Monday, March 10, 2008

It's Only a Movie, Lauren

Over at The House Next Door, Lauren Wissot has a particularly abrasive review of 10,000 BC. I caught the film as part of a double bill yesterday (along with No Country For Old Men – what a combo), and it was my intention to write a few short paragraphs on how ridiculous it is. Nothing major – just a mishmash of thoughts on a particularly pointless and inconsequential little movie. Then I read Lauren’s piece, which considers the film only slightly less offensive than the Holocaust, and was compelled to delve further into the film, and the issue of critiquing such trash with self-righteous indignation.

10, 000 BC is a gewgaw, and not to be taken seriously. The film opens with a series of shots scanning a vast, snowcapped wilderness of what I assume to be the late Mesolithic(derived from the Greek word for hirsute) Period, as a disembodied, heavily-accented voice begins to tell the tale of the kid with the blue eyes, Evolet (Camilla Belle), and the other kid who loved her, D’Leh (Steven Strait), and…whatever – I wasn’t really paying any attention. As foretold by the tribe’s shaman, an old woman perceptibly called The Old Woman, the blue eyed girl will facilitate some sort of change that will lead the tribe’s people to safety. Here is another safety tip: move away from the top of the fucking mountain. Hide in caves. Do anything but live on top of a hill of rocks in the middle of fucking winter, with no water or vegetation in sight. If early humans were as stupid as these fuckers, we would have been wiped out years ago (and no, the film is not set in the ice ages, but, ostensibly at least, the last glacial period).

Anyway, the two kids grow up, they fall in love, breath heavily into each other’s faces (yikes – cavemen breath), and promise never to part. Oh boy. After a lugubrious mammoth hunt (again, if early humans were as clumsy as these fuckers, the woolly mammoth would never have been wiped out), D’Leh is anointed the chief hunter of his tribe. The glory doesn’t last for long as he gives back the ceremonial white spear confirming his status to his mentor Tic’Tic (how to make a “native” sounding name: take a word, add an arbitrary apostrophe – voila), and there is a subplot involving the former’s father, and how he abandoned his tribe, but he never actually did, but it’s all just padding to flesh out the story. On the night of the hunt as the tribe is asleep (no one keeps watch – idiots), slave traders ransack the village and kidnap Evolet, and a few others. D’leh and Tic’Toc, accompanied by fellow hunters Tinky’Winky, Dip’sy, Laa’Laa and P’o, start off on a quest to rescue their tribespeople.

10, 000 BC is an incredibly sloppy film. The effects are terrible to begin with – the first time the hunters spot the mammoths, I could almost count the 1’s and the 0’s where there was supposed to be a herd of giant beasts. There’s all sorts of unintentionally funny scenes. The Old Mother, who resembles the Ewok Chief Chirpa from Return of the Jedi, has a new interpreter in every scene, each of whom manages to decipher messages most complicated from utter gibberish:

The Old Mother: Gligligligligligligligligligliglgilgigliglgigligligli
Random Interpreter Number 1: The girl with the Fremen blue eyes will bring peace to our land.

The Old Mother: Gligligligligligligligligligliglgilgigliglgigligligli
Random Interpreter Number 2: The boy with the white spear (aye!) shall rescue his love from the clutches of the man-gods.

The Old Mother: Gligligligligligligligligligliglgilgigliglgigligligli
Random Interpreter Number 3: A commodity appears at first sight an extremely obvious, trivial thing. But its analysis brings out that it is a very strange thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties.

There are also anachronisms galore from terror birds (which went extinct a million years previously) to pyramids (the first of which is thought to have been constructed about 6,000 years later) to One Tree Hill like teen-psychology. Of course, I am fully aware that looking for anthropological or paleontological accuracy in a film like this is obviously self-defeating. But it’s fun – in fact, it’s probably the only fun aspect of the movie for me. The film exists to be ridiculed, and I enjoyed basing my mockery on other unrelated interests. A cross-pollination of hobbies, if you like – not only did I get to watch a film, but I also flexed my memory of the latter parts of the Stone Age: as such one can even say the film was educational in its crapulence. The film is less La Guerre du Feu than it is One Million Years B.C.

