Baity says 10,000 BC is a stone-age turkey

by Glen Baity

Do you like Michael Bay, but find his films a little too brainy? Roland Emmerich might just be your speed.

The auteur behind such box office bonanzas as Independence Day and The Patriot is a master of the lazy epic, delivering mountains of pretension undergirded by virtually no substance, flat characters and brain-dead dialogue. His last film, The Day After Tomorrow, rode a cultural wave of heightened environmental awareness to a big payday despite the fact it was one of the more stupid blockbusters of the last 10 years. The writer-director this week turns his scholarly gaze on the distant past in 10,000 BC, a lumbering bore featuring suspiciously photogenic nomads, some phony-looking mammoths and saber-tooth tigers, and not very much else.

For whatever reason, Emmerich seems to have a thing for Mel Gibson – The Patriot, which even cast the mad Aussie as its lead, was little more than a dumbed-down Braveheart transposed for the American Revolution. And 10,000 BC owes a lot to 2006’s far, far superior Apocalypto, which was much more successful at transporting the viewer back through the centuries to a forgotten world. Both films deal with a peaceful tribe torn asunder by marauding forces and the quest of one man to deliver his beloved from harm’s way. The difference, of course, is that if you’re watching Apocalypto you might give a crap if the hero succeeds.

Chances are you won’t if you’re enduring this faux-mythical story of D’Leh (Steven Strait), champion of a mountain tribe who leads a force of hundreds against… well, I’m assuming the Egyptians, since they seem to be building pyramids in the desert (the viewer is never given any real sense of place, though it must take place in some part of the world where mountains and desert are separated by a three-day walk). The story starts in the manner of most hero tales: After enduring humiliation within his own community when he fails to kill a mammoth in the correct manner (seriously), D’Leh is further chagrined by the kidnapping of the lovely Evolet (Camilla Belle), whom he intended to marry one day, when he could sufficiently prove his handiwork with a spear. She is taken by a band of thugs loyal to the area god-king, who for good measure enslaves D’Leh’s fellow hunters to the greater glory of his pyramids.

The film’s gimmick is to sell itself as one of the first true hero tales, which has not-so-sadly been lost to history (presumably, it predates even prototype monster yarn Beowulf, though 10,000 BC is not available in 3-D that I’m aware of). I have no idea if even a trace of it is rooted in fact; I also can’t see that it would matter one way or the other. 10,000 BC is just a dreadful snoozer of a picture. The C-list actors (you may remember one of them as a minor player in the last Die Hard movie; then again, you may not) do a poor job acquitting Emmerich’s dreadful script, which he penned with longtime composer and first-time screenwriter Harald Kloser. The two have packed their screenplay with every hackneyed cliché you can think of, most of them speaking to the importance of “bringing honor to my people.”

But that isn’t the only familiar motif. The film is littered with circling aerial shots of its stars trekking across snow-capped mountain ranges. These seem to be deployed as substitutes for any real sense of grandeur, because the actual plot and characters here are stunningly shallow and dull. It’s hard to pick one as the blandest of them all, but Strait’s reluctant savior – to be sure, the most worn-out archetype in the canon – is fairly representative. Like everyone else here, he delivers weighty aphorisms about honor in an accent that sounds vaguely African, or something, though his pouty mannerisms are straight out of “Melrose Place.” Grating, too, is Belle’s Evolet, whose lipstick and dark eye makeup make her look more like Heidi Montag’s BFF than a cavewoman in peril.

Generic down to its very title, 10,000 BC plays as a simple, dull retread of all sorts of different films, from The Ten Commandments to The Prince of Egypt. It’s not as good as any one of the dozens to which I could compare it, and unless you’re just dying to see a herd of snuffalupaguses in the wild, you’d do well to hunt for game elsewhere.

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