Like Ice Age, Without the Stunning Wit and Social Satire
10,000 BC / Daniel Carlson
Film Reviews | March 7, 2008 | Comments ()
10,000 BC is the kind of thunderously stupid movie that results when no consideration is given to plot, character, pacing, structure, or emotion. To call it dull would be to give it too much credit; only something that attempts excitement and fails can be called dull. No, 10,000 BC is worse than that: It’s a long, plodding stretch of unimaginable boredom, a film that stumbles at every turn and never makes a single connection with the audience. But ultimately, this isn’t surprising. The film was directed by Roland Emmerich, who co-wrote the screenplay with Harald Kloser, and Emmerich has proven himself more than adept at directing and producing just some serious cinematic abominations, films that rely on the semblance of spectacle and a few effects-driven sequences to distract from their hollowness. Emmerich’s credits as a helmer include Universal Soldier, Independence Day, Godzilla, The Patriot, and The Day After Tomorrow — a c.v. that, viewed from a distance, is easily recognized for its utter forgettability and Emmerich’s habit of throwing everything he can at the screen in the hopes that something good sticks. In an ironic way, 10,000 BC is a pitch-perfect continuation of Emmerich’s life work; the only problem is the work’s abysmal nature.
The film opens with narration by, improbably, Omar Sharif, who spells out in excruciating detail everything that’s happening in a nameless mountain village thousands of years ago. Constantly besieged by the elements and on the verge of extinction — though that’s guesswork, since the film never makes it clear — the men of the tribe gather their weapons for one last woolly mammoth hunt. D’Leh (Steven Strait), one of the younger hunters, hopes to take down the mammoth and thus claim the white spear, which is the tribe’s symbol of power and leadership, and with it his woman, Evolet (Camilla Belle). D’Leh and Evolet have been in love since they met as children, and Emmerich in a truly creepy moment shows their youthful counterparts exchanging the kinds of looks, touches, and pledges of eternal love that are jarring coming from children. But the hunt doesn’t go quite as planned: D’Leh downs the mammoth through an accident, not with the kind of bravery that’s apparently needed, so less than a day after claiming the spear, he returns it to Tic’Tic (Cliff Curtis), one of the elders. I can’t remember whether this means he also has to return Evolet, who rolls with the punches and doesn’t do much; regardless, the tribe is attacked soon after by men on horseback, who are seen as “four-legged demons” and who kidnap Evolet and almost everyone else in the village. This, then, becomes the rough thrust of the film: It’s up to D’Leh, Tic’Tic, and a kid whose name I’ve forgotten to rescue Evolet and the other tribe members from their abductors.
And from that inauspicious start, the film gets further bogged down in a meandering plot, a few anti-climaxes, and a series of sequences that aren’t even passable at pretending to be suspenseful. As D’Leh et al. make their way through the mountains and down into the jungle, they eventually catch up with Evolet and the rest and actually manage to free them before giant feathered velociraptors (or something) attack and everybody gets re-kidnapped. D’Leh and his buds set out once more in pursuit of their captive brothers and sisters, but the shallow characterizations make it impossible to care about the two lovers reuniting, and what should have been a one-act journey that feeds into the larger narrative instead becomes the entire story. Out hunting one night on the trail, D’Leh falls into a pit and encounters a saber-toothed tiger, a threat that’s rendered comically inert by the cheap and cartoonish computer effects. The tiger is trapped under a log, and D’Leh opts to set it free instead of killing it, though apparently the tiger understands D’Leh’s frustrated warning, “Do not eat me,” since it just sniffs him and lets him go. Believe it or not, this is part of Emmerich’s wacky plan: D’Leh and Tic’Tic come across a black warrior tribe who anoint D’Leh as the “one who speaks to spear-tooth,” who has been spoken of in their prophecies as one who will lead them to freedom, or new life, or what have you. D’Leh rounds up the members of this new tribe — whose names are not important enough to remember, since Emmerich gave them as much weight as cardboard cut-outs — and begins to form an army to take down the still-fleeing bad guys.
That’s pretty much it. D’Leh and his group of fighters unite to fight their oppressors, who wind up being the Egyptians, who’ve been stealing folks from all over to build the pyramids. What started out as D’Leh’s journey to save his true love turns out to be a weird parable about Egyptian slaves, placing 10,000 BC somewhere between a B-level biblical epic and Emmerich’s own Stargate. But Emmerich and Kloser — who’s actually a composer, and who did the music for 10,000 BC, and who should really know better than to go anywhere near a word processor — can’t make the movie interesting to save their lives. The film builds no tension, creates no reason to invest in the characters, and gives the actors nothing to work with. Strait does nothing more than what he was cast to do, which is wear a loincloth and look vaguely concerned, while Belle probably doesn’t say 50 words in the entire film. More than a few characters die, too, but you never learn their names or spend enough time with them to make their loss matter. But Emmerich doesn’t seem to understand this, and in fact, he’s apparently operating under the assumption that holding the audience at a remove from the film and keeping them from truly entering the rhythm of the story is the only way to work. The best example of this is Sharif’s overwrought narration, which hampers the proceedings by summing up what a better filmmaker would have had the intelligence and skill to simply show. Then again, Emmerich has never proven himself to be that man, so why start now?
Daniel Carlson is the managing editor of Pajiba and a low-level employee at a Hollywood industry magazine. You can visit his blog, Slowly Going Bald.