10,000 BC: Limited Edition Tin Review

Not dissimilar to the present-day west of Ireland…

Whilst not really getting ready for 10,000BC, this last week saw our house watching Ice Age about the same time as a summertime chill descended over Northern Ireland. Having gotten used to Manny drudging over the snow and ice in Blue Sky Studios, it was quite the jump to see a mammoth just as computer-generated as Manny being dragged to the ground by a group of human hunters. To add to the sense of injustice, 10,000BC‘s Manny is picked off for no more reason than, by being a bit more shaggy than the rest and hence older, he’d make for easier pickings. Bastards!…or until such point as I remembered these people were actually the heroes of our film. So not quite the Manny-killing bastards they seemed to be at first, at least not until a whole Manny-skeleton is seen picked clean and with the vultures circling overhead. Bastards once again!

One wonders if, some years ago, there was a single room in Hollywood in which half a dozen or more scripts were knocked out over a day or two. Within that room were the writers of 300, Ice Age, Apocalypto and Stargate. And in between them all, not to mention Roland Emmerich walking between at least two of the tables, was the 10,000BC team. One can well imagine the Apocalypto writers, Mel Gibson and Farhad Safinia, having to work hard to hide their script from the others, even to using primary school tricks like shielding their papers behind their hands to stop the 10,000BC writers from looking at their work. Unfortunately, come break time, and with everyone putting down their pencils to go into the playground for games of hopscotch, tag and ‘doctors and nurses’, writers Roland Emmerich and Harald Kloser rifled through everyone else’s work to come up with this hodgepodge of a movie.
To say that 10,000BC bears some similarity to Apocalypto is like saying Monica Cheeky Girl looks a bit like Gabriela Cheeky Girl. So much so that this viewer expected to see one production bump into the other, with Emmerich’s camera catching the back of Mel Gibson’s head as both men direct their respective movies, 10,000BC‘s mammoth needing to step over Apocalyto‘s Spanish Conquistadors to avoid trampling them underfoot. By the time the tribesmen of 10,000BC stumble out the snow and ice and into a tropical rainforest – one and the other only seem to be a day’s walk apart, while deserts are yet another day further on – one wondered if the cast of 10,000BC passed mere inches from Jaguar Paw, perhaps the two of them staring at one another in a double-take. “Are you…nah! 11,500 years between us, innit?”

10,000BC opens high in the mountains and in the home of the Yaghal, a small tribe of people of are getting ready for the coming winter by trapping and killing enough mammoths to see them through the months ahead. The young men of the village leave their huts in search of meat and to claim the white spear, the sign of bravery that one hunter will claim from the village elder, Tic’Tic (Cliff Curtis). By his killing of a mammoth separated from the tribe, D’Leh (Steven Strait) claims the white spear but later admits to cowardice. Unlike the others, who let go of the net holding the mammoth within it, D’Leh’s had was merely caught. He could not let go. He had little choice but to pursue the mammoth. And there is no bravery in that.

Before winter sets in, a band of slave traders attack the Yaghal camp, killing some of the young male hunters and dragging others behind them as they leave. Amongst those they steal away from the camp is Evolet (Camilla Belle), a young woman who has captured D’Leh’s heart. With Tic’Tic and the young Buka, D’Leh leaves his mountain home to follow these slavers to win back Evolet and the freedom of his people. But the further from the mountain he gets, the closer he is to the mysterious civilisation ruled by a man who some claim as a god. Some even claim this god, the last of three who once ruled the earth, descended from the stars. But there is a prophecy that states that a hunter will come to destroy this god. As D’Leh leads his army of tribes to this city, so they believe that D’Leh may be this hunter.
And yes, so far, so Apocalypto, Stargate and Ice Age. And if you’re wondering about the reference to 300, think carefully about Leonidas needing to prove to the Persian armies that Xerxes was but a man. Owing so much to other films means that ought to feel right at home from the very beginning. Though that never quite happens. With a narration from Omar Sharif that doesn’t just ladle on the dense fantasy exposition but drives it into the movie with the kind of bulldozer only seen in World’s Most Giant Machines, this is fairly impenetrable. Not long into the movie, this viewer put on the subtitles to find out if they were actually saying ‘Mannek’ or if it was a distortion of ‘mammoth’. And just what or who an evolet might be. 10,000BC shouldn’t be so difficult. In You’ve Had Your Time, Anthony Burgess writes of having to create the artificial language for Quest For Fire, set in a similar era to 10,000BC. Burgess wanted a language that would, “…resist dubbing. There would be no subtitles either. Everything said would have to be made clear by the context of action.” Emmerich avoided having a made-up language so as to better engage his audience but in sharing a language, his, “D’Leh would have to fight alone the mighty beast who rules these lands!” and “You speak to the Spear Tooth?” actually ends up excluding them.

