Monday, April 21, 2008

10,000 B.C. / ** (PG-13)

D’Leh: Steven Strait
Evolet: Camilla Belle
Tic’Tic: Cliff Curtis
Nakudu: Joel Virgel
Warlord: Affif Ben Badra
Ka’Ren: Mo Zinal
Baku: Nathanael Baring
Narrator: Omar Sharif

Warner Bros. Pictures presents a film directed by Roland Emmerich. Written by Emmerich and Harald Kloser. Running time: 109 min. Rated PG-13 (for sequences of intense action and violence).

When is an ending a cop out? When it does nothing to serve the greater story. In a typical action picture, it’s OK to force an ending where all the good guys win and all the bad guys lose, because that’s what the audience expects and wants. But once you set it in a different time or introduce fantasy elements, imposing prophecy and the like into the storyline, you open up a bag of rules that require you to stick to your guns and deliver the story with a conviction above mere escapist fare.

Except for “The Patriot”—which actually delivered some of the depth its premise carried—I’ve never liked the films of Roland Emmerich. His problem is that despite a lot of big ideas, at heart he’s merely conventional. In “Independence Day”, he fashioned a Hollywood disaster picture around an alien invasion by a race of aliens with no actual purpose. In “The Day After Tomorrow”—another disaster picture—he tried to comment on the environment but forgot his own purpose, leaving his hero running from abnormally large wolves through the glacier-covered avenues of New York City. And don’t get me started on the waste of time that is “Stargate”, a film that was actually improved upon by Showtime and that guy who played MacGyver.

“10,000 B.C.” tries to pull together an epic out of a story about early man. In prehistoric times, D’Leh (Steven Strait, “The Covenant”) is a young mamouth hunter for his tribe. He is an outcast because his father abandoned the tribe when D’Leh was just a boy. Tic’Tic (Cliff Curtis, “Live Free or Die Hard”) is the tribe’s current leader and holder of the white spear, but the time has come for the spear to be passed on to the next generation, putting D’Leh in competition with Ka’Ren (Mo Zinal, “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day”) for the spear.

D’Leh also must live up to the lofty aspirations of a prophecy. Apparently, the days of hunting mammoths have come to an end, and he will be the one to lead his tribe into a new age along with a blue-eyed girl originally from another tribe, Evolet (Camilla Belle, “When a Stranger Calls”). The prophecy speaks of “four-legged demons” that will bring about this change. Once these demons come, they turn out to just be men who kidnap people from various tribes to work as slaves building great temples in the desert. When Evolet is kidnapped, D’Leh, Tic’Tic, and Ka’Ren track these warlords back to their temples to free her and the rest of the slaves.

All of this is narrated in greatly unnecessary detail by film legend Omar Sharif (“Hidalgo”) as if there is some meaning lying underneath this basic tale of survival. Some spectacular special effects sequences involve prehistoric animals like the mamouth, the saber-toothed tiger and some nasty giant birds, but the story is far too centered on the struggle between the lowly tribesmen and the greedy warlords, which amounts to nothing that hasn’t been seen before.

I wanted to see more of this prehistoric world which made the humans seem small and fragile compared to the predators around them. How did early man survive in this harsh wilderness? What did it take to overcome nature’s overcompensations in the predatory size of these beasts those men had to face? How did man survive the severe weather patterns that wiped many of those beasts from existence? This is what a movie called “10,000 B.C.” should be about, not people exploiting each other out of their own greed. Even if that was going on, we get enough of it in movies set in modern times.

I also felt there was far too much English spoken in the movie. I understand having your lead tribe speak English to make their communication that much easier for the audience to follow. But this is not a movie of speeches (although Emmerich does manage to go the “Braveheart” rile-up-the-troops route before film’s end). This is a movie of action. Almost all of the dialogue is uneccesary, especially with the overly helpful narrator. The characters need to communicate with each other, but there is very little information here that needs to be passed on to the audience beyond, “Let’s go get your woman back, D’Leh!” Or, “Holy s@%#! Did you see the size of that bird? Maybe we should run away.”

As for the prophecy, Tic’Tic mentions at one point that a prophecy might come to pass in several different ways. Just by the actions that D’Leh and Evolet take, they are leading their tribe in a new direction. Does the prophecy mean they both will live to an old age, or would it be possible for the prophecy to be true if one of them dies? Tic’Tic’s observation would suggest that either interpretation is possible for the prophecy. Unfortunately, Emmerich seems to believe there is only one way for the prophecy to be interpreted by story’s end. He even reverses the most dramatic event of the finale in order to conform the prophecy to more conventional standards of Hollywood storytelling.

Some may believe Emmerich has just become a whipping boy for critics. Of course, it is hard to blame anyone else when he claims director, writer and producer credits. But I really want his movies to work. Every time I see a new trailer for a Roland Emmerich movie, I think, “Oh, it looks like he finally got it right.” And every time I sit through the actual film I have to cover my eyes and say, “What the hell are you doing?” It is like he has to consult his Hollywood-filmmaking checklist before he finishes. “Good guy?” Check. “Pretty-girl love interest?” Check. “Shabby moral lesson?” Check. “Another potentially good film gone terribly wrong?” Check.


Alan Bacchus said...

Two stars? You're too kind Andrew.

Andrew D. Wells said...

Perhaps. I've been doing this long enough to have finally developed the contempt for star ratings so many of the old pros have. I think my review shows that the movie wasn't what I wanted it to be, but expectations can complicate judgment, so I wasn't so harsh on the film it wanted to be. Neither reflection of the film that was made is good.