Review: 10,000 B.C.

Once upon a time Roland Emmerich made greasy popcorn entertainment that was buoyant and exciting ("Stargate," "Independence Day"). Ever since the epic failure of 1998's "Godzilla," Emmerich has been desperately trying to rekindle his old blockbuster flame, but the results have been lackluster at best ("The Day After Tomorrow"). "10,000 B.C." (IMDb listing) is a further step backward for the event movie prince, sending the audience to the mystical world of cavemen, yet offering little in the way of substance beyond the abundant special effects.

A young hunter in his clan, D'Leh (Steven Strait) finds his fate intertwined with Evolet (Camilla Belle), an orphan embraced by the elders who hope she will fulfill a great prophecy. When invaders attack D'Leh and his clan, they snatch Evolet and imprison her as a slave, starting a quest for D'Leh and a small pack of warriors traveling across treacherous terrain to get her back. During their dangerous journey, D'Leh befriends other tribes who want similar revenge on their oppressors, finding the relentless warrior fulfilling his own prophecy as a leader brought to the world to unite good and topple evil.

That's right, two prophecies. That's how hollow this screenplay is: they needed two ways to figure out how to take tedious characters and lend them a false sense of otherworldly intent.

"10,000 B.C." is not a cerebral journey of anthropological investigation; it's more a Saturday matinee thrill ride using prehistoric iconography to molest audience-pleasing explosions of action and chest-thumping drama. On the page, I'm sure the project looked amazing with grand displays of adventure and numerous openings for eye-popping visual effects; however, Emmerich's execution of the whole shebang is sleepy, and the screenwriting downright deplorable.

Stealing cues from "Apocalypto," "Braveheart," and his own "Stargate" (not to mention numerous other films), Emmerich has assembled a funky bouillabaisse of derivative material glued together by the CG sequences, which imagine a land populated with grazing mammoths, fierce saber-tooth tigers, and massive ostrich-like creatures that allow Emmerich a chance to rip-off the Velociraptor attack from "Jurassic Park." Admittedly, "B.C." is a gorgeous widescreen production, with sweeping vistas and towering scale. Emmerich knows how to go big, but his touch with human interaction is laughable, and "B.C." is his most emotionally distanced movie yet.

Thrust into this world by Omar Sharif's perplexing narration, "B.C." never gets off the ground. Emmerich is more enamored with selling the characters as action figures than human beings, breaking the critical bonds between them that supposedly motivate the entire movie. The worst offense is found between D'Leh and Evolet, who are offered to the screen as the destined, tragic lovers of the piece. The script doesn't give them much time to intertwine, and it's not long before they're separated, leaving D'Leh to do his Conan-lite routine and for Evolet to commence her…whatever she actually does in this movie. I'm not sure. I detected a lot of painful-color-contact blank stares and falling. Perhaps the "natural lady" caveman wig on Belle was too cumbersome. There's really no sense of community in the picture, just a filmmaker checking off disposable action beats from his creased, yellowed "to do" list as the production plods along aimlessly.

Without any tangible interest in the characters, "B.C." is reduced to a highlight reel of flavorless set-pieces. Trust me, if you've seen one mammoth stampede, you've seen them all. Emmerich has never been one to rely on the wizardry of nuance, but I was stunned to feel numb to nearly everything "B.C." offered, as if my mind immediately detected a filmmaker looking to brazenly cash in on his past successes. I miss the fun-loving Roland Emmerich, who once made stupid undeniably rousing. These days, he's just riding gimmicks and special effects and "10,000 B.C." is a culmination of every lazy impulse he's been harboring for years.

Filmfodder Grade: D+