Note: In the following joint review, both John and Jason take a look at the movie, with John also writing up the Video, Audio, Extras, and Parting Shots.
The Movie According to John:
Roland Emmerich seems unable to think small. The word is clearly not in his vocabulary. He gives us things like "Independence Day," "Godzilla," "The Patriot," and "The Day After Tomorrow." Big movies filled with big casts and big special effects. With "ID4" the spectacle worked because he did the film tongue in cheek. With the others, the scale tended to overwhelm the subject matter. So, has he learned his lesson? Not with "10,000 BC." The only thing he scaled down in this 2008 production was leaving the punctuation out of B.C. Otherwise, it's more of the same: lots of CGI and a minimum of story and character. That gets tiresome really fast.
On the plus side, at least we don't have Raquel Welch or Ringo Starr battling dinosaurs. On the minus side, we still don't get much that resembles serious historical accuracy. I mean, the story starts out OK, with prehistoric Man hunting mammoths in the northern lands of Europe (or Asia; it's unclear), but it soon disintegrates into melodramatic hogwash about pyramids and domesticated mammoths and even hints of higher intelligences helping to advance civilization.
Maybe Emmerich thought he was doing another "2001," I dunno. He gets away with playing fast and loose with archaeological events by having his film's narrator say the movie is about myth and legend. Maybe he should also have said it was about fantasy and science fiction because that's pretty much what it comes down to.
The main character in the story is D'Leh (Steven Strait). At least, I think he's the main character since he shows up more often than anybody else. It's hard to tell, though, as the characters look so much alike under their heavy clothing, dark hairpieces, and thick makeup. An old woman, considered a shaman of sorts by D'Leh's people, foretells that four-legged demons will come among them and that D'Leh will become their savior. They do, and he does.
The first things we learn about people twelve thousand years ago is that they apparently never washed, and they had trouble with their language. Dubious. Even animals in the wild keep clean, but D'Leh's people seem dirty all the time, with matted, knotted hair and faces that look as though they used mud for mascara. Worse, his people speak modern English haltingly. Sure, having characters speak in a movie audience's native tongue is a convention we have come to accept, unless we want subtitles, but why are these characters speaking as though they had just recently learned a second language? All people, no matter how uncultivated, have sophisticated languages that they learn from birth and speak without hesitation. Was Emmerich trying to tell us that primitive peoples have primitive languages? If so, he'll not find evidence to back him up among today's most primitive peoples.
Anyway, the object of D'Leh's eye is the lovely Evolet (Camilla Belle), whom the prophecy says D'Leh will marry. The trouble is, it ain't going to be easy. When the four-legged demons arrive (on horseback; therefore, four legs), they are slave traders who raid and pillage D'Leh's village, taking prisoners with them to sell into captivity. Evolet is one of the prisoners they take. (Incidentally, while the others of D'Leh's people look like that five-thousand-year-old mummified "Iceman" that scientists found frozen in the snow some years ago, Ms. Belle looks like she just stepped through the front portals of Hollywood High. Only in the movies, I suppose.)
D'Leh survives the raid and heads out to rescue his love and the others taken captive, thus potentially fulfilling his mythic destiny. What he gets into is utterly preposterous. He and several companions travel from their frozen homeland in the North, over snowcapped mountains, through humid tropical rain forests, into arid, rocky wastelands, and finally to a flat, desert terrain, all within what appears to be a few days. Along the trek, D'Leh frees and befriends a saber-toothed tiger, battles gigantic, man-eating birds, and gathers an army to fight the great nations of the South. He makes it look easy.
This is where the story really falls apart. D'Leh presumably winds up in Egypt, where he finds a highly advanced civilization using slave labor and trained mammoths to build pyramids as instructed by the "gods." (Am I giving away too much? I think not, since the movie's trailers showed these very scenes.) Now, I know there are some people who subscribe to such radical theories about early pyramid building, but recent archaeological evidence suggests that the Egyptians started constructing their first pyramids about five thousand years ago, not twelve thousand, and that they did not use massive armies of slaves to build them but small groups of highly skilled workers whom they probably paid well for their efforts.
