Roland Emmerich has built up a reputation for being critic-proof. That is, he makes these big-budget movies that are totally panned by critics but do well at the box-office anyway. In an recent interview he said "For me, it's more important that the audience enjoys it and embraces it, anyway. You get something that does well, but is criticized. So you say, 'OK, they just didn't get it. There's 1% or 2% who didn't like it. But there's 98% who did.'"
In a lot of ways that train of thought makes sense, and I agree with him to an extent. I liked his Independence Day. I enjoyed his Godzilla. I even came out of The Day After Tomorrow feeling it was time well spent. But 10,000 B.C. digs in deep and reaches an all new unforgivable and inexcusable realm of crapitude.
Presumably set in the year 10,000 B.C., the film follows the story of a young mammoth hunter from the Yagahl tribe named D'Leh who sets off on a journey to the ends of the earth after his girlfriend Evolet is kidnapped by a band of slave traders. During the quest, D'Leh and his companion tribesmen battle prehistoric beasts, hostile tribes, and the harshness of the elements before finally arriving at their journey's end -- an advanced civilization featuring huge towering pyramids in the desert.
This much-simplified summary actually does the film a service by making the plot sound more sensible than it actually is. In reality it feels like the story is being amateurly made up as you go along. At one point a villain whips Evolet's hand as punishment, and later on they see the resulting scar and discover that the specks of blood match a constellation of stars in the sky, which somehow connects things to a murky prophecy had never been mentioned up to this point. Or maybe it had been mentioned, but the entire narrative absurdity of it had turned me off from paying attention. In fact, a whole lot of the movie's plot is dependent on shady prophecies and legends that escape even the bounds of Hollywood movie logic.
At times the plot is ridiculous to the point of hilarity. At the movie's climax (which prolongs the agony by being presented in slow motion for extended periods), Evolet is shot in the back with an arrow and killed. However, a passing woolly mammoth turns its head to look at her, something magical happens, and she comes back to life. I amuse myself with the thought that her body was filled with the soul of a mammoth, who went on to marry D'Leh and live out the rest of their lives in a strange human-mammoth union. If someone can explain what really went on in that scene, please do tell me. Please.
Really though, how can you made a coherent mainstream movie set in a time before the dawn of civilization? Surely it must be possible if molded by the right hands, but watching 10,000 B.C. does not inspire optimism. With historical records being non-existent, so many of the decisions regarding the setting are left to the director's imagination, which results in a world so distant and unconvincing that the movie may as well have been set on another planet (that might have been better, actually).
It pains me to be so negative, but finding something positive to say about this movie is proving to be a bit of a challenge. Even the special effects aren't that great. It makes me wonder, with the movie using all unknown actors, what the film's budget of $140 million actually went to. Maybe Roland Emmerich has grown so confident in the ability of his movies to make money that he felt no need to spend prudently. At the very least, I can credit him for mustering the sheer audacity of making this movie. He certainly is audacious. Unfortunately it takes more than audacity to redeem this dunderheaded mess. What a waste.