Before most boys ever become aware of the charms of the opposite sex, they’ve already given away a small piece of their hearts.
The prehistoric beasts that once roamed the Earth are among the earliest objects of their affection. (And, here’s a little secret, ladies: Deep down, in the dark recesses of the male brain, this innate fascination with all things prehistoric never dies.)
For that reason, “10,000 B.C.” would seem to be a pre-adolescent male fantasy come to life. But while images of stampeding mammoths and menacing saber-toothed tigers dominate the film’s trailer, the film itself relegates these enormous and almost mythic creatures to a series of glorified cameos.
Sure, there are about three scenes with woolly mammoths; the saber-toothed tiger seen snarling in the coming attractions makes two brief appearances; and there is an exciting jungle sequence featuring large, flightless and carnivorous birds. But the film is primarily a story of intertribal conflict, in which a hero leads an alliance of tribes against a common enemy, from whom he attempts to rescue captive friends and the woman he loves.
From the first words of the film’s narration, delivered by veteran actor Omar Sharif, it is clear that “10,000 B.C.” aspires to be an epic.
We are soon introduced to an impoverished tribe of hunters whose main food source - roaming herds of mammoths - has become scarce in their region.
Evolet, a little girl with dazzling blue eyes, flees to the tribal village after her own people are slaughtered by “four-legged demons,” which turn out to be warriors on horseback. The tribal prophetess, named Old Mother, prophesies that those same “demons” will someday attack the village. She also predicts that Evolet and her future lover will be the tribe’s saviors, leading the tribe into a world where food will be more plentiful.
The object of Old Mother’s prophecy turns out to be D’Leh, a young tribal boy who is instantly smitten with Evolet.
The years pass and Evolet grows into a beautiful woman (Camilla Belle). And when the horse-riders’ long-forseen attack finally takes place, most of the tribe is taken away in chains. The invaders’ leader claims Evolet as his own.
Joined by three companions, D’Leh (Steven Strait) sets out to free the captives and save Evolet. Their journey takes them over snow-capped mountains, through a tropical jungle and across a pathless desert to “the mountain of the gods,” from which, we are told, no one has returned.
Movies often work best when they take us into a world we have never seen before and allow us to live there for a couple hours, vicariously experiencing the struggles and triumphs of their casts of characters.
As directed by Roland Emmerich, whose most recent directorial effort was the eco-friendly disaster flick “The Day After Tomorrow,” “10,000 B.C.” succeeds in transporting us back to an age when tribes of early humans still hunted woolly mammoths. But while the film certainly has its exciting moments, the decision to make it primarily a story about conflict between human tribes rather than a tale of human interaction with now-extinct creatures seems a mistake. After all, we have plenty of bad guys in the world today, but when was the last time you saw a saber-toothed tiger?
Still, in the jungle scenes, it is interesting to watch as our protagonists encounter fierce new creatures. What a small world these characters must inhabit if the creatures that live “over the great mountains” are almost as alien to them as they are to us 12 millenia later.
The primeval world is a strange and fantastic place. To borrow a verse from the Book of Genesis, “giants were upon the earth in those days.” And what giants they were! The creatures of that historical epoch are so far removed from our world that they might as well be the larger-than-life oliphaunts, wargs and other creatures depicted in “The Lord of the Rings.” For that reason, it is not problematic that “10,000 B.C.” has strong supernatural overtones and shares some stylistic similarities with recent fantasy films.
“10,000 B.C.” is not an unwatchable film, but it is not an especially great one either. Essentially, it tells the familiar story of a young man embracing his destiny, undertaking a heroic quest and growing into manhood, as he seeks to save the woman he loves from mortal danger. That happens to be one of the great story lines of all time, but unfortunately for the makers of this film, it is a story that has not only been done before, but one that has also been done much better.