Friday, October 3, 2008

FILM REVIEW OF "10,000 B.C." (2007)

The romantic fantasy adventure "10,000 B.C." (** out of ****) resembles a gentler, kinder, younger version of Mel Gibson's bloodthirsty, R-rated "Apocalypto." Predictable for all of its generic 109 minutes, this derivative PG-13 epic qualifies as little more than slickly-made hokum for teens that haven't seen better movies. The scenic "10,000 B.C." borrows bits and pieces from "The Jungle Book," "Braveheart," "Mysterious Island," the John Wayne western "The Searchers," and "The Chronicles of Narnia." The impressive computer-generated special effects that recreate the era impart more depth than the simple-minded screenplay by "Independence Day" writer & director Roland Emmerich and co-scribe Harald Kloser. The most exciting scenes depict ersatz larger-than-life animals. First, huge woolly mammoths go on the rampage twice with suspenseful results. These brutes boast tusks the size of tree branches and resemble the offspring of a prehistoric Mastodon and the "Sesame Street" critter Mr. Snuffleupagus. Later, a saber-tooth tiger confronts our hero in a pit and they eyeball each other. This shallow, occasionally amusing, formulaic Mesolithic melodrama chronicles a teenaged warrior's efforts to rescue his sweetheart from a marauding band of savage horsemen. These marauders ride for a personage called 'the Almighty,' and this pseudo-deity has one village after another enslaved as labor for his pyramid-building schemes.

"10,000 B.C." opens with actor Omar Sharif narrating the story. Sharif's narration clarifies nothing that anybody with half of a brain couldn't have figured out alone. Anyway, the story occurs in the prehistoric past in the Valley of Yagahi where native hunters have raised families for generations. This tribe of hunters depends on killing great shaggy mammoths that provide them with meat, fuel, clothing, and building materials in the same way either the buffalo served the Plains Indians or whales served Eskimo tribes. Times, however, are changing, and the biggest change occurs when Yagahi hunters find the lost child, the lone survivor of a slain people, and usher her into their camp. The tribal spirit woman, Old Mother (Mona Hammond of "Dr. Who: The Rise of the Cybermen"), embraces young, blue-eyed Evolet (nubile Camilla Belle of "Practical Magic") and experiences a glimpse of the frightening future. Old Mother prophesizes that Evolet will assume a prominent role in the tribe's destiny. She also proclaims that a champion will arise to wed Evolet and lead their people.

As a child, the hero D'Leh (Steven Strait of "Undiscovered") struggles with prejudice. His father abandoned the tribe without explanation and so D'Leh is an object of scorn by all but the warrior Tic'Tic (Cliff Curtis of "Blow") who promised D'Leh's dad that he'd raise him like his own son. As children, D'Leh and Evolet fall in love, and our hero vows to never leave her. Later, when he learns that Evolet will be forced to marry the best hunter, D'Leh resolves to defeat his competitors. He slays the biggest mammoth more by luck than skill and claims not only the prized tribal white spear but also Evolet. Eventually, D'Leh confesses and gives up both Evolet and the spear. Before they can elope, a horde of treacherous brigands known as 'the four-legged demons' for the horses that they ride when they attack the Yagahi village and take prisoners. Later, D'Leh has a close encounter with a sacred saber-toothed tiger and lives to tell about it. He assembles a multiethnic, army of African warriors to follow him to the villain's riverside setting. The Almighty, an unseen Goliath in a veil, has scores of mastodons employed to pull the gigantic stones up ramps into place. Our heroes infiltrate the slave camp and incite a rebellion.

Some scenes seem inadvertently funny. For example, when the villainous slavers drive the villagers into a sea of high grass, the carnivores that they encounter look hilarious. They look like the offspring of the T-Rex from "Jurassic Park" and the giant goofy chicken in the Jules Verne movie "Mysterious Island." Meanwhile, director Roland Emmerich deliberately chose to have the heroes speak in English while the villains snarl in a guttural dialect that requires subtitles. Happily, Burt Reynolds look-alike Stephen Strait and Elizabeth Taylor look-alike Camilla Belle make a convincing couple, but their romance is strictly your typical boy-gets-gal, boy-loses-gal, and then boy-wins-gal back. Sadly, "10,000 B.C." breaks no new ground with either its storytelling or its stunts. Altogether, the storytelling is bland to the point of being generic and the stunts are as tame as the violence is bloodless.

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