Warner Bros. // 2008 // 109 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // July 10th, 2008
It takes a hero to change the world.
"Do not eat me when I save your life!" -- Our naïve young hero, speaking to a Saber-toothed tiger
Roland Emmerich, the man who gave us such popular brainless popcorn movies as Independence Day, Stargate, Godzilla, and The Day After Tomorrow, has returned with another epic. This time he's going back 12,000 years, to the year 10,000 BC. There's a thin plot involving a heroic young man (Steven Strait) attempting to rescue a lovely young lady (Camilla Belle), but that's not particularly important. What is important is the fact that 10,000 BC contains epic landscapes, vast armies, magical spells, and lots of woolly mammoths. What sort of role do these elements play in relation to the story of a guy trying to rescue a girl? I'm still not sure I know. But who needs to know, right? Don't the words "woolly mammoth attack" tell you enough?
The film critic James Berardinelli has stated that narration is an overused device in films. He claims that while some movies use narration effectively, roughly 90% of them are simply employing it as a lazy excuse to tell rather than show. I am inclined to agree with him. A lot of narration is rather unnecessary. Do you know what's even worse than unnecessary narration? Unnecessary, poorly written narration. Do you know what's even worse than unnecessary, poorly written narration? Unnecessary, poorly written, poorly delivered narration.
That last category is precisely the sort of narration that we are given in 10,000 BC. Some old man mutters and mumbles his way through a ho-hum script in a near-indecipherable manner. After rewinding and straining to make out exactly what Mr. Mumbles was saying, I realized that it was nothing more than the usual sort of portentous babble that typically appears in a film set anytime before the 18th century. Words like "destiny," "fire," "faraway land," "blood," "civilization," "battle," "demons," "hunter," "tribe," and "spirit" are seemingly mixed and matched at random to create something appropriately serious-sounding. I knew I wasn't in for a particularly good movie.
If you think that's bad, just wait until the characters in the film start talking. The actors employ the usual accent that a film like this requires. When in doubt about how someone might have actually talked, it's typically best to blend a little bit of England, the Middle East, and Conan the Barbarian into a nice, generic verbal stew. Also, one must never act as if they have a sense of humor or any sort of recognizable emotion other than extreme anger or sorrow. Most importantly, speak as if you were a person living in ancient times who knows he or she is being filmed by a Hollywood camera crew.
It's a terribly silly movie, made even more so by the fact that it doesn't seem to recognize its own silliness. This makes Independence Day seem like an intellectual art film, and the actors behave as if they're remaking Bergman's Winter Light. The whole thing is played straight from start to finish, without so much as an inkling of cheerful enthusiasm or winking fun. I wish it had been made forty or fifty years ago, with special effects by Ray Harryhausen instead of the usual CGI nonsense. It still would have been just as silly, but at least it would have been a lot more entertaining and enthusiastic. This is a movie that begs for a big booming score, over-the-top performances, and a series of creatively contrived action sequences. However, Emmerich seems convinced that he is making a credible drama here, and the movie is rather dull for that. The film was co-written by composer Harold Kloser, whose original score is as boring and forgettable as his screenplay.
I suppose that most viewers who are interested in checking out 10,000 BC will be interested in the action sequences. Let it be said that these appear considerably less often than you might expect. If you want a knockout action movie set against the backdrop of a lost civilization, check out Mel Gibson's considerably more exciting (and convincing) Apocalypto. The action scenes offered up in this movie are mostly brief, sloppy, CGI-dominated, and a little bit incoherent. The exception is the film's climactic battle, which is long, sloppy, CGI-dominated, and a little bit incoherent.
The hi-def transfer is reasonably solid, though the nighttime scenes do occasionally get a bit too murky for their own good. This is one of those cases where a hi-def transfer actually works against the film. Many of the actors here are quite obviously Hollywood folks simply dressed to look like ancient tribesmen. Like many epics of decades past, the overwhelming sense of local folks playing dress-up runs through the entire film, and the 1080p transfer only accentuates this further. Sound is solid, though dialogue is occasionally a little too low (though much of this is due to the low-key delivery of the actors). There's plenty of subwoofer action during the film's final third, and entertainingly busy sound design.
As far as special features go, we have two featurettes. First up is a making-of piece called "A Wild and Wooly Ride." This featurette begins with a shot of Emmerich saying, "I was really reluctant to do this movie at first." Kids, here is proof that you should go with your initial gut instinct. Second is "Inspiring an Epic," which speculates about past civilizations that "all those historians haven't got their finger on quite yet." Obviously, this is not so informative. Both of these run about 13 minutes each. Finally, there are ten minutes of bland deleted...er, make that "additional" scenes, and an alternate ending in which we are permitted to put a face to the terrible voice narrating the film.
There's a saber-toothed tiger in the movie. I like saber-toothed tigers. Lots of other now-extinct beasts pop up here, too. Of course they're all computer-generated, but they have more personality than the humans in the film. Interestingly, now-extinct beasts are the only animals that show up in 10,000 BC. I guess all the still-existing creatures objected to the idea of appearing in this film.
Man has vacant mind. Man mind develops. Man makes art. Man makes movies. Man makes 10,000 BC. Man has vacant mind?
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 109 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* "A Wild and Wooly Ride"
* "Inspiring an Epic"
* Alternate Ending
* Additional Scenes
* Original DVD Verdict Review