Thursday, June 12, 2008

10,000 B.C.

Review: 10,000 B.C.
2 stars (out of 5)
by R. Kurt Osenlund

If I had to compare Roland Emmerich’s “10,000 B.C.” to one other film, the closest match would be the director’s own 1994 sci-fi saga "Stargate,” which takes place in an alternate universe. That’s probably not the best sign when discussing a movie with a core premise derived from a specific time period in Earth’s history. The effects-laden popcorn epic is loaded with absurdities and inaccuracies; but then, anyone entering an Emmerich film expecting fact-based substance is definitely barking up the wrong tree.

Like Michael Bay, Emmerich makes event action movies. However ridiculous, they pack theaters because they are the kind of big, loud, expensive blockbusters over which big, loud Americans salivate. If nothing else, they often deliver on their promise of providing spectacular escapism. The main difference between Bay and Emmerich (aside from the fact that Bay is a much more sleek and gifted visual craftsman), is that Bay has actual, professional screenwriters pen the scripts for his films. Emmerich, unfortunately, usually insists on writing his own. Aside from 2000’s “The Patriot” (which is by far the West Germany-born filmmaker’s finest offering to date), he’s credited as having written all of the 11 other features he’s directed, and therein lies the problem. Just like his colleague George Lucas, Emmerich shouldn’t be allowed within 100 yards of a Final Draft program.

His pictures are essentially CG-filled vessels for dreadfully clichéd and heavy-handed storylines, and the dialogue he puts in his actors’ mouths is downright embarrassing. His 2004 ice age disaster “The Day After Tomorrow” is probably one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. The events depicted are so scientifically impossible that even a sixth grader would be insulted, and the ways in which the characters react to them are at once irritating and unintentionally hilarious. But damn, if it doesn’t look amazing.

“10,000 B.C.” follows a similar formula, only this time, instead of an iced-over Manhattan, the setting is some prehistoric world in which wooly mammoths, 15-foot mutant ostriches, pyramids and human beings all co-exist. An unnecessary narration by Omar Shariff introduces us to an isolated tribe on a snowy peak that is short on food and dependent on the guidance of a cake-faced medicine woman (Mona Hammond). Old Mother, as she is called, prophesizes the rise of a great warrior following the arrival of a mysterious, blue-eyed girl named Evolet, whose people were massacred by the same “four-legged demons” who will eventually make their way to the tribe’s humble campsite. The warrior is young tribesman D’Leh, who is destined to grow strong and free his people from hunger and “demon” bondage. An immediate love forms between Evolet and D’Leh in their youth, and as some of the film’s most painful acting and writing informs us, it “remains still in their hearts like the North Star in the sky” (or something like that) as the film progresses forward.

As adults, D’Leh and Evolet are played by hunky newcomer Steven Strait and “The Ballad of Jack and Rose’s” Camilla Belle, both possessing impossibly good skin and teeth for so suggested an era. In an eye-popping early sequence, D’Leh temporarily earns the respect of his tribe and his surrogate father Tic’Tic (habitual side player Cliff Curtis) when he brings down a wooly mammoth on his own. The kill affords the community a wealth of much-needed nourishment, but D’Leh’s notoriety is short-lived when word leaks that his victory was somewhat accidental. The noble hunter makes a personal vow to regain said respect, and when said “four–legged demons” (who turn out to be dark-cloaked, pirate-type men on horseback) burn his village and kidnap his woman, he gets his chance.

So commences the treacherous journey that takes up most of “10,000 B.C.’s” 110 minutes, in which D’Leh and a mishmash of lifelong and recently acquired companions travel through not just regions, but entire biomes, on foot. The story begins in the Tundra, has a crucial mid-section in the Tropical Rainforest, and concludes its final act in bone-dry Desert, where it’s revealed that the true enemy of those who supposedly lived centuries before Christ is…industry. Sweeping, impressive crane shots fly us over a digitally created lost civilization, where D’Leh’s love and kinsman have been taken to build pyramids in service of a 9-foot, cloaked “god” with 6-inch, golden fingernails sprouting from his iron fist (hence the Stargate connection). Of course, a final battle ensues between those oppressed and those in power, and I’ll leave it to you to guess where the movie goes from there.

While there’s much to be derided in Emmerich’s work, its visual flair makes it tolerable despite its numerous flaws. And although "10,000 B.C." is certainly no quality film, I was never bored; and having just walked out of Will Ferrell’s useless comedy “Semi-Pro,” I was actually grateful that Emmerich exists to keep audiences entertained. He continues to construct expansive pictures, the kind that movie houses were made to show. If this sounds like your historically inaccurate, computer-generated, poorly scripted cup of tea, head over to yours right now. Just leave your brain at home.

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