10,000 B.C. (United States/New Zealand, 2008)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

I suppose there's some entertainment value to be had from the sheer badness of 10,000 B.C. The movie takes itself serious enough that, viewed from a warped perspective in a state of inebriation, it might actually be fun. Seen in more mundane circumstances, however - such as after paying $10 at a multiplex - it's anything but that. 10,000 B.C. is one of those movies where one is tempted to ask aloud, "What were they thinking?" Its across-the-board clumsiness is surprising. One doesn't expect intelligent scripting or deep characterization from Roland Emmerich, but the film's lack of energy, poor special effects, and monotonous pacing lead to an inescapable conclusion: 10,000 B.C. isn't only brain-dead, it's completely dead. It's inert and without a heartbeat.

Complaining about historical inaccuracies in 10,000 B.C. is as pointless an endeavor as whining about the use of the archaic term "B.C." in the title. There are enough big problems with the movie that there's no need to nitpick. The movie is best viewed as a fantasy adventure set on another planet; that way, one doesn't have to try to make sense out of why some clans speak English and others don't. Of greater concern is why all the large creatures, such as the mammoths and the sabertooth tiger, look like they were rendered using the same processes that generated the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. What was cutting edge in the early 1990s looks clunky and unreal compared to where state-of-the-art special effects have migrated since then, yet Emmerich has chosen to go the cut-rate route, and it shows. It's tough to be transported to another reality when the images on the screen impede the process.

Still, mediocre imaging could have been overcome by a halfway decent plot that doesn't threaten to put the viewer to sleep - something not in evidence here. 10,000 B.C. uses one of the oldest stories in the book (which makes an odd kind of sense when one considers the title): the outcast who must prove himself before leading his people to a great triumph. This involves, as it usually does, a long journey fraught with many perils. While 10,000 B.C. can be said to resemble countless movies that have come before it, many of them better, it brings to mind another recent misfire that employs the same premise: Uwe Boll's In the Name of the King. In what may come as something of a shock, Boll's movie is more enjoyable, if only because it's possible to derive a degree of perverse entertainment out of watching Ray Liotta go so far over the top that he threatens to enter orbit. 10,000 B.C. doesn't offer any such dubious pleasures. The acting is at a uniformly colorless level; an injection of something like Liotta's scenery chewing would have been welcome.

10,000 B.C. opens with an Omar Shariff voiceover introducing us to D'Leh (Steven Strait) and Evolet (Camilla Belle), a couple destined to free their people from the terror of the "four-legged demons" and pave a path to the future for them. These two are desperately in love but clan politics interfere with their desire to be bonded to one another. So the virtuous D'Leh broods while Evolet suggests they should run away together. D'Leh rejects this notion since his dad infamously left the tribe when D'Leh was child, resulting in the boy being labeled as an outcast for having a cowardly father. Fate intervenes in the love story when a group of mounted warriors arrives to capture and pillage. They take most of the tribe, including Evolet, captive. D'Leh escapes and, along with two others, begins the long journey to hunt down the marauders and free his people.

Emmerich would like us to believe that D'Leh's trek is "long and dangerous." I'll agree with the "long" part but "tedious" or "boring" would be a more appropriate second descriptor. The film's middle section is padded beyond the point of tolerance. It goes on seemingly forever without a moment's genuine excitement. The "battles" with the creatures of the time are perfunctory and poorly executed (especially D'Leh's encounter with a sabertooth tiger, which drew titters from the audience) and the failed rescue of Evolet serves only to waste time. There's not enough real content in this journey to justify the nearly 60 minutes it takes.

It's difficult to say what aspect of 10,000 B.C. fails more obviously. It doesn't work as a period piece, but that's not a surprise. Its attempt to tell an epic love story is laughable; it would help if viewers had a reason to care about either D'Leh or Evolet. Its value as a "popcorn movie" is undeniable, however. A viewer can easily leave the theater in the middle of the film, stand in a long line to get food and drinks, and return confident that he will not have missed anything of import. The dialogue is horrible, but that's what happens when tribesmen from 12,000 years ago try to speak in modern-day English. The editing is awkward as a result of neutering what should be a bloodbath to the point where it can obtain a PG-13 rating. There's plenty of carnage but the camera keeps cutting away just in time so the audience is spared the goriest parts. I can't say that more blood and brains would have made 10,000 B.C. a better movie but at least it would have seemed more honest.

Some will defend Emmerich on the grounds that he makes movies to please crowds not critics. There's some merit to that argument but it doesn't work here. It's hard to imagine 10,000 B.C. pleasing anyone. It's too dull to involve those who like action-packed, fast-paced motion pictures and it's too dull-witted to engage anyone else. The only thing worse that 10,000 B.C.'s inane storyline is the ineptitude with which it is executed. No matter what your preference in movies, this is one to avoid.

10,000 B.C. (United States/New Zealand, 2008)

Run Time: 1:45
U.S. Release Date: 2008-03-07
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1