Sunday, March 16, 2008
Ancient Setting, Older Design: 10,000 B.C.
Roland Emmerich’s latest CGI extravaganza may be far from (pre)historically accurate, but at least it doesn’t offer any false pretenses about what it is or how it came to be. With a specifically vague title like 10,000 B.C., Emmerich informs us not only of when his film takes place (sort of) but also about what makes the movie original-ish. Borrowing from historical epics ranging from Apocalypto to Braveheart, Gladiator to Troy and about anything else in between, 10,000 B.C. is less about telling a story than about staking claim to a time and place that had yet to be imagined on the big screen in the digital effects era. It’s a cinematic land grab. The advertising tagline for the picture might as well be, “A mindless knockoff of movies you’ve seen before, but with saber-tooth tigers and mastodons and shit.”
The film doesn’t have much of a plot, but it does a decent job of pretending otherwise. Emmerich and co-writer Harald Kloser pepper their flick with some Princess Bride-like narration that provides a campfire feel along with an illusion of intricacy (as if we couldn’t follow along without it). Steven Strait plays D’Leh, a simple hunter in love with the blue-eyed Evolet (Camilla Belle) who has been living in disgrace ever since his father ran out on the tribe many years before. Excuse me, I meant many winters before. This is one of those pictures that conjures cultures past by saying “many moons” instead of “many days” and requiring its actors to speak with unclassifiable yet deliberate accents. That would also explain the hairstyles right out of Battlefield Earth. Then again, who knew that men could manicure their facial hair so superbly without a Braun product?
But with a movie like this it’s better not to ask questions, so let me provide you with some answers instead: Yes, there appear to be more mastodons around than women. Yes, D’Leh and his buddies must have some nasty body odor for the mastodons not to be able to smell them crawling at their feet. Yes, those predatory birds look like a cross between ostriches and the vulture-like creatures in The Dark Crystal. Yes, the voice of the “Warlord” (Affif Ben Badra, the main bad dude on horseback) sounds as if it’s coming solely out of a subwoofer. Yes, it’s perplexing that D’Leh can so easily climb in and out of that prison considering that the prisoners sit around like contently gated cattle. Yes, when D’Leh tells the saber-tooth pussy not to eat him after he saves its life it marks what might go down as the most preposterous line of the year. Yes, that line would have been even more ridiculous if Nicolas Cage said it.
So where does that leave us? Waiting for the end, I suppose. The movie is basically 109 minutes of D’Leh on the trail of a kidnapped Evolet, encountering now-extinct beasts and darker-skinned tribesmen who are more than happy to follow his lead, cross deserts and thrust their spears in the air and wave ‘em round like they just don’t care. There’s no emotional connection to be made here, unless you count the embarrassment I felt for Cliff Curtis, whose mangy beard is still too thin to keep me from recognizing him as D’Leh’s guardian TicTic (you can’t make up names like this, nor should you). Curtis is too gifted an actor to appear in this kind of crap, which isn’t even bold enough to reach camp. But I suppose Curtis can now tell people that he’s acted in a movie with Omar Sharif, given that Dr. Zhivago himself is the one paying his bills by lending his voice as the narrator. How terribly sad.
On the plus side, 10,000 B.C.’s CGI artistry showcasing a city in chaos – complete with rampaging mastodons – provides a reward for those who suffer all the way to the end (I especially liked the aerial shot of thousands of slaves kneeling before their god). On top of that there’s the knowledge that Hollywood is running out of unclaimed historical eras that can be so carelessly imagined in the name of getting there first. 10,000 B.C. probably won’t be the most offensive movie I see this year, because it’s hard to get worked up over something that makes so little effort to entice me in the first place. But 10,000 B.C. might have the least to offer. In the end it’s like one of those gag-reflex meals offered up on Fear Factor: rancid, yet predictably so. So plug your nose and have at it, if you dare. Just be sure to bring a bucket.