Once a decade or so a movie comes along that is so outrageously dumb and filled with folly that the idea pops into your head–could this be the worst movie of all time? 10,000 BC is such a movie. At a minimum its among the most unforgivably dumb movies of all time, if not the ‘worst’. It’s not just that it’s dumb–it’s consistently mindless on a grand scale, in fact it so far out there that the one way it could have saved itself would have been to wink a little bit, add a bit of humor instead of a certain kind of pathological earnestness that seems to say “We think we’re making something wise and wonderful here”, in so doing undermining it even further.
Let’s get the basics out of the way. It’s 10,000 years ago. Male model (and not quite actor yet) Steven Strait is D’Lay the outsider who must unite his people, and unite some other funky tribal types, to take on the big bad pyramid building gods of the earth type guys and in so doing restore the order of things and get th girl, blue eyed Evolet (Camilla Bell). Along the way he will have many adventures (the “best” is when 12 foot high ostrich chicks terrorize D’Lay and company) and in the end he’ll get the girl, or will he?
I suppose that, having ranted that much, I should catalogue some of the dumbness I’m referring to and I’ll get to that. But first I want to issue a disclaimer. I’m usually a defender of movies that are getting a whupping from the critics because more often than not, it seems to me that the critics impose an unfair set of standards on movies that have as their goal nothing more than an amiable adventure and escape for the audience. Recently I took up the cudgels for the inoffensive and much maligned “Fools Gold”, which I thought pretty much did what it set out to do and supplied two hours of tropical fun that was harmless enough, had its clever moments, and left you feeling like you could taste the rum and smell the suntan lotion. So I’m not coming at this from an elite “film must be art or else” point of view. Far from it.
So the bar on 10,000 BC was, for me, pretty low. All it needed to do was supply 100 minutes or so of good diversionary entertainment with reasonable evidence that it had a brain on its own terms, not the critics terms, and I would be willing to give it a pass. But it fails all those easy tests. Here’s why:
- THE STORY: Honestly, all that the film-makers needed to do with this kind of epic romantic adventure story was to set up a love story with two characters we care about in act one, then spend act two keeping them separated, ennabling a hero quest that we care about. At the beginning of this drivel there are flashes that suggest Emmerich might have seen, for example, Braveheart — with the hero and his gal meeting as children. But believe me, there is nothing here that remotely resembles the moment in Braveheart when the girl gives him a flower over the grave of his father — a flower that he carries with him for life. Anyway, the bottom line here is just that the story is a mishmash of cliches built around a hero quest that misses the mark consistently.
- THE CAST: What were they thinking? Strait is a model, not an actor, and he is completely incapable of imbuing D’Lay (now there’s a name for a hero — sounds like “delay” every time you hear it spoken) with enough character to make us care about him (better writing would have helped, but even so, this guy is pretty and that’s about it). Bell as Evolet is pretty and those blue contacts are pretty cool … but she’s one-note and feels oh-so-modern.
- DESIGN: There is such a thing as designing a movie to death and in this one, the cuteness of the dreads that everyone seems to be wearing, the perfect assembly of skins and furs, and the overdone nature of the “look” of many of the various tribes that we come across—all of this ultimately becomes distracting.
- GENERAL SILLINESS: This is a catchall category for everything from the fact that this really needs to be a sci-fi movie on another planet so you can ignore the dozens upon dozens of historical anachronisms, to the lame special effects, to the goofy accents of D’Leh’s tribe, lamely executed battle scenes (and my “favorite” is when D’Leh, at a crucial moment, makes a huge spear toss supposedly like the one Brad Pitt did as Achilles in Troy — the epic toss that caused Hector to realize he had no chance–but when Strait tries such a toss, his form is so lame and awkward that it looks like he could hardly toss the spear 50 feet); it goes on and on.
But let’s get back to my original premise. Does this movie rise to the level of being on the shortlist of “worst movie of all time” candidates? I think it does, particularly if you give it special points for money and opportunity wasted. Imagine having all the resources that Roland Emmerich had at his disposal in this baby, then look at what he came up with — and if disparity between resources and outcome can be considered a “booster” in the race for worst film of all time, then this one really should be considered.
And a final thought. It takes a lot to get me riled up like this, and the truth is no indie film could rise to this level on the “worst” scale because it is precisely the abundant resources available to this film that amplify its failures. So while a feel a twinge of betrayal at hacking on a fellow filmmaker, I nevertheless am going to stick to my guns here and say this film is unforgivable.