ZERO STARS/**** Image A Sound A Extras B-
starring Steven Strait, Camilla Belle, Cliff Curtis, Joel Virgel
screenplay by Roland Emmerich & Harald Kloser
directed by Roland Emmerich
by Walter Chaw Gather 'round, younglings, pull up a rock. Comfortable? Good. Roland Emmerich's 10,000 BC is about a young warrior named "D'Leh" (Steven Strait) who has the bad judgment to fall in love with doll-eyed Evolet (Camilla Belle)--who herself has the bad judgment to be kidnapped by slave traders. The movie starts in the Himalayas, I think, and ends there following an interminable foray in a rainforest as well as an Egyptian detour. I know it's Egypt because we see them building Pyramids in the desert, though I confess to being a little confused by the revelation that mammoths are beasts of burden in 10,000 BC, forced to participate in the construction of said pyramids. I had time to wonder aloud about how this is the second film after Jumper in 2008's deadly winter-doldrums sweepstakes to go to Egypt's Valley of Kings, and about how D'Leh and his mentor Tic'Tic (Cliff Curtis) could not only make the hike from Nepal (or somewhere) to Egypt wearing sandals and standard-issue Tarzan gear, but also why they were dressed like that on an exposed, snow-covered mountain in the first place. 10,000 BC's first mistake is giving the audience time to think at all, seeing as how the same courtesy was not afforded to anyone on the production side of things--thus allowing for domesticated sabre-toothed tigers and mammoths to decorate this epic™ quest in pursuit of a damsel so under-developed that when it's revealed she has scars in the shape of the constellation Orion, I genuinely had no idea why it mattered. Still don't.
What I do understand is that 10,000 BC is Roland Emmerich's Apocalypto, meaning that in place of the pure, unadulterated, unmediated madness you get from a Mel Gibson joint, you have a commensurate volume of stupidity. It's a film that countryman Uwe Boll would have made had he the budget and the cinematographer, but given that what appears to have been shown to us at the packed (jeering) screening was a rough cut (a scratch in the print for half the running time; impenetrably-thick grain in the night sequences), the only thing to possibly recommend the flick was fucked-up beyond recognition. What it also means is that all the hero characters speak in weirdly-accented English and that the African allies they accrue in their travels begin to take on the uncomfortable burden of vintage, ooga-booga jungle-peril serials. In defense of the cast, at least, the dialogue appears to have been written by a non-native speaker with some sort of brain injury, thus foisting some of the atrociousness of the performances off on the script. It's important to consider, if one were to bother with a racial/consent read of the picture, that the Arab slave traders of the piece are, to a one, hideous caricatures--but more profitable to look at the film through the prism of Emmerich's other disasterpieces. It has the setting and "godhead" of Stargate; the climate changes of The Day After Tomorrow; Godzilla's bad use of CG monsters; the misplaced xenophobic, paternalistic, asshole nationalism of The Patriot and Independence Day; and the hilarious incompetence of each of them.
What's missing this time around is a high concept anyone could give much of a shit about. The Revolutionary War, alien invasions, the end of the world--all of that comes with built-in interest. Watching the world's worst hunters played by the world's worst actors try to bring down a mammoth in an unintentionally hilarious sequence (that incidentally underscores how good Peter Jackson's derided brontosaurus run in King Kong actually was) is far from enticing fare. Worse, the editing is inept to the point of making the whole film incoherent for long stretches. (Not avant-garde incoherent, boring incoherent.) Take, for example, our dashing, Ken-doll hero, seen at the end, poignantly, wearing his father's scrimshaw bracelet--even though the scene where he presumably receives it from the hideous blind oracle the Egyptians' slaves are keeping in a gimp trap has found itself unceremoniously and unwisely excised from the picture. Without that narrative bridge, what you have is this unshakeable suspicion that D'Leh has bullied and robbed some larval sub-human for a sentimental tchotchke.
It's just one example of dozens where whatever was intended takes on an opposite meaning through a careless juxtaposition; for a film 12,008 years in the making, would it have killed them to give it another month in the Avid? The only solace of 10,000 BC, then, is that its seemingly inevitable box-office failure will perhaps result in a little sober reflection on Emmerich's blockbuster touch. Of course, I also thought this about Michael Bay's The Island, which did nothing to staunch the money infusion of Transformers. Hope springs eternal in the breast of the masochist, I guess. Originally published: March 7, 2008.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
by Bill Chambers Warner brings 10,000 BC to BD circa 2008 AD in a dynamic 2.40:1, 1080p transfer. I do wish grain levels were more consistent from not just scene-to-scene but sometimes shot-to-shot as well--a kink you would've thought 'they'd' iron out in the process of repainting everything with their digital Crayolas. A hideous turquoise/wheat palette in the earlygoing distracts from the frankly astounding three-dimensionality of the image, but the colourists ease up or grow bored once the action moves to the desert, whose vistas really lend themselves to a HiDef canvas. While I'm not that crazy about the picture's wall-of-sound approach to audio mixing, the disc's 5.1 Dolby TrueHD track is technically above reproach; as long as the mammoth stampede thunders, everything else is academic, right?
Extras include two 13-minute Mob Scene featurettes, "A Wild and Wooly Ride" (variously, "A Wild and Woolly Ride") and "Inspiring an Epic", the former of which focuses on Karen E. Goulekas's creature animation and the latter of which begs disbelievers to drink the Kool-Aid by trotting out British journalist Graham Hancock, whose speculative book Fingerprints of the Gods served as a sort of blueprint for 10,000 BC. I seem to be in the minority on this, but I actually found myself impressed by the film's special effects (except for that too-exposed final glimpse of the sabre-toothed tiger), though its anthropology and geography defy rationalization and I think I'd have more respect for Roland Emmerich and co. if they didn't even try. If you've ever doubted Emmerich's mad storytelling skillz, by the by, look no farther than his anecdote about how the project came to be: he says he went to co-screenwriter Harald Kloser with the idea of doing something about cavemen. The End.
A 10-minute block of nine deleted scenes consists mainly of excess hijinks from our stone-age Urkel Baku--embodied by narrator Omar Sharif in a 3-minute alternate ending sans music that suggests the movie would've played better without Kloser's incessant score. All of this supplementary material is presented in 480i, albeit enhanced for 16x9 displays; included in the keepcase itself is a code enabling access to a downloadable copy of the film. Originally published: June 23, 2008.