To anyone who has ever yearned to see woolly mammoths in full stampede across the Alps, 10,000 BC can be heartily recommended. There's also a flock of "terror birds"--lethal ostriches on steroids--in a steaming jungle only a splice away from the heroes' snow-dusted alpine habitat. And lo, somewhere in the vastness of the North African desert lies a city whose slave inhabitants alternately teem like the crowds in Quo Vadis during the burning of Rome and trudge in hieratic ally menacing formations like the workers in Metropolis. That's pretty much it for the cool stuff. Setting movies in prehistoric times is dicey. Apart from the "Dawn of Man" sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey, only Quest for Fire makes the grade, and its creators had the good sense to limit the duologue to grunts and moans. 10,000 BC boasts a quasi-biblical narrator (Omar Sharif) and characters who speak in formed, albeit uninteresting, sentences--including a New Agey "I understand your pain." But let no one say the storytelling isn't primitive. The narrator speaks of "the legend of the child with the blue eyes" and bingo, here's the kid now. When, grown up to be Camilla Belle, she's carried off by "four-legged demons"--guys on horseback to you--the neighbor boy (Steven Strait) who hankers to make myth with her leads a rescue mission into the great unknown world beyond their mountaintop. His name is D'Leh, which is Held, the German for "knight," spelled backward. So yes, there is some hidden meaning after all. 10,000 BC is the latest triumph of the ersatz from writer-director Roland Emmerich. Like Stargate (1994), Independence Day (1996), and The Day After Tomorrow (2004) before it, it's shamelessly cobbled together out of every movie Emmerich can remember to pilfer from (though to be fair, the section in per-ancient Egypt harks back to his own Stargate). Emmerich's saving grace is that his films' cheesiness is so flagrant, his narratives so geared for instant gratification, he can seem like a kid simultaneously improvising and acting out a story in his backyard: "P'tend there's this alien ... p'tend maybe he came from Atlantis or something...." Just don't p'tend it has anything to do with real movie-making.
Starring: Steven Strait, Camilla Belle, Cliff Cirtus, Joel Virgel. Director: Roland Emmerich.