By Dennis Hartley
(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on March 15, 2008)
A fact is a fact. Director Roland Emmerich makes great movie trailers. C’mon-admit it, you loved watching the White House blow up real good in the previews for Independence Day. For The Day After Tomorrow, he had you at the tornado-fueled disintegration of the “Hollywood” sign. You cried like a little schoolboy when Matthew Broderick exclaimed “He’s pregnant!” in the trailer for the 1998 remake of Godzilla. And I know that you haven’t been able to avoid the TV teasers for his latest epic, the prehistoric adventure 10,000 B.C. (unless you’ve been living in a…oh, never mind).
Emmerich is the heir apparent to the late Irwin Allen (aka “The Master of Disaster”); he has the same penchant for producing audience pleasing spectacles unencumbered by complex narrative or character development. But you can’t argue with his marketing savvy.
For his new film, Emmerich takes a break from the apocalyptic gloom and doom and plunders Aesop’s fables, Atlantean legend, Mel Gibson, John Ford, Steven Spielberg, the Discovery Channel’s Walking with Prehistoric Beasts and even his own 1994 cult favorite Stargate to concoct a hunk of cave-aged cinematic cheese that barely sits on a Ritz.
The story (co-scripted by the director with Harald Kloser) allegedly takes place sometime around, oh, 12,000 years ago and concerns a small tribe of mammoth hunters. The men (who all appear to have been cloned from Counting Crows’ lead singer) hunt, naturally, whilst the women busily gather (and still find time to maintain their perfect Bo Derek cornrows). The tribe is led by an aging matriarch and seer named, appropriately enough, Old Mother (Mona Hammond, channeling Cousin Itt from The Addams Family).
Old Mother prophesies big doings for a young hunter named D’leh (uncharismatic leading man Steven Strait). D’leh apparently is the Chosen One (chosen for what, specifically, is not made quite clear). There is a bit of exposition provided via some underwritten narration (voiced over by a palpably disinterested Omar Sharif, who sounds like he would rather be playing bridge). One thing is made quite clear…D’leh is destined to eventually knock sandals with pretty, blue-eyed Evolet (Camilla Belle).
However, before D’leh’s destiny can be, er, fulfilled, his beloved is kidnapped by a band of Persian-looking horsemen, referred to by the mammoth hunters as the “four-legged demons”. D’leh forms a posse with his best bud Tic’ Tic (Cliff Curtis, probably pondering how the hell he got from Whale Rider to here) and the chase is on.
Many perils lie in wait, like roving packs of huge, wingless avian raptors, who turn the tables on Thanksgiving by gobbling up humans like so many delicious birdie num-nums. D’leh takes a tumble into an animal trap, and makes like Androcles with a larger-than-scale saber-toothed tiger. As the dynamic duo pursues their quarry, they pick up reinforcements in the unlikely form of a tribe of African warriors (Dr. Leakey is spinning in his grave). We also learn some interesting facts about the local geography. Although the mammoth hunters appear to live on a sub-arctic taiga, rimmed by snowy peaks, they are only a day or two’s stroll from grassy African style savannahs, lush tropical rainforests, and a vast sandy desert. But hey, it’s only a movie, right?
The story climaxes in an opulent desert city that looks like a leftover movie set from Apocalypto (or Cleopatra) replete with pyramids, toiling slave laborers, high priests sporting bejeweled feathered hats, and a god-king who demands the odd human sacrifice.
So should this post have been titled When Anachronisms Ruled the Earth? Mmm, maybe. (I also toyed with 10 IQ, Mammoth Misfire, Dude, Where’s My Spear?, Two Years Before the Mastodon, and Yabba Dabba Doo Doo …but hey, I don’t want to bore you with details about my “process”). One gloriously incongruous moment that elicited unintentional laughs and nominates the film for future camp status: a climactic, mascara-streaked crying scene (even the Geico Caveman would find Evelot’s “raccoon eyes” a bit out of place 12,000 years before the debut of Maybelline and Max Factor).
You’re probably getting a vibe that I’m not recommending that you go out of your way to shell out your ten bucks for this one? Well, that depends. The CGI creations are convincing, and there are a few rousing action scenes, if that’s what you’re in the mood for. If you have a soft spot for the prehistoric adventure genre to begin with, you will likely be more forgiving to Emmerich’s liberal use of “artistic license” (when I was 11 years old, ogling Raquel Welch for 90 minutes while she ran around in a bear fur bikini, fleeing from hungry dinosaurs, do you think I was stressing out over epochal accuracy?). If you’re an anthropologist, you will definitely want to avoid this one like the Plague (that was, like, back in the Middle Ages… with Robin Hood and all those dudes…right?)