When marauders on horseback raid a peaceful mountain village in 10,000 BC, a young hunter named D'Leh (Steven Strait) travels to the ends of the earth to rescue the kidnapped members of his clan, including his azure-eyed love Evolet (Camilla Belle). Along the way, he encounters a variety of exotic (primarily African-looking) tribes, and battles creatures including woolly mammoths, a sabre-toothed tiger, and a flock of phorusrhacids (carnivorous terror birds). In the end, he must take a stand against a powerful empire and lead his people from enslavement.
Director Roland Emmerich, known for special effects extravaganzas (Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow), tries hard to create an epic adventure, but seems to have lost interest along the way. Each sequence promises to deliver a grand spectacle, but then culminates in a feeble and hurried resolution. Even the climactic battle disappoints with its myriad of missed opportunities.
Emmerich's screenplay, co-written by Harald Kloser in a departure from his usual role as composer, is a complete bastardization of history. The biblical parallels to Moses and the Exodus are admirable, but a clichéd subplot about D'Leh's long-lost father and narration by Omar Sharif merely complicate the story. Further, the script fails to explore the intriguing concept of an untamed world on the verge of civilization. In fact, the protagonists' values are so 20th-century, it seems they have little to embrace but the invention of the iPod. Sprinkling the script with a hint of mysticism and prophecy does little to remove the proceedings from contemporary life.
Yet, to convince an audience that the members of the Yagahl tribe existed long ago, the actors speak in a variety of bewildering accents ranging from Slavic to Jamaican. And the production department has dressed them in Rastafarian dreadlocks and castoff costumes from Dances with Wolves to further the image. Of course, most of the cast is far too attractive to portray believable Cro-Magnons.
As the reluctant hero, Strait has a charisma that may signal a promising career, but the ineffectual Belle looks like a palaeolithic Avril Lavigne with her heavy eyeliner. The villainous raiders, meanwhile, both look and sound Arab, which is sure to offend minority groups.
From permafrost wastelands to vast desert-scapes, the film does offer occasional breathtaking cinematography. However, poor lighting for some exterior shots suggests indoor sets were used, and the bamboo 'jungle' looks extremely synthetic. Indeed, the film seems merely an excuse to apply CGI to prehistoric beasts, but they all look suspiciously cloudy.
Whereas 1981's Quest for Fire was a groundbreaking and compelling look at our ancestors' struggle for survival in a harsh environment, 10,000 BC is a boring saga that never draws you in. Rating: 4 out of 10.