Land of the Lost

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10,000 BC
Directed by Roland Emmerich

Half enjoyable spectacle, half plain dumb, Roland Emmerich’s 10,000 BC is primarily the result of technical engineering and casual imagination. It goes back in time to tell the story of an ancient warrior, D’Leh (Steven Strait), whose fearless challenge of tribal hierarchy wins him the blue-eyed virgin Evolet (Camilla Belle); he then precipitates a slave revolt and puts mankind on the path to civilization. Too bad all this comic book-level adventure lacks the inspiration that might have fused its imagery and its subject. 

Shlockmeister Emmerich (Independence Day, Godzilla, The Patriot, The Day After Tomorrow) thinks big if he thinks at all, but he’s a man who drives a Maybach the way a kid pedals a go cart. Despite 10,000 BC’s handsome computer graphics of 6-foot tall glades, layered mountain ranges and sand-colored pyramids, all the painstaking, costly digital effects serve a trivial purpose. It’s set in an ungraspable time frame: after the dinosaur/caveman era familiar from One Million Years, B.C. Yet it seems the ludicrous reverse of David Lynch’s Dune, which was set in the year 10,191.

None of this is ever as much fun as it ought to be. The actors playing D’Leh and Evolet don’t show any strong personality traits, they’re just Hollywood’s latest pretty Caucasians—even though they wear intricate dreadlocks and are the darlings of the Yagahl tribe that seems part-Aztec, part-Inuit. The Yagahls live in a wintry climate within sprinting distance of sun-drenched Africanesque blacks, European Visigoths and Middle Eastern mystics. D’Leh rises by unwittingly fulfilling tribal prophecy with a display of King Arthur–like sword-in-the-stone valor during a woolly mammoth hunt. Yet he’s not distinguished by character the way Gerard Butler’s macho-feral sex god is in 300; instead, he only has the uncanny, anomic ability to reenact Emmerich’s various action-movie rip-offs (Jurassic Park, The Ten Commandments, Sahara, etc.).

Emmerich’s potpourri seems scattershot and convenient. Issues like ethnic migration and slavery are evoked without Mel Gibson’s seriousness in Apocalypto and none of 300’s outrageous satire. It’s all just F/X opportunities, exposing Hollywood’s—and our own—non-relationship to history. (That’s why Robert Zemeckis’ equally silly 3-D Beowulf was a hit, while the preceding year’s ethnographically credible Scandanavian drama Beowulf and Grendel was swallowed up in obscurity.) 10,000 BC reduces everything to pop mythology, including the title’s missing periods, eradicating the classical (Before Christ) time marker.

I’m guessing that this hodgepodge of epic iconography owes to Peter Jackson’s banal treatment of history in Lord of the Rings (but it’s worth noting that Emmerich’s climactic scene of behemoths charging down a pyramid’s ramp offers clearer, more spectacular action that anything Jackson has ever directed). 10,000 BC takes place in the same non-world as Jackson’s Tolkien tales. One hack imitates another. That 10,000 BC is derivative matters less than the fact that it is anti-historical and anti-anthropological.

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