March 6, 2008

‘10,000 B.C.’ A Mammoth Letdown

If you've been anywhere near a television set in the last six weeks, you've seen the ads for Roland Emmerich's "10,000 B.C." -- the woolly mammoths frolicking through ancient cities, the saber-toothed tiger shoving his face so close to the long-haired hero's that the poor, terrified human can smell the monkey on his breath.

Let's not talk about the anachronism of all this -- whether or not mammoths, saber- tooths, people and massive desert cities were all contemporaneous. We're talking about fantasy here. In particular, we're talking about a TV commercial for a movie so tantalizing that all of us who are in touch with our inner 10-year-old boy were saying, "Way cool. Count me in. I'm there dude."


10,000 B.C.

Two stars (Out of four)

Rated PG-13

Steven Strait, Camilla Belle and Cliff Curtis in prehistory fantasy where woolly mammoths, sabre-toothed tigers, tribesmen and survivors from Atlantis frolic. Narrated by Omar Sharif. Opens Friday in area theaters.


That's the way with Roland Emmerich movies. The sight of the White House being atomized by a flying saucer during a Super Bowl spot for "Independence Day" practically had people lining up for tickets at the multiplex six months before the movie opened.

What you haven't seen for "10,000 B.C." thus far are a lot of reviews.

There's a very good reason for that: the movie is rather terrible.

Not a total loss, mind you, but awfully close. In fact, if someone were to drive up to you in a Prius and tell you that the script had somehow made its way into the world from the back end of a woolly mammoth, you'd believe it.

There's a basic paradox at work in this movie: it is, under glass, a perfect specimen of the "Fast Forward Movie" -- the kind of movie that should be seen on tape, DVD or DVR so that you can fast-forward through the hour-plus of idiocy, bad dialogue and pseudo-folk narrative, just to get to the half hour or so of decent action and very cool digitally animated versions of prehistoric animals.

On the other hand, it's also a movie that anyone wanting to get the full effect of the action and animals should really see on a screen the size of Cattaraugus with a sound system to match.

And that, to put it mildly, puts all prospective viewers in a heck of a bind.

I wish I could help you with it -- truly. But you're on your own.

The best scene in the movie comes 17 minutes in and is over 10 minutes later. That's when our hero D'Leh, the mammoth hunter (Steven Strait), sets off with his gang of plucky tribal spearmen and, by accident even more than design, becomes the first man in the tribe's history to kill a bull mammoth all by himself.

Needless to say, he is made chief in a hurry, given the sacred white spear to prove it in case anyone meets up with him at the local deli and, given the pick of the tribe's women. He chooses Evolet (Camilla Belle), who came to the tribe as a baby with blue eyes and the prophecy of its old mother to make her think she's special.

She is special, of course, but she's not at all stuck up about it. You'd like her. It's a good thing she's not stuck up, too, because she's soon kidnapped by the "demons with four legs" the old mother warned everyone about.

They turn out to be nothing more than very nasty guys on horseback.

Talk about "stuck up." They're slave-drivers -- literally. They turn every tribe they come up against into their slaves, complete with lots of whippings on the job and very few sips of water. They even do that to the herds of woolly mammoths they acquire.

Mean, really mean, you know?

There's a reason for it, though. A little sliver of dialogue seems to explain that they came to their city in the desert (which is surrounded by jungle) by surviving the sinking of the lost continent of Atlantis. You'd be a race of crosspatches, too, I suppose, if that happened.

That, no doubt, explains why the city they built in the desert 12,000 years ago, looks like some outcropping from a middle-eastern oil emirate in the 21st century.

There are phony gods worshipped there, and phony baloney priests with 5-inch fingernails. And none of them matter a hoot, if you ask me, except as setups for the penultimate rebellion scene where every slave in the place -- including the giant woolly mammoths -- revolts and goes nuts all over their captors.

I must say though even for a violent revolution, it seems a bit tame.

The digital saber-toothed tiger only has a couple of walk-ons to prove the hero's bona fides. When the hero first encounters him in a pit, he's trapped under a pile of logs until the hero frees him. In gratitude, the tiger passes up on the chance to make a meal of him and does so again later, when the hero is captured by an angry tribe. Needless to say, that tribe also thinks he's a god.

The other animals of note are some archaeopteryxes (dinosaur birds) found in the jungle. Their function, I suppose, is to make us wonder how animals extinct 100 million years ago wound up attacking chatty people 12,000 years ago. Frankly, I couldn't care less.

The whole shebang is narrated by Omar Sharif, who must have lost a lot of bridge games and needed the money.

Definitely a mega-screen movie, for the creatures and cities.

But, you'll regret it every time someone opens a mouth to speak.