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10,000 B.C.   D

Warner Bros. Pictures / Legendary Pictures

Year Released: 2008
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Roland Emmerich
Writers: Roland Emmerich, Harald Kloser
Cast: Steven Strait, Camilla Belle, Cliff Curtis, Joel Virgel, Ben Badra, Mo Zainal, Nathanael Baring, Mona Hammond.

Review by Rob Vaux

10,000 B.C. presents the same problem for me that The Other Boleyn Girl did last week. It appears for all the world to be taking itself seriously and yet it's so magnificently transcendentally ridiculous that you wonder how the cast and crew made it through a single shot without collapsing into snickerfits. The challenge as a critic lies in waiting for the film to wink at you: the point where it lets you know that it's in on the fun and actually wants you to laugh at its thundering idiocy. I couldn't spot it in 10,000 B.C. Not once. But does that mean it's truly ignorant of the wall-to-wall goofiness it perpetuates? Or is director Roland Emmerich deliberately presenting his prehistoric soap opera as seriously as he can in order to heighten the cheese to exquisite pungency? Add enough self-mockery and the joke may be ruined. But pretend it all has meaning and significance -- pretend it's all very important -- and you have a joyous romp that will feed drunken Saturday nights in front of the DVD player for decades to come.

What you don't have is a good movie in any traditional sense of the term. Emmerich always possessed a knack for big empty spectacle, which he cloaks here in pseudo-mystical horseshit and a lot of twaddle about the Hero's Journey. But like far, far too many of his contemporaries, he's so entranced with the pretty pictures that he forgets to back them up with even basic notions of structure and plausibility. My poor brain hung in there for as long as it could, but it lost its grip during the giant chicken attack and I haven't seen it since. Of course, once you've accepted the staggering historical inaccuracies, impossibly gorgeous cave folk, and cheerful mangling of the laws of time and space, little problems with story and character just don't trouble you that much. Therein lies the key to surviving the experience.

The short version runs like this: noble dreadlocked mammoth hunters are attacked by evil proto-Egyptians who apparently needed to hike all the way to Norway for a couple dozen extra slaves. They drag off the young and nubile members of the tribe, including smoking hot Evolet (Camilla Belle), beloved of hunky D'Leh (Steven Strait) who's destined to fulfill some damn prophecy or another. He was off sulking during the raid because he didn't wanna fulfill the prophecy, but with his sweetie pie conscripted to help build temples on the other side of the world, he and a handful companions are the only ones left to save the day. Emmerich peppers their path with loads of wacky mayhem -- grouchy sabertooths, friendly clans with names like The Tribe That Lives Over There, and the aforementioned chicken attack -- before dumping them at the big pyramid-raising luau for a showstopping finale.

The huge, staggering, Grand Canyon-sized plot holes strewn across that path actually become part of the fun. You can get your money's worth just by pointing out all the wonderfully imbecilic moments where 10,000 B.C. leaps headlong into them, defying us to follow. Strait and Belle make impassioned cow eyes at each other, pausing long enough to fend off various sweaty advances from various Republic serial villains and CGI beasties intent on using them as hors d'oeuvres. Omar Sharif pops in as narrator (doubtless as part of his court-appointed punishment), loading the periodic voice-overs with faux solemnity and patented Tarzan primitive-speak. Semi-historical tidbits such as the birth of farming and the rudiments of astronomy compete throughout the film with mystical fortune-telling and preposterous references to Atlantis. They all exist in queasy symmetry with each other, embracing neither full-blown fantasy nor any pretense to anthropological accuracy.

Had it picked one side or the other, the film certainly might have allowed us to take it more seriously. But the laughter would have been more muted -- the finger-pointing more laced with guilt -- and who wants that? Part of the glee lies in its insistence on dignity, its pretense to real drama, and the fact that it looks us right in the eye and really truly seems to mean it. That lets 10,000 B.C. deliver its entertainment value to be sure, though not the kind the posters kept promising. The Mystery Science Theater crew will see it as manna from heaven (fans keep an eye out: a RiffTrax download is as certain as the sunrise) and those similarly inclined should mark the DVD release with a do-not-miss red pen. Did Emmerich plan it that way? I don't believe he did, and God bless his deluded little heart if that's the case. But with lemons as bad as the kind sported here, all you can do is make lemonade... and intentional or not, this batch turns out to be surprisingly tasty.

Review published 03.11.2008.

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