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David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

Apocalypto: LA Times On How (Not Why) They Did That


Shelagh Crabtree of the Los Angeles Times talks to cinematographer Dean Semler about the technical aspects of making APOCALYPTO (Buena Vista, Dec. 8). Semler is the Academy Award winning DP of (DANCES WITH WOLVES). The Times piece is a fascinating look at the how — not the why — of making this visionary, batshit, balmy, balls-out (and about) fascist-romantic adventure film.
(I hadn’t intended on posting my review till Monday, but there it is in brief.
Semler and his crew used digital video cameras for 98% of what’s onscreen. But at least one visual effect was achieved in camera with a trick that’s as old as moviemaking itself: reverse action–something that Gibson learned when playing the lead in Mad Max for director George Miller.

Mel is a master of pulling off optical tricks in-camera that he learned from George,” Semler says. “He taught the actors on ‘Apocalypto’ how to do it too. He would walk or run in slow-motion to achieve the desired speed and they followed.” In fact one scene was acted out backward and in slow motion: Gibson had Rudy Youngblood, who plays Jaguar Paw, run backward and pull a spike ball out of a tree for a scene in which he is attacked by Zero Wolf (Raoul Trujillo).”

Early APOCALYPTO-ites:
FOX 411, always ready to send out an orangey-red alert, warns that the film is a “two hour torture fest…Indeed, “Apocalypto” is the most violent movie Disney has ever released, with so much blood spurting out of orifices that even Martin Scorsese would blush. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to see heads and hearts removed without anesthesia, then this is the movie for you. “Grey’s Anatomy” it is not.”
I am particularly touched by Roger Friedman’s ranting, avuncular concern for the “women and children [who] will be headed to the doors faster than you can say “duck” when the film opens on Dec. 8.”
Apocalypto’s cast speaks Yucatec, a Mayan dialect. Subtitles reveal that the good people talk like groovy New Age warriors, while the bad ones speak like Nazis–the kind that British character actors play in American-made WWII movies.

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2 Responses to “Apocalypto: LA Times On How (Not Why) They Did That”

  1. Discman says:

    That’s Dean Semler, not Terry, behind the camera.
    Another positive review coming for this “batshit,” as you put it? Guano, indeed.
    It truly is a disgusting movie.

  2. Corrected. Thank you for catching that. I’m glad I spelled “batshit” correctly.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon