June 1, 2008 -- I finally went to see 10,000 B.C. Friday night, and it was a lot better than I expected it to be. It was a pleasant surprise. Based on the reviews of other critics (average score 1.5 stars out of four) I was expecting something a whole lot worse. I guess most critics have never forgiven Roland Emmerich for all those millions of dollars he made due to the huge box office success of “Independence Day,” which many critics also hated. They probably don't like the fact that this movie, too, made a lot of money, despite the bad reviews.
As advertised, 10,000 B.C. is a big, hairy action movie about a bunch of primitive people fighting each other in the midst of wooly mammoths, saber-toothed tigers and freaking big killer birds. On the one side, you've got the hunter-gatherer Yagahl tribe, that bags the occasional wooly mammoth. On the other side, you've got their enemy, a corrupt Egyptian-like civilization which thrives on slave labor and human sacrifices. When D'Leh (Steven Strait of of “The Covenant”) loses his girlfriend, Evolet (Camilla Belle of “When a Stranger Calls”) to slave raiders, he sets out to get her back, along with other tribal members also kidnapped into slavery, not knowing what lies ahead. He is accompanied by the best, most experienced warrior of the Yagahl, Tic'Tic (Cliff Curtis of “Live Free or Die Hard”) and others.
Obviously, a handful of warriors armed only with spears is no match for the mounted troops of a powerful civilization, but the warriors have more factors working for them. One factor is a prophecy that D'Leh is destined to be the savior of his people. A similar prophecy among the Naku tribe and others causes a whole army to form, composed of several tribes who have all suffered at the hands of the slave raiders. The leader of the Naku, Nakudu, proves to be a powerful ally. Another factor is the fact that D'Leh's father had paved the way for his arrival in the lands of the Naku years before on an epic journey of his own. Another factor is that the Egyptian-like civilization has massive numbers of slaves, and those slaves are unhappy. They are ready to overthrow their masters. D'Leh is just the guy to lead that revolt. Instead of a head-on assault, the warriors infiltrate the slaves and enlist their help, plotting their revolt in secret.
The story is compelling and the characters are well-defined. There is even some character development in the film, not all that common in an action film. There is a touch of the supernatural in the story involving prophecy, remote seeing, and even a sort of reanimation of the dead, but mostly, this is a straight out action movie with lots of big budget special effects, impressive sets and digitally animated creatures. There are also some interesting location shots in New Zealand, South Africa and Namibia. About the only thing that bothered me was the running motion of the wooly mammoths, which should have been more elephant-like. They ran like cattle instead of moving like elephants. One of the best moments in the movie is the beginning of the slave revolt. A guy is whipping a black man who he thinks is a slave, beating him unmercifully. But he isn't a slave, he is a mighty warrior, and he is being patient, enduring the pain in silence. When the signal is given to start the revolt, the warrior turns on the guy with the whip and picks him up by the neck with one giant arm. The look on that guy's face is priceless. He realizes too late that he is no longer in charge.
I also liked the journey of D'Leh. He is an immensely likeable character. He is a reluctant leader. He believes himself to be unworthy. He is told, however, that it is up to him to decide if he is going to draw a small circle around himself, and concern himself with only his own family, or draw a big circle around himself and concern himself with thousands of other people. He later is forced to make that choice on a very big public stage. He chooses wisely and becomes the leader he never thought he could be. Some have criticized this film because there were no known civilizations in 10,000 B.C. Human beings have been on this planet for about one million years. It seems likely that there were civilizations prior to five or six thousand years ago. It wasn't many years ago when archaeologists didn't think there were any people in the Americas 10,000 years ago, but new discoveries changed their minds on that point. I think there is a lot we don't know about human history. This movie rates a B.
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