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The Naked Prey(1966) and Apocalypto (2006)

Reviewed by Martin Scorsese
Scorsese SelectionL: The Man Who Knew Too MuchI've paired these two films together because they share some fascinating similarities—they're both impressively savage visions of primitive life, one stark and concentrated and the other grandly scaled, and they're both made by actors-turned-directors. It's interesting that while Mel Gibson's on-screen performances give you a hint of his temperament as a filmmaker, the same can't be said for Cornel Wilde. He was a pleasant actor, but you would never guess from his performances that he would develop into such a good filmmaker. The Naked Prey is his best film, I think (I'm also fond of Storm Fear), and it was quite unlike anything else made in 1966, a sort of throwback to the Ernest Schoedsack–Merian C. Cooper productions of the early '30s, particularly The Most Dangerous Game. The story is very similar: A group of men are on safari, the members of the tribe start killing them off one by one, and Wilde's character is given a weapon and allowed a head start through the jungle, where he's tracked by the tribesmen. These pursuit sequences are very good, wordless and quite raw. Apocalypto is also a pursuit story, but it's a completely different kind of film, a vision, a movie made in the pioneering spirit of silent films such as Chang and Grass (also made by Schoedsack and Cooper) that actually realizes its ambitions. Apocalypto is a stunning re-creation of life in the ancient Mayan world, in which the savagery is built-in and the belief is that human sacrifice will bring redemption, and that what does not kill a man will make him stronger. The attention to detail in the language (Yucatec Maya), the staging and the settings, both re-created (the pyramid) and found (the waterfall), is breathtaking—during certain moments, it's as if Gibson had turned an undiscovered corner deep in the jungle and found the ancient world alive and well. Many pictures today don't go into troubling areas like this, the importance of violence in the perpetuation of what's known as civilization. I admire Apocalypto for its frankness, but also for the power and artistry of the filmmaking.
The Naked Prey: TCM 256, February 1; Apocalypto: Starz 520, February 10
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