Monday 11th June 2007.