A young member of the tribe finds himself an outcast, even though a young female his age swears her eternal love. The outcast goes on a perilous quest and faces fearsome creatures. Eventually, he becomes the tribe’s savior, celebrated in song and story.
Yes, “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” has become a holiday favorite that children and adults enjoy every Christmas. But that’s also the plot of “10,000 B.C.,” a lovely-to-look-at but ultimately forgettable adventure flick that feels like a cross between “Land of the Pharaohs” and the greatest hits of Joseph Campbell. (One character even talks about how legends have “many faces,” which feels like a direct shout-out to Campbell’s “The Hero With a Thousand Faces.”)
The Campbell version of mythology was the template for “Star Wars” and lots of subsequent movies, and “10,000 BC” follows the playbook, from the use of shamans and animal spirits to the hero temporarily rejecting his quest. And while the movie is never boring, at least, you’ll have forgotten most of it by the time you get out of the parking lot.
D’Leh (Steven Strait) is part of a tribe that hunts the woolly mammoths that annually stampede through the valley, but he is scorned by his young peers because his father is considered to be a coward who abandoned the tribe. But D’Leh proves himself to be a capable hunter, not least because his prowess will allow him to win the hand of Evolet (Camilla Belle), a blue-eyed girl whose people were wiped out by rampaging horsemen (whom she refers to as “four-legged demons”).
Naturally, those “four-legged demons” attack D’Leh’s tribe, carrying away with them almost all of the men, as well as Evolet, who has captured the eye of the lead marauder. D’Leh and a few other tribesmen follow the slave raiders through desert and rain forest, connecting with other peoples along the way who have lost loved ones to the baddies.
Turns out they’re all being taken to Egypt to be slave labor on the great pyramids. (“10,000 B.C.” contends that woolly mammoths were used to haul stones up and down the pyramids, which at first struck me as ridiculous. But apparently some research shows that the final mammoths were still alive at the time of the construction of the pyramids, so it’s not necessarily far-fetched.)
The mammoths and the sabre-toothed tiger and the monstrous ostrich creatures (monstriches?) our heroes encounter along the way wind up being the most memorable characters in the film. I’m generally not a fan of computer-generated imagery in contemporary movies, but the beasties all come off looking very realistic and integrated into the action. One can’t really say the same for the actors, who spend most of the movie running, yelling and throwing things.
You’ll resist the temptation to throw things at the screen, since director Roland Emmerich does keep things moving at a brisk pace. Just don’t expect “10,000 B.C.” to be much smarter or deeper than an old Steve Reeves movie.