Who would have guessed that 12,000 years ago men were living on snowy peaked mountain tops, with perfect teeth, flawless skin, wearing ethnic jewellery, speaking English with perfect diction and sporting a wardrobe of clothing that Jean-Paul Gaultier would be proud to see parading down a catwalk with his name on. In the imagination of Roland Emmerich, however, this is how civilization began and he isn’t about to let a little thing like historical accuracy get in his way.
After almost destroying the world twice (The Day After Tomorrow and Independence Day) and giving New York a good going over (Godzilla) Emmerich has decided to set his new film in a simpler time, when chasing a mammoth was both sport and food shopping, and where popping to the next village involved a thousand mile hike.
In 10,000BC D’Leh is a strapping hunk whose father went AWOL years before and has since been branded a coward. Our hero proceeds to win a mammoth chasing competition which wins him a sacred white spear and the hand of his beloved Evolet, a woman with piercing blue eyes and supermodel good looks. Before he can take her manfully to his tent a horde of neighbouring thugs ransack the village and abduct Evolet. D’Leh persuades a few of his fellow villagers to accompany him on a cross country trek to get back the love of his life and exact some violent revenge on the perpetrators. Sound familiar? Yes, this is Apocalypto with good teeth. But where Mel Gibson went for vicious realism and unbearable tension Emmerich plays it as a cuddly family adventure. Nothing wrong with that I hear you cry, and indeed I’d be inclined to agree, but what we are left with is a film with so little dramatic tension that it's hard to care what happens to any of the characters. They march across barren snowy landscapes with nothing more than a water bottle and a slice of mammoth meat and somehow end up in a rainforest fighting giant dinosaur turkeys (imagine the raptors from Jurassic Park without the terror.) From there they emerge into a desert where pyramids are being constructed with the help of herds of mammoths (that’s one in the eye for people who believed they were created by aliens!). We are never told just how far they have travelled but from my limited geographical knowledge it must be a few thousand miles and all without bumping into a coastline.
All of this would be forgivable if the special effects were as good as the film makers thought they were. The mammoths all seem to be of uniform size and manage to stampede on a regular basis without harming a fly, the hordes of workers on the pyramids resemble something from an (old) Xbox game, and the sabre tooth tiger, so prevalent in all the advertising, appears for less than 5 minutes, seems to float a few inches off the ground, has a head of disproportionate size for its body and is so timid it wouldn’t look out of place in a Disney film.
All in all the kids are going to love the animal sequences, but only if they haven’t nodded off during the turgid, self important and inordinately long stretches of dialogue, which include a pompous voiceover from Omar Sharif. Adults will spend a lot of time sniggering at the daft dialogue (as well as marvelling at the fact that Blossom from Eastenders has ended up telling fortunes in a caveman’s tent) and hoping for a little bloodshed but will undoubtedly leave the cinema very dissatisfied.
Roland Emmerich’s film is like one of his CGI mammoths. A big, harmless, woolly, extinct beast. It needed someone with the ability to enchant kids or someone not afraid to spill a little blood on screen to take charge, that way we could have had a huge kid’s adventure or Apocalypto with mammoths. As it is the film has ended up as neither one thing or another in the vain attempt to please everyone.