What, exactly, did Roland Emmerich do to deserve the career he has? Of the eight movies he's made in Hollywood - Moon 44, Universal Soldier, Stargate, Independence Day, Godzilla, The Patriot, The Day After Tomorrow and now 10,000 B. C. - only the Will Smith disaster romp had any real creative kitsch value. It remains a gratifying guilty pleasure. The rest were all overdone high concepts or poorly conceived crapshoots. Sure, each will have its defenders, and a few offer slightly subpar elements of enjoyment, but none are going on to be considered genre classics when the artform's history is written. Heck, a couple of them are outright indefensible. And yet he continues on, even without partner in crime Dean Devlin to guide his mediocrity. Overhyped throughout most of this past Spring, the arrival of Emmerich's prehistoric patchwork of underdone clichés was supposed to signal the rebirth of the caveman epic. All CG-eye candy aside, 10,000 B.C. actually reestablished the category's definitive DOA status.
Somewhere in an indefinite pre-history, D'Leh's father leaves his hunter/gatherer tribe and sets out for unknown territories. This labels him a coward, and his son an outcast. When a blue eyed babe named Evolet shows up, village shaman Old Mother predicts all kinds of doom. The proposed wooly mammoth hunt will not go well, and even worse, some 'four legged demons' will arrive and decimate the clan. Sure enough, an invading horde of evildoers arrives and takes all the available inhabitants hostage. They are then marched across the empty wilderness and used as slave labor for a sitting 'god'. Said deity rules the legendary domain known as 'the head of the snake.' Along with elder Tic-Tic, and a few remaining men, D'Leh builds up his courage and follows the kidnappers, rallying the remaining tribes along the way. He then plans to take on the imposing figure building an empire off the backs of some very unwilling captives, and rescue Evolet.
In the world of motion picture epics, 10,000 B.C. isn't quite Battlefield Earth. There's too much computer generated intrigue to put it on par with that L. Ron retardation. And besides, what's more believable - pretty boy Hollywood actors as pigeon English speaking Neanderthals, or John Travolta as an alien Amy Winehouse? No, when consensus finally finishes picking over the bones of Emmerich's career, this meandering mess will end up somewhere between Godzilla and Stargate as one of the man's biggest bungles. It's not for lack of trying, however. This is the kind of movie that throws everything except the ancient idea of a kitchen sink squarely at the audience, praying that the power inherent in images of rabid dyno-birds and saber-toothed kitty cats carries the viewer beyond the more unexplainable, awkward bits. For the most part, the visuals do indeed succeed. There is a scope and sweep to the events here that seems spawned directly out of the digital domain's ability to build vistas out of vectors and various location photos. In addition, Emmerich is a considerably capable action director. He doesn't just rely on editing or other post-production tricks to get us scooting to the edge of our seat.
Sadly, that's only about half of a 109 minute exercise in excuses. That means we must suffer through almost an hour of rudimentary mythology, non-erotic male bonding, ethnically diverse tribalism, and enough pseudo-Egyptian shout outs to make the nods in that old world civilization seem like actual natural history. Though the story resembles Apocalypto's slave baiting bravado, Emmerich doesn't dwell on the abductors, even when he should. The so-called "God" who gathers the masses to build his Ben Hur replicas is never shown outright. Instead, the figure is cast in shimmering sheers, the implication being that 'it' is so ephemeral that natural light might destroy its majesty. Of course, that's just a bunch of horse hockey. Instead, it argues for a lack of imagination on everyone's part. Similarly, Old Mother is really nothing more than a plot device, a way for the communication impaired of the pre-Bronze age to know what's going on off in the distance without totally stretching the storyline's credibility. That we laugh every time this Simpson-styled "boob lady" is on screen speaks volumes for Emmerich's ability to sell the spiritual. It's just part and parcel of a flawed strategy that hurls dozens of half-baked ideas in the air, and then allows the creators to stand back and juggle the junk.
As a result, 10,000 B.C. stinks. Just as we find ourselves caught up in something semi-exciting (a fast-moving Mammoth hunt, the last act rebellion by the indentured), Emmerich finds a way to stall the spectacle and bring everything crashing down to ersatz Middle Earth. His cast can't help it if they're Abercrombie and Fitch famous, their main acting credits consisting of wobbly work in films like Stop-Loss (D'Leh's Steve Strait) and the remake of When a Stranger Calls (Evolet's Camilla Belle). In fact, the company is so interchangeable that Emmerich could easily come up with a TV version of this tripe. Just hire that brunette from The Hills, toss some dirt on her, and put her next to a mud-dippped member of the Naked Brothers. Bingo! Instant spin-off. And since the Sci-Fi Channel is already placating audiences with a Commodore 64 level of graphics in its rampaging animal rip-offs, they could handle the weekly F/X challenge. All massive historical inaccuracies aside, and forgiving the filmmaker for passing up a chance for lots of scantily clad Cro-Magnon gals in fur swimsuits (Rachel Welch...yum!), 10,000 BC isn't even good cheese. The only rise this movie will provide is the one that requires you to get out of your comfy living room couch and switch it off.
Falling back on the failed flip disc technology of DVDs gone by, 10,000 B.C. is offered in a non-issue choice of full screen (1.33:1) and anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1). Both versions rely heavily on a blue-tinted image, the details sharpened by the film's already purposeful enhancement of the black contrasts. By the time we get to the sepia toned sequences in the slave city, the brightness is blinding. Still, the overall transfer is terrific, a nice balance being managed between the nighttime vistas and the lush jungle journeys.
On the aural side of things, 10,000 B.C. 's Dolby Digital 5.1 mix definitely does a Sensurround number on your speakers. Whenever the action amps up, the channels explode into overdrive, every elephantine footfall of the various hairy beasts careening across your home theater system. Otherwise, the dialogue is easily discernible, the quieter moments captured in professional Hollywood clarity.
Get ready to laugh (or perhaps cry) - the only added content offered on this strikingly sparse DVD is an alternate ending, and a selection of additional scenes. That's the minor good news. The bad? Many of the moments contain UNFINISHED VISUAL EFFECTS! That's right - just as you're ready to experience the Great Pyramid payoff offered by the new finale, or some additional moments with everyone's favorite big fanged feline, out comes the Apple IIe graphics and - WHOOSH! - gone are all prospects of enjoying the extra material. It seems silly to include such incomplete sequences here, especially since they add very little to our understanding of the story or Emmerich's overall intent. In fact, the only real treat here is to see narrator Omar Sharif, face and head draped in old age rot, doing what he did better from behind the scenes. For fans of the film, Warner Brothers really dropped the ball on this release. Don't be surprised if a better, more detailed version comes your way around, say, Christmas time.
In many ways, 10,000 B.C. is the kind of movie that should be required viewing in every high school and college ancient history class. After one viewing, even the most boring professor's lectures will seem like time traveling trips into literal virtual reality. Acknowledging that some people actually like Emmerich's movies and don't mandate meaning or legitimacy in their flights of fancy, this film earns a cautious rating of Rent It. There is enough fluff to keep one's tedium mechanism in check, but it will be challenged by the endless slogs of mysticism, incongruity, and obliqueness. Even with all its flaws, the film was a semi-success at the box office, indicating some level of enjoyment by the mainstream - enough to give Emmerich a greenlight for his next end of the world extravaganza - 2012. Apparently, in this new film, nature goes nuts thanks to ties to a prophecy and the Mayan calendar. Sigh. Seems like this is one filmmaker who, like the proverb says, fails to learn from his past mistakes. Apparently, he is only capable of repeating them...and 10,000 B.C. is a good example of this movie making maxim.