And domesticated mammoths? If we were to believe that, common sense would lead us to ask, Then why did mammoths die out? And why didn't the Egyptians (if, indeed, the people D'Leh encounters are Egyptian at all--the movie never refers to them by name, although it does show us what appears to be the Sphinx under construction) mention mammoths in their hieroglyphics or portray them in their paintings?
Emmerich presents the entire movie in a slow, solemn procession of scenes that would suggest he thought of it as some kind of religious ceremony. None of his characters ever laughs or jokes. Or even smiles, as far I could tell. It's as if he thought human nature was somehow different back then; that life was so hard and the people so uncivilized, no one had any fun. People are people, and I'm sure our ancestors had as much of a good time as we do today. Still, that might spoil the tenor of Emmerich's picture, so everybody's got to be deadly serious. D'Leh and his companions even walk to slow, solemn, heroic-sounding music. It gets awfully silly.
"10,000 BC" has all the excitement of a National Geographic Channel special but with none of the content. Although the CGI work is OK, the cinematography is pleasing, and a couple of segments--notably a mammoth hunt early on--are reasonably arresting, most of the film is simply a matter of waiting for it to end. It's quite bland, actually.
John's Film Rating: 4/10
The Movie According to Jason:
I can't quite decide if "10,000 BC" is a rich man's "Pathfinder" or a poor man's "300." Or maybe an ancient version of "The Lost World: Jurassic Park." How about an even older "Dances with Wolves," only except wolves we get woolly mammoths and saber tooth tigers roaming the countryside. Whichever previous film Emmerich's latest took its cues from, it still ends up being as tediously boring as the name suggests.
When their small tribe is attacked and people taken captive by slave traders, four remaining warriors set out to retrieve their brothers and sisters. D'Leh (Steven Strait) is trying to accomplish two different things: remove the stain of his father's so-called cowardice and rescue the woman he loves (Camilla Belle). Through their journey from the snowy mountains to the sun-scorched desert, D'Leh and his little band of warriors encounter people, creatures, and obstacles they never would have encountered otherwise and, thus, become legends in their own right.
Maybe Emmerich doesn't quite understand the little box we'd all love to put him in, the one he excels at based on his previous directorial efforts. "Independence Day," "Godzilla," "The Day After Tomorrow" are all big, loud, crowd-pleasing action films set in familiar locations. The White House is blown up, New York is covered in snow, or Madison Square Garden is the breeding ground for deadly babies. This is the kind of film we expect, not a mind-bendingly lackluster effort that raises more questions than it answers and always seems to be reaching for a certain MPAA rating instead of crafting a complete movie experience.
(Let me say this right now: This is not a children's movie. It is rated PG-13. Some sequences and characters can be scary. There are subtitles throughout the production. This isn't an action film in the conventional sense. Regardless of how the trailers portray "10,000 BC," it's no "300" or comic-book movie. It's not really for kids.)
Now then, you would think in a movie ostensibly about warriors and fighting and revolution, there would be blood. Of some kind. Not buckets and buckets of blood, but something to signify people are dying besides their keeling over with a spear in their backs. The lack of blood is a microcosm for everything wrong with the film: It's sanitized for the teen audience to garner a PG-13 rating and dumbed down into horrific stereotypes to make up for a lack of characterization, ripping off any number of other movies. In other words, there isn't much to see here we haven't seen before done bigger, better, and with more panache.
One of the criticisms of "300" was the depiction of the Persians as Middle Eastern stereotypes and Xerxes as nothing more than a flamboyant gay man in makeup. Both fair, I guess; but then where is the outcry against any of Emmerich's characters? Each new group D'Leh encounters is a different shade of brown. In fact, the only light-skinned characters in the movie are the evil slave traders and the man everyone bows down to, only known as the Almighty. And all the tribes are agile warriors, suggesting there are no other kinds of colored people in this universe. (I will point out D'Leh is considered a coward at first and not worthy of being a warrior.) And the Almighty's advisors? All effeminate. I could be seeing offenses where none actually exist, although it would have been nice to see Emmerich acknowledge the problems with "300," the film with which his movie would be most compared.
