10,000 BC begins with the promise of death and ends with life. In between, a young man has to learn to fulfill his destiny to save his people. This is definitely not a new concept, but it’s a well-told story all the same. In fact, it was refreshing to see a straightforward hero’s journey for a change amidst a sea of gimmicky films trying to escape what works at the most basic core of storytelling.
At a young age, D’Leh (Steven Strait) falls in love with a girl with blue eyes named Evolet (Camilla Belle) who was foretold in prophecy to bring life to their starving people. His journey from hunter to warrior is also foretold, and soon, a mysterious tribe comes and enslaves most of his brethren – including Evolet. He and a small band led by tribal elder Tic’Tic (Cliff Curtis) have to travel across the ancient earth to defeat the tribe and free their people.
This film is old-fashioned epic storytelling, complete with a narrator (the legendary Omar Sharif) and all the trappings that come along with magical realism. Wise men, omens, spirits, destiny, forgotten mystic cultures. Because of this, it asks a lot of its audience. There is nothing fancy going on – and that may bother some – but the characters are strong, flat archetypes of good and evil, and it follows the text book trials of the hero to a tee. It was this lack of fancy cinematic flash that was so appealing. You know who the good guy is. You know what he must do. And it’s great fun to see whether he can do it or not.
Plus, it’s filled with great action – a mammoth hunting scene, an attack from prehistoric birds that made me want to think twice about hitting KFC after the screening, and the final battle scene that involves a cast of thousands. All of this lands 10K somewhere between serious drama and popcorn flick, but not necessarily in a bad way. There are moments of genuine mourning, honest laughter and courage that work nicely because of good performances by Strait and Curtis. Plus, Camilla Belle’s Evolet is no damsel in distress.
There are a few missteps, though. The dialog seems intent on reaching beyond drama into cheese from time to time. Some poignant moments are ruined by an obvious statement, and the climax comes at almost too easy a price. Unfortunately, this film doesn’t elicit an automatically positive reaction. Some people are going to find its poetry moving, and others will roll their eyes. I happened to land on the good side of the fence, but I can understand why some might not land next to me.
I went in expecting a roller-coaster ride showcase of CGI, but 10k is a bit more weighty than that. It’s intense without being dark, fun and light without being goofy, sad but satisfying. To be blunt, it’s interesting but still very commercial. It’s definitely something to check out, especially on the big screen. The roar of a sabre-tooth and the stampede of mammoths just won’t be the same without it.
The Upside: No frills epic story with a little known, but strong cast.
The Downside: Like a curious child by the monkey cage, you keep telling the dialog to stay away from being cheesy, but it just keeps wanting to go back. Maybe it never makes it all the way there, but you can feel it shaking the bars and upsetting the primates.
On the Side: D’Leh backward is the German word (Held) for hero. Think that’s mildly clever? You’ll probably enjoy the movie. Think it’s stupid? You’ll probably be rolling your eyes a lot.