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10,0000 B. C.: In Running for Worst Film Ever

Joe Roquemore 29 April 2008 3 Comments

Damn! Prehistoric people had better dental plans than we do!

— Viewer’s comment on 10,000 B.C.

10,000 B.C.! Savage, nomadic hunters packing hefty bludgeons, beating each other senseless, and hauling choleric females around by their hair; eight-year-old boys itching to exit their caves and kill a few wild animals for lunch: these are the kinds of things I’d expected to remember about director Roland Emmerich’s Stone Age spectacle. I wanted to leave the theater happy—and grateful—to be living in an age of frozen entrées, instant coffee, and daytime television.

Tough luck, Roquemore. After the movie I drove home thoroughly disappointed, reeling from a relentless barrage of sheer malarkey, and asking myself—again and again—a single question: how on earth could a film humming with perilous hunting expeditions, tough as nails cavemen, and snarling saber toothed tigers be dead on arrival, unintentionally funny, and tedious? In spots, 10,000 B.C. makes The Clan of the Cave Bear—a 1986 stinker starring Daryl Hannah as a cave girl (honest) aiming to housebreak a clot of drooling Neanderthals—look like an Oscar winning documentary. The movie’s only decent segment—a pell mell assault on swarming, runaway woolly mammoths driven into ravines (and occasionally trapped in nets) by hunters—peaks when a pursuer gores one of the charging beasts with a spear, then gapes, open-mouthed, as the animal crashes on top of him.

Emmerich opens his potboiler with a childhood romance between heroine Evolet—“the child with blue eyes”—and moonstruck protagonist D’Leh. They’re members of a small tribe, “the Yagahl,” led by a near comatose matriarch and soothsayer named “Old Mother.” (That’s right—“Old Mother.” 10,000 B.C.’s ending hinges on her dying words and fulfills her film opening predictions.) At this point, the movie races forward 15 years, or so, and D’Leh (Steven Strait) loses Evolet (ten star knockout Camilla Belle) to a band of plundering, “four legged demons”—mounted, slave trading raiders sporting buffalo horned headgear, flailing away with what appear to be metal weapons at everything on the ground, and snatching up a passel of handsome captives (for sale or conscript labor, presumably, at a later date). All of this unfolds roughly 7,000 years before bronze swords and spear points first surfaced in Mesopotamia and more than 5,000 years before ancient humans domesticated horses.

Decked out in long leather trousers and a designer breechclout, D’Leh, his father’s friend Tic’Tic (Cliff Curtis), and two other tribesmen (Baku and Ka’Ren) launch their hotfooted pursuit of Emmerich’s marauders—an endless trek, peppered with narrow escapes and eye popping natural wonders, from Siberia to the wastelands of North Africa. Lashed by typhoon force winds and blinded by howling blizzards, the men clamber over breathtaking, Everest scale mountains. They slog across broiling deserts and befriend fierce looking African warriors (members of the “Naku” tribe). “You’re only a boy,” says one of the natives to D’Leh. “I’m older than I look,” he replies. This follows his liberation of a ferocious saber toothed tiger—an animal indigenous to the Americas, not Africa—from a pitfall trap bristling with pointed stakes. (Emmerich’s goggle eyed locals call the big cat “Spear Tooth.”) At one point, Tic’Tic and D’Leh barrel headlong into a fetid, virtually impenetrable jungle—it makes rural Burma look like Nebraska—only to come under attack by a gaggle of screeching, carnivorous, ostrich like predators. Running for dear life, D’Leh—his nerves shot and his patience long gone—stops abruptly, wheels about, clobbers several galloping birds, and skewers the last raptor with a razor sharp pole.

Recruiting volunteers from other tribes every step of the way, he and Tic’Tic finally reach their last stop, a wilderness of bleak, forbidding sand dunes (the “Mountains of the Gods”) protecting a pyramid under construction by thousands of slaves. Plodding up and down access ramps manned by top knotted guards, woolly mammoths(!) dragooned into service and half dead from exhaustion do most of the dirty work. Running the show are a menacing, godlike warlord (“The Almighty”) and a sinister, cultic high priest (“One Eye”) with long, curving, claw-like fingernails. All of this coagulates into one of Emmerich’s worst anachronisms, a 7,300 year whopper: Egyptian pharaohs began building history’s first pyramids in 2,700 B.C.

D’Leh and Nakudu (chief of the Naku, played by Joel Virgel) slip into the enemy camp to recruit slaves for a looming, cataclysmic battle. Their mission fails, and Tic’Tic dies from wounds inflicted during a rescue attempt in the encampment. But D’Leh leads a rebellion, anyway, personally decking a flood of overseers with a huge wooden mallet. He stampedes bellowing mammoths down construction ramps, crushing enemies underfoot every step of the way. He slaughters the warlord with an ancient, revered Yagahl weapon—“the white spear”—and almost rescues Evolet. Not quite, though: an enemy archer drills her in the back (where else?) a microsecond before D’Leh arrives. Then, without warning and thousands of miles away, “Old Mother” disgorges a bit of pagan mumbo jumbo, and—presto!—Evolet comes back to life. Seconds later, her mission accomplished, Old Mother dies a happy death.

Had enough? (Me, too.) 10,000 B.C. isn’t the worst movie in show business history, but it’s easily one of the silliest motion pictures ever inflicted on viewers expecting something much better—something as thoroughly researched, well scripted, and skillfully acted as Quest for Fire. It’s easy to be too tough on producers, scriptwriters, and directors, especially if their movies include history-based material—creators of feature films are, after all, storytellers. And it’s easy to forget that moviemaking is a business. From this perspective, 10,000 B.C has been a spot on bull’s eye, running the tables in movie houses worldwide: a couple of days after it premièred, the film had earned more than $35 million in U.S. and Canadian markets, alone. Small wonder that studios crank out a number of marginal clunkers, every year—and that filmmakers don’t always produce topnotch movies. In March, Los Angeles Times critic Kenneth Turan reported a stunningly forthright remark from Harald Kloser (author of Emmerich’s script and yes that’s how he spells his first name): “Roland and I never intended for 10,000 B.C. to be a documentary.” No kidding.

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Joe Roquemore, author of “History Goes to the Movies,” is

the film critic for The Chicago Daily Observer.

3 Comments »

  • Elias Crim (author) said:

    Glad to see another review by a guy whose BS detector is top-notch! Get hold of his book if you want an excellent guide to the REAL history behind the Hollywood version.

  • Dan Kelley (author) said:

    It sounds as if “The Flintstones” had a more accurate plot than this film.

    For whatever reason, stone age flicks with cavemen have always been popular for movie makers dating back to the silent era. It seems as if every two decades, the prehistoric film franchise is revived. Early examples include, two versions of “One Million Years, B.C.” with Victor Mature and Carole Landis or the Hammer Film update with Racquel Welch and Martine Beswick. “Jurassic Park” is only an updated variation on the same story outline.

  • Mike Buck (author) said:

    Yes, the “Racquel Welch version” of “One Million Years B.C.” was a better movie…much better….much, much, much better!!!

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