10,000 BC Review

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With the end of the Ice Age dooming the Yagahl mammoth hunters’ way of life, the mountain tribe await a prophesied warrior saviour. Uncertain youth D’Leh (Strait) steps up when slave raiders capture the young men and D’Leh’s beloved Evolet (Belle), embark


You have to hand it to him, Roland Emmerich thinks big. After the sci-fi extravaganzas Stargate and Independence Day, the historical epic The Patriot and the environmental disaster flick The Day After Tomorrow, he has set out to create his own mythology, no less. 10,000 BC embroiders the classic coming-of-age, boy-with-a-heroic-destiny legends and lore told around camp fires for millennia with straight-faced, pretentiously sober spirituality, made-up mysticism and reams of voiceover narration (from Omar Sharif). A fiercely good looking, inventively-clad cast interact among dizzying layers of CGI, visual and sound effects to make a preposterous prehistoric adventure quest that is undeniably spectacular. You can feel the earth and your teeth shake, rattle and roll when the mighty herds of massive woolly mamoths stampede through the dwarfed company of vulnerable but athletic spear carriers.

What is more embarrassingly enjoyable, guilty fun is the brash daftness run rampant. You can laugh at, but still dote on, the invented culture, ritual and poetic utterances (a dying warrior serenely says “I am full of days.”) of the plucky Stone Agers, who are, of course, highly attuned to the spirit world, signs and portents, and the forces of earth and the heavens.

The Yagahl tribe (a hunky, dreadlocked lot in hide breeches and clay face packs) revere a crone called Old Mother. She crouches in her hide and bone lean-to speaking to the spirits and going into telepathic trances, suffering shakes and nosebleeds linked to the faraway travails befalling D’Leh (sincere, sinewy Steven Strait) and his handful of companions on their arduous trek on the trail of horse-riding, ship-sailing slavers to a lost civilization of proto-Egyptian meanies. It all takes place in a sort of imaginary Africa, by way of the Alps.

The Yagahl don’t think much of D’Leh, something of an angst-ridden misfit who has father issues since the disappearance of his own, the leader of the tribe, who seemingly abandoned his people long ago. That’s one mystery that will be solved far, far away and many moons later. When his true love is snatched, however, D’leh resolves to rescue her, accompanied by his sympathetic, sage mentor Tic’Tic (Cliff Curtis), a cheeky boy follower, Baku (British teen Nathanael Baring) and a hot-headed rival for Evelet. And somewhere along the way he grows into a heroic leader of men.

They don’t have a lot to work with, but one is struck by the quality of our heroes’ rough-hewn footwear, which carries D’Leh and his fellowship from freezing mountain tops down into a Pleistocene jungle (where they are beset by 'Terror Birds', killer critters which look, unintentionally hilariously, much like gigantic, enraged ostrich chicks) and across the searing sands of a vast desert (and, eventually, back again.). They rack up more miles than Frodo, in a fraction of the time.

En route D’Leh bonds with a sabre-toothed tiger (it’s a prophetic sign) like Androcles did with the Lion; invents celestial navigation after wandering lost in the desert like Moses; discovers Agriculture (which will come in very handy for future survival, given the background of climate change) and gathers to himself an impressive variety of beleaguered tribal peoples -- of many tongues, many skin tones and helpfully colour-coded costumery with excellent accessories -- as he goes, creating an army for a terrific climactic uprising at the end of the world.

Needless to say, Emmerich and like-minded collaborator, co-writer, producer and co-composer Harald Kloser’s vision of things neolithic will have anthropologists, archaeologists and paleontologists rolling in the aisles. Documentary-drama realism this is not. But in its peregrinations from high-altitude camp fire to sophisticated pre-Pharaonic city (where harnessed mammoths helpfully toting the heavy loads offer a startling new hypothesis on how the pyramids were built) this opus happily and shamelessly plucks popular notions from every caveman and loincloth saga ever, from One Million Years B.C. to Apocalypto. There are also touches of Lord Of The Rings, The Thirteenth Warrior and all the spiffing silent screen role models of young men finding their courage and ingenuity; abducted heroines (Belle, although not, alas, given a fur bikini, is a good, comely one; and dastardly, decadent exotic fiends for villains, with terrifyingly long fake fingernails and a taste for human sacrifice. And all this without any nudity, profanity or visceral brutality! It’s really rather sweet.

The mammoths aren’t all that is wild and woolly in this innocent, old-fashioned, amusingly self-important, entertainingly mad, rip-snorting throwback to vintage Saturday matinee fare, with all the swell set piece thrills state-of-the-art technology can th