10,000 B.C. is a castrated Apocalypto, a pseudo-historic whiff dripping with family-friendly restraint and feeling more like a History Channel reenactment than an epic adventure. The action scenes choke on the PG-13 rating and a near-monosyllabic script lies dead in a cornucopia of increasingly bad accents. Only a few sequences of stunningly beautiful CGI beasts break through, but it’s nowhere near enough to redeem 10,000 B.C.’s grocery list of faults.
The film starts out okay. We learn that D’Leh (Steven Strait) is a member of a mammoth-hunting tribe who desires the beautiful, oddly blue-eyed adoptee Evolet (Camilla Belle). In an amazingly rendered scene, D’Leh and his tribe hunt a pack of gargantuan woolly mammoths. D’Leh succeeds, but only by luck, and is ashamed of his cowardice.
Shortly afterwards, “four-legged demons”—men on horseback—sweep through D’Leh’s village and kidnap most of the population, including Evolet, who essentially plays the Helen of Troy role. Of course, D’Leh won’t be the coward again. He goes after her, with only three tribesmen at his side. But through a series of events, his numbers rise until his ragtag army can challenge even a towering empire.
This plot is mind-numbingly linear—over half the movie is spent in chasing after the horsemen—and loaded with more gaping holes than bad fan fiction. At one point, D’Leh and his band see their quarry sail away on a river; instead of following the river to its destination, they mysteriously take a hellish route through icy mountains that suddenly transform into jungles. (“It’s hot here,” one observes.) At another, characters slip in and out of slaves’ cages without explanation.
Each actor and actress here looks sillier than the last in their ubiquitous Rastafari dreadlocks, none more than Strait, who comes off as exactly what he is: a New York white-boy model in a dumb wig. Their affected accents are hilariously futile, and while the script captures the likely simplicity of prehistoric language (cavemen probably didn’t use many metaphors), it’s painful to listen to. Omar Sharif does his best with a pretentious voice-over script. He’s also the only recognizable actor here—lead and supporting roles alike are filled with no-names. This won’t be their breakout.
Though 10,000 B.C.’s opening twenty minutes seem like a fairly accurate portrayal of a mammoth-hunting life, the film shortly goes archeologically bonkers, starting with the horses (not domesticated until about 2,000 B.C.) and ending with the mammoths themselves (most assuredly never domesticated). Even someone clueless about the historical record can probably figure out that the science of agriculture debuted before the ziggurat.
But worst of all is the toned-down action to get that coveted PG-13. Don’t imagine for one moment that this isn’t a violent movie—there are whippings and impalements and the plethora of death you’d expect in a war epic. But for each scene, each shot, you can feel director Roland Emmerich fighting to push the reality of violence off-camera to keep parents’ hands off their kiddies’ eyes. Every shot is forcibly self-censoring as warriors stab at the edges of the screen.
Oh, and maybe you’ve seen that vicious, terrifying sabertooth from the trailer? The one that appears no less than six times in the trailer? It’s as beautiful as the mammoths, if not more so. But not only does it appear for about a minute total, its role is reduced to an Androcles retelling, and it then goes on its merry way. There was a lot I didn’t like about Apocalypto, but at least its big kitty could do some damage.