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Reviewing the Reviews: 'Apocalypto'

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91851__apoc_lWill Mel Gibson see any tangible effects — that is, decreased box office for his Mayan epic Apocalypto — in the wake of his anti-Semitic meltdown of summer ’06? We won’t know that answer till sometime on Sunday (though our own prognosticator, Joshua Rich, predicts the movie will edge out the competition and take No. 1). In the meantime, let’s focus on another big question that, of course, will affect turnout as well: Is the movie even good?

Most critics — with a few dissenters — seem to think it is. (Read Lisa Schwarzbaum’s B review.) But across the board, they all agree that it is brutally violent. In fact, the gore appeared to be a key factor in whether or not critics liked Apocalypto: Those who did found it chillingly effective, while those who didn’t called it excessive and sensationalist. Check out this roundup, then decide if you have the, uh, guts to sit through the 140-minute flick.

Scott Foundas, LA Weekly: ”Gibson — and I suspect this will be one of the most widely misunderstood aspects of the film — takes no pleasure in the bloodletting, nor does he expect us to. Rather, like The Passion of the Christ, Apocalypto strives to make us recoil from the screen, to feel in our gut the impact of each flesh-piercing spear and skull-splitting rock.”

Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune: ”Nothing gets Mel Gibson’s blood pumping as a filmmaker more than the sight, sound and splatter of someone’s blood actually pumping or, in the case of Apocalypto, spritzing from an actor’s temple, as the forest sunlight shines through the skull just so… With Braveheart, Passion and now Apocalypto, Gibson clearly has established his priorities as a director. History is gore, plus a few hearthside family interludes.”

A.O. Scott, New York Times: ”The brutality in Apocalypto is so relentless and extreme that it sometimes moves beyond horror into a kind of grotesque comedy, but to dismiss it as excessive or gratuitous would be to underestimate Mr. Gibson’s seriousness. And say what you will about him — about his problem with booze or his problem with Jews — he is a serious filmmaker.”

Colin Covert, Minneapolis Star-Tribune: ”There’s a savage magnificence to Apocalypto, with visuals worthy of Fellini or David Lynch, and the kind of relentless excitement that only a few filmmakers can deliver. No matter how extraordinary the characters and their actions, the experience has a raw, authentic intensity. This, declares Gibson, is how it was. This is how more films should be.”

J. Hoberman, Village Voice: ”This lavishly punishing picture is the third panel in Gibson’s ‘Ordeal’ triptych. The Martyrdom of the Braveheart and The Passion of the Christ have nothing on The Misadventures of the Jaguar Paw.… Unlike its predecessors, however, Apocalypto is unburdened by nationalist or religious piety — it’s pure, amoral sensationalism.”

Bruce Newman, San Jose Mercury News: ”With a ferocity that is often as difficult to take as it is fascinating to watch, Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto comes crashing across 500 years of history with such immediacy that it feels as if this haunting, fierce, sadistic movie will never leave you. Certainly it will not leave you unchanged.”