The bigger problem is that all of this is charmless stuff. Ray Harryhausen may only have had a make-up bag, some Plasticine and a few bits of fur to work with but he invested character in his creatures. The mammoths, the saber-tooth tiger and the giant carnivorous birds may be as lifelike as far as one can say, what with never having actually seen any of these creatures, but they don’t really bring much to the film. The saber-tooth tiger plays much less of a role in the film than the DVD cover might suggest while the birds have a cameo as short, though not as funny, as the dodos in Ice Age. The human cast are equally forgettable with the ending only serving to remind the viewer that Emmerich did this thing so much better in Stargate. Much more believable to have Kurt Russell travel through time to do off with an ancient and very alien god than to have D’Leh chucking a spear in his direction.
The shame of it is that most people, and certainly those with fond memories of Raquel Welch’s fur bikini, will a liking for prehistoric action movies. 10,000BC almost does away with all of that in its two hours. The cast never really seem to be under threat. The one human sacrifice that comes late in the film is no Apocalypto still-beating-heart-being-cut-from-its-body but someone being thrown to their death from atop a pyramid. There’s too little real action and far too much of things like, “The eye of the snake rests under the sun…and under the moon it does not move!” Make of that what you can. And there’s an ending that makes less sense than an average episode of ChuckleVision.

A year or two ago, I would have happily defended Emmerich. His Godzilla is a decent monster movie, Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow are both well-above-average disaster movies and Stargate is an exciting science-fiction movie and is probably the best of his films. I thought the Emmerich of The Patriot was something of an aberration. 10,000BC proves that it was not. Unlike the Emmerich of Independence Day, who knew very well how to make a rousing action movie, the Emmerich of 10,000BC makes out like a cat that has been handed a violin. Confusing, silly and hitting all the wrong notes, this is not the film that Emmerich will want to be remembered for. That is, though, if it’s remembered at all.

So there isn’t quite enough saber-tooth tiger and too many giant birds but the mammoths provide a decent thump on the soundtrack, both at the beginning of the film when the Yaghal give chase and at its end when they are chased down a ramp tramping on slavers and whisking them out of their path as they charge. There may be no DTS track but the DD5.1 does fine as it is, ensuring that there’s plenty of noise in the action scenes but that it also sounds clear in the film’s quieter moments. There is, for example, much use of the rear channels to create tension during D’Leh’s first attempt at rescuing Evolet and the DVD does very well in such moments. However, there isn’t much of a problem at any point with the soundtrack and all the better that there’s English subtitles on both the film and the special features.
The picture is, on the whole, pretty good. It’s not, though, entirely convincing in the early part of the film with the scenes of dialogue on the snow-covered hills often looking as though they were filmed in the studio and backfilled with footage of a mountaintop. In part, this is due to the clarity of the image but there seems to be a palpable difference between the foreground and background as though, outside of a computer, there was nothing to connect one to the other. Once the Yaghal descend into the rainforests, it does get better with the picture showing a reasonable amount of colour, detail and sharpness. Being such a recent film, there are no obvious faults on the print and nor should there be but it’s probably no better a transfer than it ought to be really.

Once you pass by the 35mm film frame that falls out of the embossed tin, there is nothing on the movie disc other than scene selection, which, this far into the life of DVD, simply doesn’t count anymore. The bonus material comes on the second disc in the set and begins with A Wild And Wooly Ride (12m48s), a short feature that looks solely at the design of the creatures on the film. Inspiring An Epic is actually shorter, lasting only 12m29s and wheels on a couple of historians to lend credence to the film, asking if a tribe like the Yaghal might actually have existed. When it comes to mentioning Graham Hancock’s Fingerprints Of The Gods, any connection to reality disappears as quickly as a bag of chocolate buttons in the hands of a small child.
An Alternate Ending (3m06s) mixes animatics and live action and goes back to such bobbins as ‘the land of the two suns’ while the Additional Scenes (10m40s) skirts around the action in the movie with news bits and pieces while never actually adding anything. And other than a digital download of the film, for which you need an Internet connection, that’s the lot. Not actually a sufficient amount of bonus material to warrant a second disc, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Eamonn McCusker

Updated: Jul 29, 2008

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