Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
March 2008

Um...

I'm speechless. I am without speech.

10,000 B.C.
Warner Bros. Pictures
Director: Roland Emmerich
Screenplay: Roland Emmerich and Harald Kloser
Starring: Steven Strait, Camilla Belle, Cliff Curtis, Joel Virgel, Affif Ben Badra, Mo Zinal, Reece Ritchie and Omar Sharif
Rated PG-13 / 1 hour, 49 minutes
Opened March 7, 2008
(out of four)

Roland Emmerich is the reason why Trey Parker and Matt Stone exist - why they must exist. Their original intention behind what eventually became Team America: World Police was to take the actual script for The Day After Tomorrow, but to shoot it with marionettes - thus revealing just how ridiculous it was, even if the filmmakers themselves didn't realize it.

But if The Day After Tomorrow was merely "ridiculous," they might have to invent a new word for 10,000 B.C. - and Parker and Stone might need to bring those marionettes back for an encore.

10,000 B.C. is an utterly baffling experience, one that defies simple explanation. It would be best described as a low-rent Apocalypto jammed with nonsensical mysticism and characters that might as well have been Zemeckis-esque motion-capture creations for as much emotional and dramatic weight as they bring.

And even such a description couldn't give this film justice. 10,000 B.C. is such an obscene spectacle that I can't tell if it's the work of an insane person, or the vision of a mad, ironic genius.

How any director could shoot the scenes in this film with such bloated dramatic weight and not crack up in a fit of giggles is beyond me. Indeed, this is one of the most absurd things I've seen in some time - movies or otherwise. (Yes, it's even more arbitrary and absurd than Vantage Point.)

Like Emmerich's other productions, the proportion is epic, but the product is plastic. However, unlike his previous efforts - which at least all had a clear purpose - it's virtually impossible to decipher exactly what the film is trying to accomplish. (And that's only one of the things that makes it such a strange enigma.)

Is it supposed to be an entertaining popcorn movie? An earnest melodrama? A parable? A great mythological fantasy? An epic? A video game?

All of the above?

None?

It is at once extremely simple - because there isn't much going on beyond face value, I assure you - and completely dumbfounding. I'll try to make as much sense of it as I can. (Anthropology buffs, avert your eyes.)

It's 12,000 or so years ago, right? There's an ancient prophecy involving a young girl, Evolet - whose bright blue eyes are the only distinguishing characteristic of anyone in the film - and the young boy D'Leh, who is destined to become . . . well, some kind of really, important mythological leader/symbol. They grow into young adulthood - he into a strapping warrior with perfect teeth (Steven Strait) and she into an astonishingly gorgeous actress named Camilla Belle.

Then D'Leh and his tribe fight some woolly mammoths. Then he kills one in a very symbolic gesture, winning both the leadership of the tribe and Evolet's hand.

The dialogue during all of this basically consists of this:

D'Leh: "Hey, let's have a conversation where I telegraph to the audience what is going to happen next!"

Evolet: "Agreed! What is going to happen next?"

D'Leh: "Well, you're going to get captured by demonic tribesmen from afar and I'm going to follow my heart and rescue you!"

Evolet: "Oh, darling!"

So that happens. Beforehand, he compares his love for her to the North Star, which itself serves two functions: the just-mentioned clumsy metaphor, and the clumsy usage in the plot about halfway through:

"I know how to find her! Look! By jove, up in the great blue sky! That star we've been talking about the entire movie! It's destiny, dear boy, destiny!" (For some reason, I imagined that entire quote being spoken by a cheerfully drunk Peter O'Toole. I suggest you do the same. It's much funnier that way. Maybe even throw a "tally-ho" in there - entirely up to you.)

So along with the help of his surrogate father and friend, Tic'Tic (Cliff Curtis, poor guy), D'Leh goes on his quest for heroism and greatness. Of course, as if you didn't already know, there's also the Spunky Young Kid who the leaders of the clan prohibit from going along.

"I like you, kid, you've got moxie. Now just run along, see."

(By the way, it's best to read that last line while doing your best Bogart impression. Isn't this fun?)

Naturally, the spunky kid tags along anyway. And I know what you're thinking - he probably proves his valor in the face of great danger and saves the day, right?

I daren't tell.

What lies in store for D'Leh and friends? Near-death experiences with a few prehistoric creatures (including a terrible-looking CGI saber-toothed tiger) and plot details made up entirely of mystical mumbo-jumbo that would make for great MST3K fodder. Pay particular attention to the spectacularly funny cuts to the tribe's wise Old Mother, who prophecies everything.

In a way, what's most puzzling about 10,000 B.C. is how strangely uninvolved even the filmmakers seem to be with their production. I suppose Emmerich and his team have been slowly building toward that. His best film, the silly-but-fun Independence Day (1996), was at its best when it was letting the performers (and the audience) enjoy their surroundings - in all their silliness, campiness and pre-determined emotions.

Then Godzilla didn't happen. Then he started to get pseudo-serious with The Patriot and the unforgivably stupid The Day After Tomorrow. And now he's gone and made . . . well, this. It would be one thing to say he's "trying something new" or "going in a new direction" - if only it didn't seem like he has no idea what he's trying, or which direction he's going.

Read more by Chris Bellamy


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