After a somewhat acrimonious time in the last 12 months, Mel Gibson begins the year with the release of his latest directorial endeavour, 'Apocalypto', a film set near the tail-end of the Mayan civilisation in Central America.

In a time untouched by a European influence, the film tells its story by contrasting the lives of the forest tribes with that of the native urban civilisation of the time. 

In the beginning we are introduced to the simple life of the forest tribe and most notably our protagonist, Jaguar Paw (Youngblood). Although he does not make the immediate impression as being our hero, we come to realise his significance as he learns from and adheres to the life lessons handed down from his father. From the start we are enraptured with the peacefulness of the tribe and the simplistic nature of their being, which is brought to life by the interaction of the diverse characters in the camp.

However, even from the outset the film carries a sinister tone which is soon realised when the tribe is brutally attacked by mercenaries and soldiers of the Mayan empire. What follows is the tribe's journey into captivity, where we, the audience, see through the innocent eyes of our champions the Mayan city culture at its most visually magnificent and culturally shocking. Indeed, there seems little opportunity to escape what seems an inevitable death.

Because of whom the director is, 'Apocalypto' is bound to get mixed reviews for a variety of reasons.

However, it must be said that this is a remarkable film that will keep you absorbed from the start. It is a tale set in a time rarely explored by filmmakers and Gibson should be given his dues for both the use of the Mayan language throughout the film and for introducing predominantly indigenous actors, all of whom not only appear ideal in their casting but who can act. The film is beautifully shot with a wide diversity of scenes captured with a depth of magnificently selected images.

The subject of the Mayan culture is tackled with a raw intensity, unseen in many films of this genre. Some of the scenes are particularly gory, sexually explicit and violent and are certainly not suitable for those under the censor rating.

However, this is also a magical tale of survival mixed with an undercurrent of prophecy and although the ending might not be historically all that accurate, it does not harm the film in terms of the narrative.

David McDonnell