And that is as far as I was going to go, until I ran into Lauren Wissot’s review. It seems we saw two different films because what I found utterly inconsequential and instantly forgettable (you can see how hazy my memory is of the film in the previous paragraph), she considered offensive to her tastes and her intellect. Lord, if I have to start taking offense at everything that insults my intelligence, I would need a brand new computer every time I get on the internet.

Ms Wissot begins her review by quoting Steven Strait from the film’s Press Kit, “There’s something very beautiful about how the human condition hasn’t really changed over the millennia. What makes us human beings hasn’t changed since pre-historic times – love, compassion, conscience, sympathy. You see all of these things in this film. And you can relate to that no matter what era you live in.” Utterly risible in its pseudo-existentialist philosophising, that quote is the sort of third-rate copy that actors get fed by their publicity people while promoting any film (even much better ones than this piece of shit), yet, according to Wissot, it might well be the epitome of all evil since she finds it “without a doubt the scariest thing about Roland Emmerich’s underwhelming, CGI-infused epic.” Wasting a perfect opportunity to point out how Hollywood is its own worst enemy, not to mention Emmerich’s seemingly congenital humourlessness that permeates all aspects of his films, Wissot gets up on her high horse, and sets out on her petulant rant. I am not disparaging Wissot or petulant rants – I have enjoyed her writing before, and I revel in longwinded petulance. It’s just that the film doesn’t call for it.

Wissot carries on by labeling Emmerich and the film creationist, accusing them of disregarding Darwinian evolution. There is nothing in the film that even aspires to having any allusions beyond that of what is on the screen. Calling the film creationist would be an intellectual elevation for this piece of trash. I don’t know whether Wissot used the phrase creationist for its meaning, or as some sort of an architectural fragment within the sentence, the same way she misapplies anthropomorphism to a sabre tooth later on – “it looks good within the sentence, so let’s roll with it.” In fact, she succumbs to creationist pseudo-science herself by calling the tribes on screen Neanderthals, even though they died out around 20,000 years prior to when the film is supposed to be set. Normally, it’s an easy mistake to make for a lay person. But Wissot is so fired up that her fervour demands 100% accuracy. One should really get their facts straight when one is bitching about someone who doesn’t have their facts straight.

One of the main points that Wissot makes is how the film is ridden with clich├ęs. That is true. Yet, again, so is her review. She compares the film to a PlayStation game, she says there is hardly any characterisation (but there is plenty of habitual action, which should render expositionary characterisation invalid – even though it doesn’t), she guffaws at the sub-par CGI. I see her point, but these are nothing new. Comparing a blockbuster to a computer game, for example, is just lazy writing. The CG is bad, yes, but Wissot makes her point by saying it is so bad that the mammoths look like hairy elephants, the birds look like giant ostriches, and the sabre tooth tiger like a tiger with dental problems. Think about that for a second. And then please remember that those are the views of someone who, in her first paragraph, chastised the filmmakers for knowing nothing from Darwin.

Then comes my favourite part where Wissot has an epiphany, and states “it’s almost as if Emmerich believes that bigger and louder is better.” Hang on, hang on! Are we talking about the same Roland Emmerich who directed Universal Soldier? Stargate? Independence Day? The Patriot? The Day After Tomorrow? No. Surely not! If a reviewer is going to great lengths demolishing a target as easy as Emmerich, I expect something more substantial, and less unoriginal, than “the guy likes his explosions.”

Crap like 10,000 BC is not beyond criticism. Just because it is meant to be light-hearted genre fare doesn’t mean the film should be spared an analytical look. But is the film that offensive? According to Wissot, it is:

“As for the "angry rant" part, why shouldn't I be angry? Roland Emmerich wasted nearly two hours of my life that I won't get back. I sometimes look at film criticism as a public service. If I can keep others from wasting their time - and money - then I've done part of my job.”

Lauren Wissot. Actor. Critic. Prophet.

Fulminating against a film like 10,000 BC is like shooting fish in a barrel. It’s like tripping a dwarf. It’s like doing both those things and then, to celebrate, stealing candy from a baby. Is the film terrible? Oh, God yes! Does it call for self-righteous indignation? Only if you have nothing else to worry about in your life.


Silly Old Bear said...

Nice article; we saw this yesterday over my objection (my boys were determined to see ANYTHING but Horton Hears a Who) and yeah, it was pretty bad.

But I've seen worse. And really, I don't care. I really thought they WERE ostritches, btw, so maybe I need to go back to school, too.