Directed by Roland Emmerich. US. 2007. 108 mins.
Closer in spirit to the kitschy fantasy of One Million Years BC than the grungy realism of Quest For Fire, Roland Emmerich's 10,000 BC is a lumbering and mostly unconvincing prehistoric adventure partially redeemed by some eye-catching effects and cinematography. Interest from younger moviegoers for whom the prehistoric genre may still be fresh could result in a healthy opening, but with limited star power this Warner Bros/Legendary Pictures production seems unlikely to perform on a par with recent neo-B movie hits such as The Mummy and its sequels.
Warner opens the film in the US (with a PG-13 rating) and a handful of major international territories this weekend - looking at roughly the same slot in which 300 reaped rich rewards for the studio. With other markets set to follow soon, Warner will be hoping that in this early spring niche 10,000 BC can feed an appetite for effects-driven spectaculars that will not be fully satisfied until the summer. Thanks to the culturally non-specific story, takings may be strongest outside the US, especially in territories such as Emmerich's native Germany.
The plot recalls any number of ancient adventure movies, from Conan The Barbarian to Apocalypto. The Yahahl are dreadlocked hill-dwelling mammoth hunters whose lives are rudely interrupted when horse-riding marauders attack their village and take captives including Evolet (Belle, from the 2006 version of When A Stranger Calls), a beautiful and mysterious orphan taken in by the tribe as a child.
Evolet's boyfriend D'Leh (Strait, most recently seen in The Covenant) and head warrior Tic'Tic (Curtis, from Whale Rider) mount a rescue mission that takes them, rapidly and rather incongruously, from their snowy home territory through a tropical forest to a sand dune desert. Eve ntually, the Yahahl and the allies they make on their trek come face to face with a whole new civilization that uses slave labour to build vast pyramids in the desert.
Written by Emmerich with film music composer Harald Kloser, the film plods through most of its first hour with little sense of momentum and a lot of silly dialogue about gods and prophesies. Portentous voiceover narration by Omar Sharif just adds to the cheesy feel.
Strait is a hunky and reasonably believable male lead. Belle looks like a young Elizabeth Taylor but she can't do much with her Stone-Age-damsel-in-distress role. The main redeeming factors here are the settings, nicely shot in Namibia, South Africa and New Zealand by longtime Emmerich collaborator Euli Steiger, and the CG effects, supervised by Karen Goulekas, who also worked on the director's Godzilla and The Day After Tomorrow.
On its reported $75m budget, the film delivers an impressive mammoth hunt sequence, a couple of less convincing sabre-toothed tigers and a small flock of 'terror birds' (semi-fictitious creatures resembling giant and very aggressive dodoes).
Most impressive is the pyramid construction site on which most of the film's third act takes place. Combining actors, CG creatures and miniature models shot in the Namibian desert, the pyramid sequence gives the film a better climax than it deserves, one that makes use of Emmerich's talent for large-scale spectacle.