It's safe to say 10,000 B.C. has one of the most absurd storylines in recent film history. Yet the preposterousness of a premise which involves both mammoths and pyramids is not the problem. Vast tracts are dull and po-faced. It's just not fun, and it's a very long way from the vim and vigour of director Roland Emmerich's best film, 1996's reliably entertaining - though equally daft - Independence Day.
Omar Sharif, in the role of narrator, solemnly intones that this is the story of "the legend of the girl with the blue eyes". This girl is a youngster called Evolet (Hunt Urwin) who's found with the corpse of her mother by members of a tribe of mammoth hunters.
The tribe is facing difficult times, though, as "the world began to change" and fewer of their woolly prey appear each year. In reality, 10,000 BC was when the ice retreated and our warmer spell started, but factual information has very little place here. Co-screenwriters Emmerich and Harald Kloser (who also co-composes the score) rapidly give up on any adherence to prehistoric reality, as we shall see.
Evolet grows up among the crusties - sorry, Yagahl tribe - and is soon the sweetheart of young D'Leh (Renton). D'Leh has a tough upbringing as his dad has mysteriously departed. Furthermore, when D'Leh has grown up into handsome buck Steven Strait, he can only have her as his mate if he proves his prowess in the next big mammoth hunt.
D'Leh has a rival in Ka'Ren (Zinal), who wants to be the top hunter and win both Evolet (who's grown up into Camilla Belle, here resembling a Goa raver) and the tribe's symbolic White Spear. D'Leh has serious self-doubt issues, and even when he appears to prevail in the hunt, it's a semi-accident, which he admits to tribal leader Tic'Tic (Curtis). All this falls into sharp relief when "four-legged demons" - actually humans on horseback - raid the village, kidnapping many of the tribespeople, including Evolet, who catches the eye of the Warlord (Badra) leader of the raiders.
D'Leh is galvanised to pursue the raiders, accompanied by Tic'Tic, Ka'Ren and the young Baku (Baring). The film then has the requisite crossing-snowy-mountains sequence (see The Lord Of The Rings). The pursuit takes them into lowland jungles, where both they and the raiders are attacked by formidable, flightless predatory birds (see the velociraptors in Jurassic Park).
Onwards they travel, into deserts where D'Leh has a run-in with a sabre-toothed cat. Our plucky mammoth hunters then meet an African tribe, and here things start to get really dodgy.
D'Leh, who has acquired a bond with the sabre-tooth, turns out to be a man prefigured by local prophecy ("Wise man says you will lead us there"), and bit by bit this young white boy (whose second-in-command is played by a Maori actor) gathers a vast army of African tribal warriors, all of whom have had family stolen by the raiders. And if the racial subtext wasn't dubious enough, the raiders are largely Middle-Eastern looking, turban-wearing types.
Beyond the racial issues, the history - superficially credible in the film's opening section - goes completely off the rails when D'Leh and his army trek across the desert and arrive at what looks like Giza, where slaves and de-tusked mammoths are being used to build pyramids for some tall oddball they call "The Almighty," who might be an escaped Atlantean. All of which would have been tolerable were it just a bit more fun, like hokey classic One Million Years B.C..
With its bloodlessness and chaste romance 10,000 B.C. is aimed at kids, but many kids will get bored by a film where two-thirds of the running time is tedious trekking and occasional scenes of hang-wringing, while D'Leh struggles to become the leader of a great rebellion.
There is some great imagery in the film. The Day After Tomorrow cinematographer Ueli Steiger captures striking shots of mountains and savannah, while the special effects team give us some pretty cool mammoth action. The inevitable final battle enlivens matters, but for the most part this is a disappointing endeavour. Adults will scratch their heads at the confused mish-mash of real prehistory and synthetic mythology. Academics may cast an eye over the racial and political subtexts. But most punters will just shift in their seats as the talking and trekking goes on and on.