Wednesday, April 9, 2008

10,000 BC - A Sword & Sorcery Movie?

I have a confession to make.

I used to be that guy. You know, the one who'd watch a movie, and spend the whole time bitching and whining about every little flaw he saw in it. If it was an action movie, I'd pick apart every moment where someone fired more bullets from a gun than it had ammo. If it was planes, I'd freak every time they substituted an A-4 Skyhawk or F-21 for a MIG, or tried to pass some old Korean War era tank as a "new" Soviet design. If it was a historical flick, and I knew anything about the time period, I'd tear every historical inaccuracy apart and leave it whimpering on the floor. I demanded accuracy, damn it, and Hollywood was expected to deliver.

But you know what?

Somewhere along the way, I just stopped caring, sat back, and had fun. Suddenly, movies wee a lot more fun to watch. Sure, I'd notice the errors, and if a movie was really trying to pass itself off as accurate and made a bad botch of it, I'd be pissed (and if a movie tried too hard and was an obviously pretentious PoS, I'd get doubly annoyed - four years of film school sticks with you no matter what). But by and large, I just stopped worrying about every little deviation, and just started having a great time at the movies.

So yeah, 10,000 BC. I saw this last week, and felt compelled to write about it after seeing all the bad press it caught. For perspective's sake, I effing love Emmerich's Stargate. I've watched that movie probably a dozen times. It's just the sort of adventure + science fiction + pseudo-history BS that I can eat all day long with a silver spoon. Independence Day wasn't as good for me, but it still had it's amusing moments, and I actually quite enjoyed The Day After Tomorrow even though the cold-weather survivalist in me (born in AK, mofos...) had to struggle to keep from yelling at the screen. Godzilla was a piece of poop, but that just goes to show that Americans shouldn't be making giant monster movies (you hear that, JJ?).

Back to the movie. To begin, anyone who starts off criticizing this movie with regards to it's "historical inaccuracy" can just go shut the hell up and drown themselves in a bucket of mammoth pee. I say this for a couple of reasons. First, what we know about the cultures that existed twelve thousand years ago doesn't add up to much. This isn't a movie about Romans, or Spartans, or Vikings, or Conquistadors. This is a movie about cultures whose names we are completely ignorant of, because it was so friggin' long ago, no one was writing anything down. To pull a little quote off the Wikipedia entry for 'Writing' (shut up...):

"Historians draw a distinction between prehistory and history, with history defined by the advent of writing."

You historians out there are welcome to contest that by going right ahead and editing that Wikipedia page, but this sums up my thoughts pretty well. This movie is has all the historical validity of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, but that's okay, because in my mind, once you step outside the bounds of what "history" covers, it's all up for grabs.

Heck, how do we even know none of this happened? There's been twelve thousand years for time to hide such events from us. Seriously - this movie doesn't say "here we are in the Blah Blah Mountain range, which will ne day be northern Anatolia" and "here we are now in the deserts of what will some day become Saudi Arabia". Pointing at any one thing in this movie and saying "that never happened" is virtually impossible, because there's not a whole lot out there to point at as proof, and as any archaeologist will tell you, just because you've got an example of something that points to Fact A, it doesn't mean next week someone isn't going to make the find of the decade that'll bring Fact B to light and prove Fact A to be nothing more than a misinterpretation or abberation. Everyone thought Troy was a myth until someone finally dug it up, and that was a city in one of the most consistantly populated areas of the world only three and change thousand years old. A freak bit of geological activity, weather, or even the hands of man could have made all those "anachronistic" pseudo-pyramids vanish long, long, centuries ago.

Anyhow, back to the title of this post. Before I go on - there will be spoilers. I doubt you actually give a crap, but I'm just sayin' it right now so I don't get any bitching and moaning about me "giving away" anything.

This is a Sword & Sorcery movie. Why, you might ask? Let's see.

1. There is magic. There are prophecies that come true, there are visions of the future and of events that have passed. There is what you could call either astral travel or clairvoyance, but either way, events taking place far away are known to certain characters. Also, there is the transfer of life energy across vast distances. There's also animal empathy that goes beyond the readily believable and into the realm of supernatural.

2. There are monsters. Okay, they're more like prehistoric beasts, but let's face it, they're monsters. Ever seen a documentary on what prehistoric animals were like? Or even the truly bizarre stuff that existed before and up through the time of the dinosaurs? Like gigantic millipedes several meters long and underwater scorpions the size of automobiles. Catch up on some of that, and then go crack open some REH stories. Huge freakin' snakes, giant lizards, monstrous spiders, deadly apes, and all sorts of other nasties from the Dawn of Time.

3. There are badass evil dudes riding on horses and looking all menacing, serving the whims of an ancient sorcerer/king/god. Seriously, the opening attack on the Mammoth People by the Four Legged Demons was straight out of the raid in the beginning of Conan the Barbarian, and I couldn't be more pleased.

4. You've got aliens, or Atlanteans, or both, or something. "Some say the Gods came down from the sky, while others say they came from across the great water when their own lands were swallowed by the waves". I might be a bit off, but that's a good paraphrase. Who else came from a land that would one day be "swallowed by the waves"? Hmmm, let's see...could that be...KULL: Exile of Atlantis? I think so!

