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Idol Chatter

One man is chosen as a sacrifice to suffer unbelievable torture to save others. That’s one way to sum up Mel Gibson’s work in “Braveheart,” “The Passion,” and now Gibson’s latest effort, the Mayan action-adventure film “Apocalypto.” “Apocalypto”–which follows a young warrior, Jaguar Paw, through the dangerous Mexican jungles as he saves his family and his way of life–is a dazzling spectacle unlike anything we’ve seen before, but it is unlikely that this epic tale will go down in cinematic history as little more than a novelty.

As is often the case in stories with messianic overtones, the young Jaguar Paw is not a likely candidate to rescue his people from extinction. He is not the strongest, the bravest, or the smartest of his tribe. In fact, when the bloodthirsty Mayans invade Jaguar Paw’s village to rape and kill the women and then gather the men into slavery, the Mayan leader sarcastically gives Jaguar Paw the name of “Almost.”

But then the Mayans are given an eerie prophecy from the mouth of a child, and before they know it, Jaguar Paw begins to fulfill every word of that prophecy. Jaguar Paw becomes a one-man militia who single-handedly destroys the Mayans, as blood gushes and oozes in the midst of decapitations and numerous other brutal acts.

I think Gibson wants “Apocalypto” to raise important questions about man’s inhumanity to man, about the way history repeats itself, and perhaps even about the end of our modern civilization as well. And I actually believe “Apocalypto” could have been a significant film in the vein of “The Mission” or even “Schindler’s List,” but Gibson allows whatever philosophical points he wants the audience to reflect upon to be drowned out by ceaseless, and often senseless, violence. To say that this film displays gore in staggering proportions is truly an understatement.

So instead of another religious manifesto, or even another artistic masterpiece, Gibson simply gives us a splattering of underdeveloped ideas amidst some brilliant acting, breathtaking cinematography, and a whole lot of carnage. Which is too bad. Because in an industry where risk takers and dreamers are in short supply, I really wanted to watch Gibson–personal failings aside–raise the creative bar one more time.

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