Director : Roland Emmerich
Screenplay : Roland Emmerich & Harald Kloser
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2008
Stars : Steven Strait (D'Leh), Camilla Belle (Evolet), Cliff Curtis (Tic'Tic), Joel Virgel (Nakudu), Affif Ben Badra (Warlord), Mo Zinal (Ka'Ren), Nathanael Baring (Baku), Mona Hammond (Old Mother), Marco Khan (One-Eye), Reece Ritchie (Moha), Joel Fry (Lu'kibu), Omar Sharif (Narrator)
In 10,000 BC, disaster specialist Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow) reimagines prehistory to his own liking in telling the adventure of a noble primitive with great cheekbones and stylish dreds who sets out to be reunited with his love, who has been kidnapped by a higher civilization. First, we have to give Emmerich some credit where credit is due: The film isn’t nearly as dumb as it could have been, and although it is much more fantasy than history, there is something inherently intriguing about bringing to life an era that rarely gets screen time outside of computer-animated comedies. But, then again, maybe there’s a good reason for that.
The hero, D’Leh (Steven Strait), is an outcast in his own wandering, wooly mammoth-hunting tribe because his father left when he was a child and was subsequently branded a coward (who knew that ancient peoples had daddy issues?). D’Leh gains a large measure of respect when he single-handedly takes down a mammoth, thus also earning the right to marry the beautiful, blue-eyed Evolet (Camilla Belle), who had been his secret girlfriend since childhood. However, before you can say “happily ever after,” the tribe is ransacked by “the four-legged demons,” which is the primitive tribe’s way of describing the warriors of a more evolved civilization who arrive on horseback to kidnap various tribespeople and turn them into rock-lugging slaves in a far-off land, thus supporting Nietzsche’s contention that all higher societies are based on cruelty.
But, I digress. D’Leh sets off in hot pursuit along with a village elder named Tic’Tic (Cliff Curtis). There is some trouble to be had, including the film’s most memorable scene in which the intrepid heroes are chased by giant, snapping ostriches. That sounds ridiculous on paper, but the way Emmerich orchestrates the scene gives us the film’s one glimpse of the genuine, palpable peril involved in living in the wild with animals much larger than you. D’Leh and company later hook up with a black tribe led by Nakudu (Joel Virgel), who believes that D’Leh is a prophesized leader-messiah due to his apparent ability to talk to a saber-tooth tiger after having saved said tiger from drowning. Thus, it appears that the other primary thematic inspiration for Emmerich and Harald Kloser’s screenplay is Aesop’s fable about the lion and the mouse.
But, I digress again. After assembling an army of various tribespeople who are mad as hell about having their brethren kidnapped into slavery and are not gonna take it anymore, D’Leh follows his beloved to a massive, pyramid-filled city-in-construction where it comes down to the good primitives versus the bad would-be urbanites whose material wealth and self-aggrandizing industry have corrupted them beyond all measure. In other words, they hail from the same school of exotic, hyper-sexualized villainy as the dastardly baddies in 300 (2007), a film whose success Emmerich is clearly drooling to emulate.
Emmerich, who has always specialized in spectacle on a grand scale, is clearly most at home in the vast computer-generated imagery of the nascent pseudo-Egyptian culture. He floods the screen with extended long shots of the city, allowing us to soak in every detail of the partially completed structures, as well as the thousands of slaves, both human and mammoth, who toil away under the sun. I’d be remiss if I didn’t say these shots were impressive in and of themselves, and a large part of me appreciates Emmerich’s love of scope and his willingness to hold the camera on it, rather than hacking the film to ribbons ala Michael Bay.
Yet, beautiful shots of a fantasyland version of Egypt do not a great (or even good) movie make, and 10,000 BC is ultimately more dull and dreary than engaging and exciting. Perhaps there is some level of prejudice at work here, as it is hard to be enthralled with the dusty, warmed-over romantic fixations of what is essentially a very handsome cave-couple. The phony accents, carefully trimmed beards, and aesthetically pleasing array of animal furs and skins make the whole enterprise seem quite silly, especially given its free-form mixture of historical veracity and outright fabrication. Emmerich certainly gambled on trying to reimagine a Hollywood blockbuster story in prehistoric terms, but this was a roll of the dice that would have been better used elsewhere.
Copyright ©2008 James Kendrick
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