Roland Emmerich is partial to cutting-edge special effects and stone-age storytelling, meaning that 10,000 B.C., a dim-witted CG extravaganza set in prehistoric times, is something like his ideal project. Emmerich is into bigness—big creatures, big music, big vistas, big speeches—but because his visual pageantry suffers from a computerized insubstantiality, and because his dramas involve grating stick figures reciting trailer-ready pronouncements, his projects’ size doesn’t matter. The director’s latest is a cinematic leviathan full of sweeping panoramas and trite aphorisms scored to tribal chants and war drums, and as it stampedes across the screen, it’s depressingly easy to imagine the director’s winning sales pitch to studio execs: “Think Apocalypto crossed with Conan the Barbarian and Cleopatra, but with giant killer ostriches!”.
The action revolves around D’Leh (Steven Strait), a hunter of wooly mammoths who traverses snowy mountains, lush rain forests, and arid deserts (in that order, since they’re all located directly next to each other) with the intention of rescuing his blue-eyed love Evolet (Camilla Belle) from merciless kidnappers. The villains’ final destination, it turns out, is Egypt’s under-construction pyramids, which are being built by a veiled pseudo-God waited on by albino eunuchs and gold jewelry-loving underlings straight out of 300. Yet despite this inclusion of real-world history, factual accuracy is centuries removed from Emmerich’s tale, which features (among other fantasticalities) a saber-toothed tiger consciously repaying a life debt to D’Leh and a shaman known as Old Mother observing D’Leh’s adventure via the psychic broadcasts in her headdressed noggin.
10,000 B.C.‘s stereotypically primitive characters have less personality than Kubrick’s primeval 2001 apes, and no more distinctive is its narrative, a hodgepodge of mystical prophesies, man-versus-beast skirmishes, and rousing calls to arms so stale that the film comes close to emitting an actual stench. D’Leh eventually finds the courage to be a shirtless, dreadlocked Braveheart to the legion of African-ish warriors who join his crusade. His orchestration of a lame climactic rebellion against the tyrannical powers that be, however, whips up only the desire to stage one’s own revolt against big-budget Hollywood tripe like this.