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Once upon a time …
March 13, 2008 - Rick Chatenever
One thing about living in 10,000 B.C.: people sure had great teeth. The Crest smiles, framed by hides, tattered furs and primitive face paint, are among the fascinating glimpses of prehistory you get watching “10,000 B.C.,” this week’s box-office topper at the movies.
In those times when hairy mammoths, saber-toothed tigers and birdlike dinosaurs were still around to keep ice-age cavemen on their toes, balmy ancient Egypt was within walking distance, according to director Roland Emmerich’s version of ancient history. He’s not about to let things like facts get in the way of spinning his yarn.
Historical accuracy? Don’t worry about it. It hadn’t been invented yet.
Watching this fantastic epic is the celluloid equivalent of artist Salvador Dali’s surreal clocks. It’s as though time has melted like wax to become another sort of substance altogether.
Observing hunky caveman D’Leh (Steven Strait) kill a mighty mastodon with one measly spear is no more peculiar to the senses than seeing more mastodons about an hour later, now tamed into peaceful beasts of burden hauling giant building blocks up ramps during construction on Egypt’s great pyramids.
D’Leh’s tribe may have to do with cold, stinky caves back home, but those exotic Egyptians have already perfected boats, wheels, slinky outfits and kinky rituals in their warmer climes.
“10,000 B.C.” is such a jumble of wrong-place, wrong-time images, that you expect to see Matthew J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd tooling up in their DeLorean at any moment.
D’Leh has headed for Egypt in pursuit of his cave babe Evolet (Camilla Belle), who was abducted and taken there by enemies known as “the four-legged demons” (they ride horses, get it?)
By the time we get to Egypt —by way of Africa, where D’Leh enlists an army of happy tribesmen — no one in the theater even notices the movie’s curious ability to span thousands of years in a single bound. Or the way cavemen still remember to say “please” and “thank you.”
This must be what happens you measure time in terms of “many moons,” I suppose. It’s like walking from one room to the next in a history museum or riding a little boat in a Disneyland—the era is liable to change just around the next bend, or over the next mountain ridge.
And why expect anything else? The last time a big Hollywood production had B.C. in the title — 1996’s “One Million Years, B.C.” — Raquel Welch looked like she had just stepped off a Malibu beach, as opposed to just crawling out of a cave. She had great teeth, too. Gee, I didn’t even realize they had cameras back then.
Don’t get me wrong: “10,000 B.C.” is actually fun if you don’t let little things — like reality — get in the way. Check your brain at the door and you’re in for a good time.
Seeing it as a Saturday matinee helps. On his odyssey, D’Leh —who looks like a prehistoric ancestor of Brad Pitt —reminds us, literally, what cliff-hanger means. Seeing a saber-toothed tiger as big as a bus, or watching D’Leh turn it into a pussy cat by befriending it is like an Aesop’s fable … with better special effects.
And if drop-dead gorgeous Evolet can withstand abduction on horseback, Egyptian enslavement and even an arrow in her back and still look ready to hit the L.A. club scene that very night, well, that’s the stuff of fairy tales, isn’t it?
I used to be bothered by filmmakers’ willingness to play fast and loose with things like history — even if eyewitness accounts thousands of years before writing was invented aren’t especially reliable sources, either.
I used to think special effects could be dangerous if audiences started believing them. It seemed like Steven Spielberg and the rest of the industry should have learned a little lesson when Kauai production on the FX-laden “Jurassic Park” ran into real live Hurricane Iniki.
But no longer.
French cultural commentator Jacques Barzun, in his tome on Western Civilization, “From Dawn to Decadence,” says that the smarter technology gets, the dumber it makes us. With screens of every size to bring us our media, and bar codes to do our math for us, it won’t be that long before people become illiterate again, he says.
But all won’t be lost, he predicts. Because, eventually, people will start coming together again, to share stories.
That’s what “10,000 B.C.” feels like: Not so much a bone-headed trip to the past, but a fanciful glimpse into the future, where imagination is better than facts.
More fun, at least.
• Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org
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