Directed by Roland Emmerich
Some action/adventure movies pillage other, far better movies with such ham-fisted incompetence that the images sit on the screen with no ability whatsoever to conjure up any degree of excitement. 10,000 B.C. is a textbook example.
A Touch of Destiny
In the case of this latest pastiche from the director of other non-classics like Independence Day, Stargate, and Universal Soldier, its source material includes (and is not even remotely limited to) Gladiator, The Ten Commandments, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Conan the Barbarian, and The Mummy.
If only 10,000 B.C. had one iota of the charisma of any one of those movies, it'd be almost enjoyable. Instead, this wannabe tries to tell an underdog story about D'Leh (Steven Strait, The Covenant), an insecure hunter-gatherer who, at the movie's start, stumbles his way through the killing of a woolly mammoth. At one point his hand gets caught in the net that was spread in an attempt to slow the beast. Once freed of the net, D'Leh's spear inexplicably gets stuck between a couple rocks and, even more inexplicably, the mammoth fatally falls on the spear during its rampage.
At first willing to play the victor in order to win the love of his life, Evolet (Camilla Belle, The Quiet), D'Leh is too ashamed of the truth to perpetuate his own lie, admits his cowardly actions, and relinquishes the cherished prize that is the White Spear (please, don't bother asking what that means).
But, since this is a story about an underdog rising to the occasion and meeting seemingly insurmountable challenges, unfortunately 10,000 B.C. goes on with one ridiculous set up after another.
D'Leh's camp gets raided, Evolet gets kidnapped, an old wise woman yammers about prophecy, a multilingual tribe points to a rock with a hieroglyph of a man and a saber tooth tiger, yadda yadda yadda. The quest for the future begins with one misstep, then another, and another...
Let My People Go
There are probably at least 10,000 things wrong with 10,000 B.C. At the top of the list is the excruciatingly generic lead actor. Devoid of any indication of bearing a personality, Strait is too straight-laced in this muddy muck.
Characters spout off mystical jibber-jabber about white rain (they mean snow), birds that fly on water (they mean boats), the mouth of the snake (they're talking about a river), and mountains of the gods (they're talking about the pyramids, which make an appearance that's roughly 7,500 years premature). It's the kind of innocent, wide-eyed, the entire-world-is-magical-through-the-eyes-of-a-two-year-old gibberish that tries to sound so dark and mysterious, while only coming across as lame and ironically unimaginative.
Most emblematic of the movie's credibility problems is a scene that comes midway through this poor man's overpriced epic. D'Leh stumbles upon a saber tooth tiger that's trapped in rubble. Instead of killing the beast, he sets it free. Unfortunately, given the singularly silly storytelling level of the movie's preceding events, when D'Leh comes face to face with the enormous tiger, the gut half expects it to start talking to D'Leh, like it was some cartoony character out of The Lion King or The Golden Compass. Mercifully, 10,000 B.C. doesn't sink that low. But it's still sad that the thought even surfaces.
As the movie lurches toward its dreadfully past-due conclusion, the movie has other gaffs to unload. One of the biggest "what-the-hecks" occurs at the pyramids, where D'Leh seeks to release Evolet and, yes, D'Leh asks the captors to let his people go. It's unintentionally funny when some prisoners remove a false floor and pull out a blind wise man lying on a stretcher; he goes on to speak all sorts of raspy, mystical mumbo-jumbo. Given that he's apparently been lying around for quite some time, he's still got quite a bit of muscle on those bones.
One Million Years B.C., Give or Take
Given director Roland Emmerich's penchant for big budget special effects extravaganzas, it's also disappointing those effects simply aren't that good here. Yeah, it's kinda cool to see those wooly mammoths walking up and down ramps leading to the under-construction pyramids, but that's about it.
Effects wise, everything else is really fairly hokey and it's pretty obvious that most of this movie's Cecil B. DeMille-esque cast of thousands exist only on some backroom Hollywood hard drive.
But even more disturbing on an extremely technical level, there are a couple really low-light scenes that are jarring in their complete lack of image quality. This is not even a question of the artistic use of film grain. There are a couple occasions where the setting changes to a dark interior or night scene and the picture quality goes absolutely to pot. It's the kind of low-res image that would seem to indicate they forgot to turn on the noise reduction on their swanky digital cameras.
Given those technical disappointments, maybe all of this tripe reads better on paper. As it stands, even with a score that desperately tries to pick the movie up by its sandals and turn it into the epic that it really wants to grow up to be, and even with expansive desert scenes that sorely want to duplicate the magic of Lawrence of Arabia, 10,000 B.C. will most likely go down as the biggest white elephant of 2008.
• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.