10,000 B.C. (Warner Bros., PG-13)

film_10000bc.jpgIn all seriousness, the plot is rather inconsequential.








Decisions, decisions. Every film director has to make a bunch of them when planning a project: casting, script, visuals, music, etc. Then there are the "artistic" decisions, which can be just as crucial as any others.

In the case of Roland Emmerich and his latest project 10,000 B.C., one such issue had to be: should he have the actors speaking in English, even though the language didn’t come along until thousands of years later? Or should he take the Quest for Fire route, and feature the actors doing lots of grunting and gesturing — perhaps with subtitles? Tough call for a multimillion-dollar epic, and I admire Emmerich’s ambition in dealing with such challenges. I bring it up because Emmerich does indeed feature prehistoric men speaking in ordinary English, and it proves annoying on so many levels; you can’t evaluate this movie without discussing it.

Emmerich is a highly skilled filmmaker, capable of high-impact audience pleasers (Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow) as well as overwrought misfires (Godzilla). It’s not too hard to understand his interest in the cinematic possibilities of the dawn of the Mesolithic era, but another of the fateful decisions he made — co-writing this script (with Harald Kloser, who’s better known as a film composer) — means he must share more than the usual responsibility for this movie’s flaws.

And they’re big ones, almost as big as the woolly mammoths that lumber through several extended scenes. Why did Emmerich go the route of using English; wasn’t he at all concerned about it undercutting the realism of this tale of ancient tribesmen coping with survival in the wilds of northern Africa? And, okay, granting that it made filming easier, then why not employ some decent actors?

Steven Strait, a muscular Brad Pitt look-alike, plays the lead here, a young warrior named D’Leh, who’s forced to snap into action when "the four-legged demons" (an enemy tribe) attack and kidnap some of his fellow villagers, including the woman he loves, Evolet (Camilla Belle). What follows is mostly a painful series of dramatic clichés as D’Leh faces obstacle after obstacle, and teams up with various tribesmen from other parts of the rugged terrain to free his people and get his gal back.

In all seriousness, the plot is rather inconsequential. It takes more than a bunch of shirtless dudes running around in ancient threads with spears to convey the way it might’ve been 10,000 years ago. Every actor looks well-fed and scrubbed (most of them sporting stylish dreadlocks), and probably not more than a stone’s throw from their air-conditioned trailers. Strait manages only two facial expressions: concerned and a little more concerned. Belle provides some badly needed feminine allure, but she looks as much like a prehistoric woman as my sister. And she certainly isn’t asked to do any acting.

Only Cliff Curtis as a good guy named TicTic and the visually interesting Affif Ben Badra as a dour warlord look like they’re trying to put some energy into their line readings. And there’s a mixed bunch of accents throughout, which are bothersome mostly because they’re attached to English-speaking voices.

So…that leaves the visual effects to hold your attention, which they certainly do. Emmerich is good with spectacle: scenes of a group mammoth hunt, some vicious monster birds attacking (don’t ask), a pyramid being built with man and beast by the thousands on the job (again, don’t ask; the history here is a mess) and more are stunning. The sound crew also deserves plenty of kudos.

But criminy, this film is bogged down by the most tiresome dialogue and ludicrous events. At one point, D’Leh frees a sabertooth tiger from drowning and then asks that the beast spare his life in return. It’s probably the biggest "jump the shark" moment in this movie, although there are many to choose from. And the concluding rescue is just plain silly. "We must hunt together as one!" is about the only line uttered by anyone that seems to be striving for some sort of resonance. Unfortunately, no group of hunters, no matter how skilled, could find anything but hackneyed melodrama in this "mammoth" assemblage of celluloid. | Kevin Renick

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