Newest Review: ... and heads on top of them. The hero of the film is the athletic 'Jaguar Paw' (Rudy Youngblood), who has just enough time to lower his... more
Mayan Adventures - Stunning Scenery
Member Name: flodombey
Advantages: Fascinating story, well made and directed, enjoyable to watch
Disadvantages: VERY gory and with some incredibly violent scenes, not suitable for young viewers
This 2006 film was mostly known to me as the one which Mel Gibson directed after his much criticised/acclaimed/controversial The Passion of the Christ. I knew this was set in Mexico and was based on the Mayan civilization and having visited the Yucatan peninsula and seen the great ruins of Chichen Itza for myself in the last few years I was intrigued to see what it was like.
Anyway, it popped up on terrestrial tv the other week and we sky plussed it to watch when we got chance. This weekend we finally sat down to watch it and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it and pretty amazed at the level of detail which had gone into the making of it too.
This film is set during the declining period of the Mayan culture, just before the arrival of the Spanish explorers who so changed the shape and feel of this part of the world. In fact towards the end of the film we see them arriving which frames the time quite nicely.
The action centres on Jaguar Paw, a young male member of a tribe of rural Mayans who have their village beseiged by a much more violent and dominant clan. During the fight for his village he sees his father Flint Sky, who is the village elder, killed deliberately in front of him.
Amid the chaos he manages to hide his pregnant wife Seven and young sun, Turtles Run, down in a cave with a vine to get out, but this is severed by one of the marauding tribe who is suspiscious of why Jaguar Paw keeps glancing nervously at the cave once he is taken prisoner.
A whole bunch of the young males are taken prisoner (along with some females who can be sold as slaves) and are marched through the jungle back to the much more radical and city-like base of this bloodthirsty tribe. Jaguar Paw makes a particular enemy of the quite evil Middle Eye who seems intent on ensuring he will suffer as much as possible.
It transpires that they are wanted by the tribe to be human sacrifices to the gods and the film then follows Jaguar Paw's bid for freedom as he gets a chance to escape but is pursued relentlessly through the jungle in a race against the clock to get back to his deserted family trapped in the cave.
Mel Gibson deliberately cast all indiginous people in the roles, in the main they were actual Mayan's or of Mayan descent but some were also native American. Virtually all were unknowns because of this.
Rudy Youngblood - Jaguar Paw
Dalia Hernández - Seven
Jonathan Brewer - Blunted
Morris Birdyellowhead - Flint Sky
Carlos Emilio Báez - Turtles Run
Amílcar Ramírez - Curl Nose
Israel Contreras - Smoke Frog
Israel Ríos - Cocoa Leaf
María Isabel Díaz - Mother-in-Law
Iazúa Laríos - Sky Flower
Raoul Trujillo - Zero Wolf
Gerardo Taracena - Middle Eye
Rodolfo Palacios - Snake Ink
Ariel Galván - Hanging Moss
Bernardo Ruiz - Drunkards Four
Ricardo Díaz Mendoza - Cut Rock
Richard Can - Ten Peccary
Its absolutely fascinating to see this portrayal of a civilization which we know so little about, in what was effectively the end of their glory days. The attention to detail means that it feels like a pretty accurate portrayal of how things were and certainly the amount of research put in by Gibson is clear to see.
The whole film is in Mayan dialogue which was not spoken by many of the cast (despite many being of Mayan descent) so effectively the whole film is in a dead language. This meant the cast having to learn the lines and pronunciation from scratch but you would really not know this from watching it. The action flows smoothly, the subtitles are easy to follow and weirdly you do find yourself hearing particular words repeated and beginning to recognize them which adds to the authenticity of what you are watching.
I felt incredibly engaged with this film but then the Mayans have always fascinated me and since visiting this area and seeing the magnificent ruins with my own eyes I had always wondered quite what the cities looked like when they were at the height of their significance and populated. This film felt like it gave me a much clearer idea of this.
Filmed in the Mexican state of Veracruz the authenticity of the jungle is real, even if the buildings were recreated - painstakingly and to accurate sizes. I would not have known the difference between what was real and what was not if I had not done some online research to find out - it all looked very real to me.
There is one particular scene with a waterfall that is quite spectacular, I literally held my breath and was on the edge of my seat. The action element of this film is very full on and from the word go it is quick paced and non-stop, the use of tension is quite remarkable and cleverly done. Despite this film being 140 minutes long it whizzes by.
Rudy Youngblood as Jaguar Paw and Gerado Teracena as Middle Eye have a magnificant chemistry between them as enemies from early on and this helps to carry and exacerbate the whole impending feeling of terror which envelopes the whole film.
It is SO violent that I had to look away a number of times. Whilst I am aware that this is a portrayal of what really happened, it does not make it any easier to watch somebody be bludgeoned or sliced open for the tenth time.
There is also a whole lot of disembowelling and throat slitting which goes on and the blood lust is really quite continuous throughout the entire film. I am a little queasy about such things and had to watch with a cushion handy for the more graphic bits.
Other than this though I cannot think of a reason not to watch, which surprised me as I do think Gibson can be a little bit over the top and full of himself as a director (see The Passion of the Christ).
Maybe it is because I had a natural curiosity about this race anyway and I love the landscape of Yucatan Mexico, but I found this film startlingly vivid and enjoyable - even given the sheer volume of blood letting which we see. I would recommend it to anyone who has not seen it for whatever reason - especially if you have or will be visiting this area of the world.
It can be picked up very cheaply now on Amazon etc, from around £4, I will most probably be adding it to my collection - and I never thought I would say that about a Mel Gibson directed film.
Summary: A surprisingly solid film directed by Mel Gibson and telling a very good story from Mayan Mexico.