Beyond all this, let's just say it's a fun adventure movie. If you're the sort of person that gripes that The 13th Warrior had "no plot" or "two-dimensional characters", then you probably will hate this movie. If you found The Scorpion King unwatchable because Akkadians were not a "race of assassins", just step away now. But if you are looking to put something on your Netflix queue that's perfect for Sunday morning around 11 AM, when you've just woken up and want to eat some cold pizza that's been sitting out from the night before and chill out in your boxers in front of the TV, this movie is for you.

EDIT: If you really feel the need to be a douchebag and argue with me about what we know concerning 10,000 BC, Here's a totally unreliable place to start.


Darkwing said...

The problem with movies like these is that people have the wrong expectations. They hear about movies like 300, 10,000 B.C. or Beowulf, expect some kind of historical treatment of the subject, and they get fantasy movies instead.

There's nothing wrong with fantasy films, but seeing fantasy when you expected an an historical film can sour your opinion of it.

A film such as Brotherhood of the Wolf gets it right. It's a period film, but with a title like that makes it clear that it it's likely to have supernatural elements, so the audience expects it (and also allows it to get away with such things as native american martial arts masters).

Badelaire said...

I guess my answer to this is twofold.

1. Historical dramas come in two flavors - those that are making a legitimate effort to being as true-to-life as they can, within the limits of maintaining an enjoyable dramatic narrative (sorry, few TV or Film people are going to sacrifice what they feel is a good story in order to maintain 100% "realism"), and those that are using a historical time period as a convenient background to place a story, but don't really care if historical accuracy is maintained.

In my opinion, as long as it is at least RELATIVELY clear, based on the trailers and the junkets associated with the production, which kind of film you're dealing with, go ahead and butcher history as much as you want. If some yokel retard watches Beowulf and thinks that has ANY bearing on actual history, that shouldn't be the fault of the Robert Zemeckis for producing a "historically inaccurate" film.

And really, I see no distinction between BotW and 300, Beowulf, or 10,000 BC. Anyone who watches any of those movies and feels upset that they "aren't accurate" clearly isn't WATCHING THE MOVIE. Did we not see all the complete ridiculousness in 300, with the pervy mutant priests and the giants with the blade-hands and the eight-foot tall Xerxes? When you watch Beowulf, do you not see the half-demonic Angelina Jolie? If these movies have, as I see it, blatant fantastical or "over-the-top" elements to them, for me it is abundantly clear that there is a giant mile-high neon sign over the film blinking THIS HAS LITTLE TO NO BASIS ON REALITY. Some people just can't see that sign, but frankly, there's no help for those dumbasses anyhow.

2 (finally). Movies like these really should be fantasy films, but Hollywood is still very gun-shy when it comes to purely original fantasy works. Successes like the LotR, Harry Potter, and Narnia franchises are stepping stones, but the movie makers must still rely on association with books, "fairy tales" and, dare I say it, video games, as a means to bring their stories to the screen anywhere other than the Sci-Fi channel.

And there are reasons for this. When you write a purely fantastical novel, you've got oodles of time to explain all the exotic and original nuances and customs of your fantasy world, how magic works, what the monsters are like, what sort of weird races and "rules" the world has. In a theatrical production, you've got about two hours to make that happen. Tying your story into either an already established series (like Harry Potter, Narnia, LotR), or a historical time period (300, Beowulf, 10,000 BC, BotW) is the most convenient and well-established method for doing this.

In fact, outside of a few rare movies that slipped through the cracks, I can't really think of many fantasy films at all that were A) any good, and B) were completely original works. Dragonslayer comes to mind, as does Legend. Krull also fits the bill, as does Hawk the Slayer, but neither are really that good. Fire and Ice does it for me, but the whole animation thing turns way too many people off (which is a shame, since I really enjoyed it), and to be fair, the only reason anyone knows of that movie is because of the association with Ralph Bakshi and Frank Frazetta, so in a way, it's not that "original" of a work anyhow.

So, I'm not sure what the solution is. If more fully original fantasy works start making it to the big screen and becoming financial successes, then Hollywood might be encouraged to lean in that direction. But with all the books and video games and whatnot to tie into, there's very little incentive (which is entirely reasonable - movies are, after all, businesses) to investing tens of millions of dollars into an idea that has no basis for success (and even then, there's no guarantee - look at Eragon).

Max said...

A foolish veracity is the hobgoblin of hack & slash movies, I agree. And I think you've talked me into adding 10KBC to my Netflix queue.

Of course sometimes even accepting a pseudo-history flick as a fantasy isn't enough. 300 fell short for me because while I tried to watch it as a classic good guys vs bad guys battle I couldn't root for the Spartans. I was never convinced that they believed in anything more noble than killing and dying. They just seemed like a bunch of a-holes to me.

Badelaire said...

That's a legitimate complaint in my book, and I can see what you mean about 300 - it wasn't so much "lets defend the freedom of all Greece against the tyranny of Persia" so much as it was "lets kill a bunch of pathetic cannon fodder because we're bronze-age Terminators". However, although I have not read completely through the Frank Miller graphic novel, from what I saw the movie was such a loyal adaptation that if such is your complaint, I think it would be best to lay it at the feet of Miller and his version of events, rather than the movie itself.

As for 10KBC, I hope you get some enjoyment out of it. The film won't blow your socks off, but I still think it was fun. Definitely the sort of Netflix you save for one of those mornings when you wake up all fuzzy-brained and say "HOW much did I drink last night? Hrmmm, what is this...cold Chinese food? YUMMY!"