“The Legend. The Battle. The First Hero.”
Directed by Roland Emmerich
Starring Steven Strait, Camilla Belle and Cliff Curtis
In the mists of prehistory, apparently spot on 10,000 BC as the title pretty much appears in the form of a date caption, the Yagahl tribe face starvation as the mammoth migrations dry up. D’leh (Strait) is a young hunter whose heroic father vanished years before, and who yearns to win the white spear and with it the hand of Evolet (Belle), a blue-eyed girl who is the tribe’s luck.
Then, the tribe is attacked by Thulsa Doom… sorry; by ‘four-legged demons’ (horsemen), who take Evolet and many others captive. D’leh, his mentor Tic’Tic (Curtis), and two other young men set out in pursuit. Learning that the demons serve a mighty tribe, D’leh gathers an alliance of those that they enslave to bring down a pyramid-building empire led by the last descendant of the kings of Atlantis.
What’s wrong with it?
For starters, its history is just plain weird, with the Atlantean pyramid king ‘the Almighty’ coming pretty hard out of left field. This is actually not its weakness, however, so much as that having set itself up to look like the prequel to Stargate, the places where it seems to want to be accurate are just bizarre. It cleaves to the Usborne Book of Prehistory model of ancient humanity; men carry spears and hunt mammoths, women gather nuts and berrys and sit by the fire-pit. As a result, the female lead is, a few moments of pluck aside, essentially passive, and despite bearing the ‘Mark of the Hunter’ (scars on her hand in the exact shape of the constellation Orion) is more a macguffin than a protagonist. She and her adopted mother, Old Mother, who sits and meditates throughout the film, are pretty much it for female characters.
Emmerich cast unknowns so as not to throw familiar faces into the setting (I was distracted by Curtis’s familiarity; he was in Whale Rider, The Last Airbender, and pretty much any film with more than one Maori character, like the Graham Greene of New Zealand, so that was a good call), but unfortunately many of them were unknown for a reason and they are basically little more than set dressing.
What’s right with it?
Once you get past that slightly uncomfortable marriage of prehistory and insane, speculative fiction craziness, the film is well made, with a number of pretty decent character moments amid the action. The CG is dated now, as tends to be the case, but not woefully so and the film has a properly epic scope.
How bad is it really?
10,000 BC is one of those movies that isn’t terrible; it’s not even just blah. The action scenes are pretty good, the effects top notch for their day. It just lacks… distinction. With all it has going for it, it feels a shame that it isn’t amazing.
Best bit (if such there is)?
Tic’Tic establishes why he’s the great hunter. The other schlubs notice he’s gone, then moments later that they’re being watched by three of the Almighty’s guards. The watching guards turn around and find Tic’Tic standing behind them, having left camp and flanked them unnoticed by anyone in a moonlit desert.
Then he kills them all, but dies himself so as not to overshadow D’leh in the finale.
What’s up with…?
- The plethora of last survivors? Seriously, Evolet is the last survivor of her tribe, taken in by Old Mother, who is apparently the last Neanderthal, and eventually precipitates the downfall of the Almighty, last King of Atlantis.
- The sabretooth? D’leh saves it, faces it down and wins the trust of the other tribes, and then it’s gone forever. It felt odd not to see it again.
Production values – 10,000 BC is a beautifully made film, let it not be disputed. The CG is dated, but such is the way of things. 4
Dialogue and performances – The characters are pretty stock, but there are still some decent moments, although the film does better at action than dialogue even here. In the mammoth hunt, D’leh accidentally brings down the prey, and his fear, shock and confusion are far more convincing than his emo-whinge when he confesses to Tic’Tic later in the film. The acting, overall, is so-so. Strait and Belle are pretty, but that’s about all. The villains are better, but pure caricature. Curtis is the standout, and mostly is called on to be stern. 15
Plot and execution – The plot follows a pretty standard pattern, enlivened by a few twists and the occasional moa. It really needed to be more unique, but it isn’t actively bad. 8
Randomness – The Atlantean pyramid-builders are pretty bizarre, but the core plot basically keeps in line. 6
Waste of potential – Oh, the money they spent and the people they employed; this should have been more than it was. 14