10,000 B.C. (2008)
Roland Emmerich is a director used to making big budget, effects laden mainstream blockbusters that baffle film critics. I enjoy some of the man’s output but hold little pretension that Emmerich is not a filmmaker who knows the terms “nuance” and “subtlety.” 10,000 B.C. is another Emmerich flick in the would-be blockbuster mode. It has magazine cover leads, large-scale action set pieces, and a familiar rescue plot route. It also happens to be as dumb as rocks.
Way back in 10,000 B.C., life is more along the lines of nomadic hunting and gathering. The featured tribe has the old staple of the spiritual guide who lays out prophecies. This prophet foresees great calamitous change for the tribe. “Four-legged devils” will bring about destruction. But there is hope. D’leh (Steven Strait, Sky High) will save his tribe from annihilation. He is also destined to love Evolett (Camilla Belle, When A Stranger Calls), who is coveted because she has blue eyes. This, we are told, is a fortuitous sign. One day after a successful mammoth hunt, the tribe falls prey to raiders on horses. These raiders raze the huts and slaughter the people. They cart the rest, including Evolett, off to work as slaves building what appear to be pyramids or ziggurats in Egypt. D’leh must regroup and travel with Tic’tic (Cliff Curtis) all across Africa to save his loin-clothed love.
This is a colossally stupid movie. Emmerich spins a host of clichés and prays it’s enough to stage some pre-history visual wonders. The movie’s visuals are certainly pleasing to the eye, but the plot and characters are totally vacant. The characters are one-dimensional morons. It’s not even worth mentioning what the numerous historical inaccuracies are (Egypt wasn’t even settled until 7,000 B.C.) because it would be less time consuming to simply state the historical accuracy the film presents. 10,000 B.C. makes Quest for Fire look like a documentary. The plot framework is your usual hero’s journey pastiche, where our lead must accept the responsibility that goes with being a leader. There’s also familiar plot turns like rescuing the damsel in distress, learning important back-story about an absent father, and finally, a slave uprising. 10,000 B.C. is a rip-off of Apocalypto and generally every historical uprising movie where the people band together under the leadership of an individual to tackle an antagonistic authority. This movie feels like it is barely held together by its plot threads, and those threads merely link to tired, groan-inducing clichés that act as placeholders for an actual plot.
What is even worse, 10,000 B.C. is a total bore. The only way something this silly and gleefully historically inaccurate could work is if it offered some adventure thrills. 10,000 B.C. seems to sputter for long stretches, having characters assemble and depart and walk and speak their ridiculous caveman speak. The pacing is rather slack and the action sequences, when they do occur, aren’t very well developed, hoping to leave their mark with plenty of long shots. Several action sequences are doomed from their very conception, like the laughable giant ostriches eating people. The action is just not good at all. Emmerich can generally pull out an exciting, functional action sequence even if it requires you to officially turn your brain off to enjoy. The first half of 10,000 B.C. has a few limited action sequences but they are brief and poorly staged. The second half has one climactic action sequence but it’s hard to tell what the hell is going on. Emmerich does not setup his climax and allow the audience to understand the attack process. When the climactic attack does occur it feels overly chaotic and senseless. How can the audience enjoy the progress of action if it cannot even verify what is happening? If I can’t follow what’s happening then I can’t enjoy it. The equation is that simple. The end of 10,000 B.C. is a big, mammoth-filled mess of a sequence that fails to serve as any payoff.
The movie is so serious that the silly adventure heroics come across as downright insufferable. I cannot possibly sit through a 1 hour 45-minute film that deals with pet saber tooth tigers, traveling across the entire continent of Africa by foot at record speed, and giant freaking killer ostriches and have the movie try to uphold a serious reality. No movie in the history of mankind will ever be serious as long as it has a killer ostrich. 10,000 B.C. would classify as camp if it weren’t so resoundingly boring. I think Emmerich really stuck to his initial concept and decided somehow the movie would form by itself. He shows a definite interest in recreating sprawling vistas of a time long ago, but he shows barely a whiff of interest in depositing a story to go along with those oh so pretty pictures and ancient landscapes.
The film also feels eerily semi-racist. The good guys are slightly tanned but mostly Anglo-Saxon in their appearance. They even speak English, though really terrible monosyllabic English. Note to all filmmakers: if you are going to make a movie that predominantly features cavemen then do not give them any speeches. They sound absolutely hilarious trying to deliver a rousing speech in their stilted, monotone voices. The villains are outsiders who look very Arabic and Middle Eastern. They speak a different language. They come to terrorize the God-fearing hunters and gatherers, enslave their people, and drag them to a giant temple to be killed in the name of a competing God. I don’t know if the movie is necessarily anti-Arabic but I was given the opportunity to contemplate this subject with all the downtime 10,000 B.C. afforded me.
The special effects are bad. The acting is bad. The story is dreadful. The action is poorly planned and sporadic. And every aspect of this movie radiates stupidity. I suppose some moviegoers can discover some derisive pleasure from watching a really terrible movie about a dreadlocked boy trying to reclaim the only girl in 10,000 B.C. that vigorously tweezes her eyebrows. For me, the movie was far too stagnant and boring to enjoy derisively. 10,000 B.C. takes itself far too seriously for something far too silly. Emmerich has created a movie that manages to be dopey even by caveman movies standards, and this includes a 1981 movie actually called Caveman featuring Ringo Starr. My biggest question after the movie concluded was, “How in the hell did they get Omar Sharif to narrate this stone-age turkey?”
Nate’s Grade: D