Apocalyto is a Mel Gibson film that is not only a tense tale of survival but also a highly politicized allegory. In it, he delivers a story of friendly, if not a little cautious, villagers that come across other villagers that have gone to “…seek a new beginning…” Why they are leaving the confines of their comfort is baffling to Jaguar Paw, the main character in this film. He soon finds a world of distrust and fear, hatred and indifference, in what ends up being a sidelong glance at our own world in comparison.
James Horner, whose body of film score work goes all the way back to Star Trek II and 48 Hrs and moves through Aliens, Field of Dreams (both which yielded Academy Award noms) up through Titanic (which nailed him the Oscar), Braveheart, Apollo 13, and The New World. Of course, Horner’s resume is much more vast than this, generating a long list of memorable films.
Horner’s descriptive, larger than life scores have made him easily a favourite of big name directors, namely Cameron, Howard, and Gibson, who employs him in the Apocalypto score. And it is no wonder as James Horner is able to provide a lush, evocative aural interpretation of what the viewer is seeing on the screen, an extension that reaches into the emotions and adds depth to a film, bringing the viewer into intimacy with the story. That’s an important element that is sadly absent in many films.
Apocalypto’s score is essential to this film. It is rich and encapsulating but it does make an error that is distracting. The familiarity with Braveheart is far too evident here. In a film that is supposed to escort the viewer into its world and carry them along, a flash of familiarity to anything outside of the film will yank the viewer viciously out of the immersion.
On “Holcane Attack,” there are musical moments that are the same as those that accompany the attempted assassination of Wallace in Braveheart. The same is heard – briefly - in “Civilisations Brought By Sea.” There are other scattered moments where you’ll hear these Braveheart distractions. Fortunately, the film is not destroyed by their inclusions and neither is the film’s score.
As an aside and since we’re here, the reason why dark theatre viewing of a film is so essential is the distraction issue. If you have invested cash to screen a movie, you are paying attention to every moment whereas if you were watching from home, many things disrupt the process. Consequently, the import of the film is lost to seemingly innocuous incidents. And so, having a distraction occur at the theatre level can be insurmountable.
The dark themes that move in and out of Apocalypto elicit the foreboding that is wanted in the film, to help it move along a sense of the end of a time, a “…new beginning” no matter how frightening that can be. James Horner handles those themes with mastery in his score for Apocalypto. A listen to the immediacy of “Frog Darts” shows the quiet moments becoming tense and determined. It is this beauty that shows the reasons why Horner is a first choice.
Apolcalypto is quite a compelling story for all that it reveals and James Horner’s score for it accentuates it wonderfully.
“A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within” – W Durant (splashed across the screen at the beginning of Apocalypto)