March 10, 2008

A Primitive Era, a Primitive Film

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After seeing the half-baked crapjob that is 10,000 B.C., I realized an important thing about historical movies: when they’re dumb, they’re really dumb. Bad acting is one thing, but bad acting when you’re discussing woolly mammoths is quite another.

And same goes for bad writing, of which this film is full. Brief synopsis: D’Leh (Steven Strait), a member of a curiously dreadlocked hunting tribe, must rescue his people after they are attacked and abducted by brawny, deep-voiced Egyptians. His real interest, of course, is the voluptuous, blue-eyed Evolet (Camilla Belle), prehistory’s first sexpot (Side note: movies like this should never, ever be rated PG-13. A few breasts would have done wonders). Searching for his woman, D’Leh discovers the marvels of agriculture and the enduring spirit of liberty, leading diverse peoples in a revolt against the all-powerful pharaoh. It’s epic, bro.

And epically ridiculous (you like that turn of phrase?). It’s been awhile since I winced so many times within the space of 109 minutes. Genuine sympathy for the actors is the only possible response to such unspeakable lines, crimes against the art of screencraft (“That star is like the love for you in my heart,” for example). But good thing D’Leh’s friends all speak in oddly-accented English; it really underscores the timelessness of the thirst for freedom (and love!). Maybe we’re not so different from the ancients after all …

Then again, we probably are. These days, we don’t tend to keep perpetually shaking around elderly women named “Old Mother” so that they can whisper bullshit prophecies and fiddle around with omens. This tradition, however, is very important to D’Leh and Evolet’s people. The movie’s central quest, in fact, is fueled by old prophecies about the dying ways of their people. But, wait — there’s a contradiction. Even while “Old Mother” communes with the spirits and practices her witchcraft, D’Leh regards with a bemused eye the superstitions of the people he comes across and, at the end — spoiler warning! (not that it matters, because you shouldn’t be seeing this movie) — the hero even kills the pharaoh, declaring “He is not a god!” So is it, a) “God is dead, let’s tear down the idols,” or, b) “trust in the traditions of your people?” Be consistent, God damn it! I expected more of you, 10,000 B.C.!

Actually, that’s a lie. I really didn’t expect too much, which is why the film was so disappointing. When I saw the trailer, all I was hoping for was a rehash of 300, with a few more zeroes. But nope, didn’t even get that. At least 300 reveled in its stupidity, employing an over-anxious hunchback as subtle comic relief and utilizing ridiculous fight scenes to pump up the adrenaline. But 10,000 B.C. expects to be taken seriously: we’ve got a love story, an epic quest, some historical commentary, and, ooh!, special effects — sucked, sucked, sucked, and sucked. It was essentially like watching Age of Empires played in a movie theater.

I will be fair, though: there were occasional cool parts; the hunting of the wooly mammoths, for example (a scene like that can’t exactly be bad). And the climax was kinda neat, as the slaves revolted at the pyramids — although there was one brief computer-animated bit that was inexplicably amateur looking, as if we had gone back to 1995 rather than 10,000 B.C. But don’t get your hopes up: each high point was quickly followed by a long, long series of low ones.

Fortunately, though, 10,000 B.C. was one of those bad movies that is not totally unpleasant to watch. This is largely because of its unintentionally humorous elements: half-assed attempts at political correctness, for example. Let’s see — we’ve got a white protagonist and a very white love interest. Why not throw some racially ambiguous actors into their tribe? Fine, that’s taken care of. Next: historically accurate costume design. I, for one, did not realize that all hunter-gatherers had, by necessity, dreadlocks. Nor was I aware that the pharaoh and his attachés all wore fake four-inch gold fingernails from Claire’s. We learn something new every day!

I know I’m sounding sardonic and mean, but let’s be honest: did the makers of this film actually expect it to be good? Since when do blatant historical inaccuracies and a heap of clichés add up to something of merit? In the off-chance they make a sequel (9,999 B.C., perhaps), I’ll be sure to shoot a memo over to the director — “More breasts! Less talking! Shampoo!”