March 7, 2008 / 4:54 AM / 10 years ago

Prehistoric "10,000 BC" a modern wonder

10,000 BC

By Kirk Honeycutt

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - The movie’s title is “10,000 BC,” but its characters and story line hark back to the first two decades of the last century, the era of D.W. Griffith. You have an outcast and an orphan, a boy who needs to become a man, a girl who needs rescuing, evil slave traders, noble savages and a revolt of the suffering masses.

What is new here, of course, is a state-of-the-art production in three countries plus CGI and other visual effects that place everything in a fictitious prehistoric world. Director Roland Emmerich and his cohorts pretty much make this up since 10,000 BC extends far beyond any archeological discoveries.

As one might expect, there are campy moments and far too much reliance on God-like interventions in the affairs of early man. Less expected is that “10,000 BC” works just fine as an action Western with handsome actors in striking costumes and a few computer-generated predators, which are giddy fun.

With strong marketing and high awareness, Warner Bros. should enjoy a strong opening weekend. The film might or might not reach the $100 million mark domestically, but international box office should be strong.

The story begins among a remote mountain tribe, who are white, speak English and hunt mammoths. Except that those woolly beasts are descending into their snowy valley with greater infrequency due to, yes, climate change.

A prophecy by its spiritual leader, Old Mother (Mona Hammond), lays out all three acts: Four-legged demons -- slave traders on horses -- will raid the village and capture many young people including the beautiful orphan girl Evolet (Camilla Belle), who caught the eye of young hunter D‘Leh (Steven Strait) when she was a child.

His pursuit of her and her captors along with his mentor Tic Tic (Cliff Curtis) and the very young Baku (Nathanael Baring) will turn him into a warrior and galvanize other tribes to join in the quest to overthrow an evil civilization and religion that has enslaved so many people.

Getting to the riverside home of this Aztec-like civilization, intent on building pyramids through slavery and human sacrifice, is half the fun. En route, D‘Leh -- pronounced Delay -- and his gang encounter fierce beasts such as a thing that looks like a giant turkey buzzard and another one that looks like a giant saber-tooth tiger.

Then the motley crew hits a primordial jungle -- as Emmerich and company move their cameras from New Zealand to South Africa -- where they encounter a black tribe. Its leader Nakudu (Joel Virgel), whose ability to speak English is reasonably explained, sees D‘Ley as the answer to his tribe’s own prophecy, so the invasion force gets that much bigger. Next comes a vast desert -- production has shifted to Namibia -- where more tribes join the rebellion.

The climactic battle won’t cause anyone to forget “The Lord of the Rings,” but it does represent a good blend of stunts, CGI, an immense set and characters working out their destinies.

Strait makes a convincing hero as his youth, athleticism and earnestness stand in him in good stead. Belle does manage to suggest a bit more depth to her character as she is anything but a poor girl quietly acquiescing to her captivity. Curtis and Virgel are solid as aging tribal leaders looking to pass on their dearly purchased wisdom.

Of course, the imaginative creation of everything from the handmade wardrobes and crude weapons to makeshift housing and huge animals, all lensed in classic movie style by DP Ueli Steiger, makes the film a continual visual entertainment. Clearly, Emmerich’s crew borrows from everywhere -- be it from old movies, various cultures or ancient cave paintings.

Harald Kloser not only collaborated with Emmerich on the script and served as exec producer but also wrote the music with Thomas Wander; it’s like an old-time Hollywood score only with an emphasis on horns and drums. Omar Sharif intones an overly grave narration.

Cast:

Evolet: Camilla Belle

D‘Leh: Steven Strait

Tic Tic: Cliff Curtis

Nakudu: Joel Virgel

Warlord: Ben Badra

Ka‘ren: Mo Zinal

Baku: Nathanael Baring

Old Mother: Mona Hammond

Narrator: Omar Sharif.

Director: Roland Emmerich; Screenwriters: Roland Emmerich, Harald Kloser; Producers: Michael Wimer, Roland Emmerich, Mark Gordon; Executive producers: Harald Kloser, Sarah Bradshaw, Tom Karnowski, Thomas Tull, William Fay, Scott Mednick; Director of photography: Ueli Steiger; Production designer: Jean-Vincentn Puzos; Music: Harald Kloser, Thomas Wander; Co-producer: Ossie Von Richthofen; Costume designers: Odile Dicks-Mireaux, Renee April; Editor: Alexander Berner.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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