There turns out to be very little heart or humanity in any of the characters. They are all designed to convey a certain type, to rely on our movie intellect to form the person instead of developing each person through the script. Why does Evolet love D'Leh so much, and vice versa? We never get to know anything about their personalities or see them spend much time together. Are other warriors so upset with D'Leh they can't acknowledge he will try to rescue them all? Is he their only hope of not dying a slave; why not give the guy the benefit of the doubt?
It's sad, really. If "10,000 BC" lived up to half of its potential, it might have been an entertaining movie. Aside from occasionally decent CGI creatures and one or two action sequences, there really isn't anything to recommend. You can't even get historical accuracy from the film. None of what is being portrayed could have happened at the time suggested by the title due to various technological discoveries and improvements not having come about for centuries afterward.
On the action: The climactic battle on the side of a pyramid is perhaps the worst mass action scene in recent film history. Not because of its lunacy (though it does play a part), but because there's never a sense of tension or buildup to it. Everything just…happens, for lack of a better word, hoping to come off as a grandiose event. Either Emmerich doesn't know how to film action with only actors involved, or his budget only allowed for long-shot CGI creations. Whatever the reason, it's blasé and uninspired.
Sequences with woolly mammoths or saber-toothed tigers (especially the one played up in the trailers) fall flat not because they employ sub-par CGI but because everything happens due to "destiny." D'Leh is supposed to fall into a pit and avoid spiked speaks. He's supposed to free a tiger before he drowns and tell him not to attack. The tiger is supposed to show up, proclaiming D'Leh's future almost like Aslan in "The Chronicles of Narnia." I mean, come on. Didn't we get enough destiny mumbo-jumbo that never made sense in the latest "Star Wars" movies?
"10,000 BC" never manages to be awe-inspiring, epic, or involving the way it should be. Humorous asides between two children come off more like C-3PO and R2-D2 moments of levity than anything remotely realistic. And it's never a good thing when I'm laughing at the unintentionally funny climax. Hit the enemy on the head with a mallet, indeed. Put the audience out of their misery and knock them out, too. Although I was never bored by the story, a lack of anything meaningful destroys any positives I could come up with.
Jason's Film Rating: 3/10
As has been their wont of late, Warner Bros. offer the film in both full and widescreen on opposite sides of the same disc. The full-screen is a pan-and-scan affair, cutting out a good deal of the screen image left and right; the widescreen is a 2.40:1 ratio that preserves the film's theatrical dimensions.
The anamorphic widescreen transfer does what it can with a picture that doesn't always display the clearest possible picture. The director no doubt wanted to portray our ancient ancestors in the darkest, most-primitive possible light, thus using a subdued color pallette throughout the film. At its best, the picture is clean, with strong contrasts and deep black levels. At its worst, it's soft and fuzzy, with a kind of dull veneer veiling the images. Mostly, though, the video is fine for what it has to do, and the whites of the snow show up especially well, as do most daylight shots.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio easily upstages the picture quality. It displays an excellent left-to-right stereo spread, a thundering bass, and some superb surround sound. The mammoth hunt near the beginning of the story demonstrates the best sonic characteristics the film has to offer. Later, the sounds of the forest, the beasts, and the hubbub of the crowds impressively envelop the listener.
Warners put the special features only on side one, the widescreen side. They include just two items in any case. The first is an alternate ending, about three minutes, and the second is a series of ten additional scenes, about ten minutes total. WB present all of these segments in widescreen, and I wonder why they didn't use them in the theatrical cut to flesh it out. The extras conclude with some theatrical trailers at start-up only; twenty-six scene selections but no chapter insert; English, French, and Spanish spoken languages; French and Spanish subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.
The first big-scale movies I remember seeing in my youth were a rerelease of "Gone With the Wind" and later the première of Cecil B. DeMille's "The Ten Commandments." They were enormously long, epic films, but they seemed to move along very quickly. By contrast, "10,000 BC" is only 109 minutes, counting about ten minutes of closing credits, yet it goes by in what seems like six hours. Not all "big" is the same. This one has a story that fails to engage us and characters who fail to involve us. The movie is plain, old-fashioned dull.