10,000 BC (UK - BD)
Chris checks out the latest offering from director Roland Emmerich on Blu-ray...
Roland Emmerich, director of big-budget 'event' movies like Stargate, Independence Day and Godzilla, brings us his latest 'epic', 10,000 BC. The story concerns a small tribe of hunters who eke out an existence scrounging for food in the frozen wastelands. Their wise elder tells of a prophecy that will see the arrival of 'four legged demons' who will spell the end of their current way of life and the start of a new dawn under the leadership of a girl with blue eyes (oh, and her lover).
The girl, Evolet (Camilla Belle), shares a strong bond with D'Leh (Steven Strait), the son of an alleged deserter. D'Leh longs to prove himself worthy of Evolet's heart, but before he has the chance she is kidnapped (along with a number of the other villagers) by a group of horse-riding slave traders (that'll be the four-legged bit of the prophecy covered then). D'Leh sets out on a perilous journey to rescue his beloved Evolet, accompanied by one of his tribe's most respected hunters Tic'Tic (Cliff Curtis) and an almost incessant voiceover from Omar Sharif.
Jeez, what a dull film! I don't know about you, but when I heard the title 10,000 BC I expected lots of stupid anachronistic action scenes with dinosaurs and women in fur-lined bikinis. Instead of this we get lots of dreadlocked dudes talking and walking for what seems like forever, briefly punctuated by some dodgy CGI beasties. Okay, so I might be exaggerating a little for comic effect, but not by much. There are a few action scenes (three to be exact), but these are so far apart in an almost two-hour movie that you really do start to lose interest. In fact, 10,000 BC all-but peaks early on with the opening hunting scene.
The film can't really decide what it wants to be either. For the majority of the running time we're presented with a fairly conventional (if fanciful) universe where the laws of nature apply. There is some prophetic mumbo jumbo about D'Leh and Evolet being destined to overthrow some evil dude and lead their people forward, but the dying moments of the climactic battle are completely incongruous with everything that's come before. It's as if the filmmakers couldn't think of a suitable way to end things, and so they decided to throw magical elements into the mix. I know fantasy films don't have to make real-world sense, but good fantasy films should always stick to the rules defined by their own universe.
Stylistically 10,000 BC bares more than a passing resemblance to Mad Mel Gibson's Apocalypto, but without the gore, excitement and relative authenticity. I was also reminded of Emmerich's own Stargate during the latter course of the film (watch it and you'll see what I mean), but sadly without the mildly interesting premise of aliens building the pyramids. I really don't know what Emmerich was going for with this one. If he had just embraced the dumb premise we could have had an exciting, action-packed film, perhaps something akin to old romps like The Land That Time Forgot or At the Earth's Core. Instead we get a film chock full of clichés and plot holes that had me longing for the over-the-top action of the director's earlier work.
10,000 BC arrives with a 2.40:1 VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer, which is far more impressive than the film itself. Colour rendition is excellent, showcasing everything from the cold, harsh environments of D'Leh's village to lush green forests and sun-baked deserts in all of their glory. Flesh tones are natural, and I was pleasantly surprised to find less digital colour grading going on than with many recent big-budget flicks, as I think the whole 'filter everything so it's the same colour' trick has been done to death ever since The Matrix arrived back in 1999.
Detail is generally fine, if not the best the format has ever seen, and I couldn't spot any obvious flaws in the transfer. Black levels are also good, at least to the point that they appear to be faithful to the theatrical presentation, and although there is some moderate grain it's nothing to get in a twist about. Some of the CGI looks a little ropey, which is only exacerbated by the high definition transfer, but that's obviously not a problem with the video presentation so it doesn't affect the score. All in all this is a visually impressive film with a fine transfer, which falls somewhere between an eight and a nine (but we don't do half points).
Warner delivers an engaging Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack that, while not among the best I've heard, does justice to the on-screen action. Although the opening minutes are mainly dialogue-driven, the first action scene—a wooly mammoth hunt—provides an opportunity for the track to flex its muscles. As the hunters track the herd the sub kicks in with some powerful bass to accompany the heavy footfalls of the giant creatures, and when they charge the listener is surrounded by the sounds of the stampede. There are similar neat moments later on as our heroes are stalked through a dense forest by terror birds (in a scene reminiscent of Jurassic Park's raptor attack), with plenty of discrete effects as the creatures rustle the long grass as they stalk their prey.
The track also handles the subtle ambient effects well, be it the gentle breeze whispering in the rear speakers or the chirping of prehistoric crickets. Dialogue remains clear throughout even the loudest moments, although if you're anything like me you'll soon get tired of the strange accents adopted by the principal cast. The score is also well-represented in the mix, although if I'm honest I found it largely forgettable. If I had to make one criticism of an otherwise fine mix, it would be that it's a little front-heavy. Still, this is just a minor niggle and on the whole I was quite impressed. It's just a pity the film didn't have more action moments to really show off the capabilities of Dolby's TrueHD format.
'A Wild and Wooly Ride' runs for around thirteen minutes and examines most the film's digital effects sequences. It's actually slightly more interesting than similar features I've seen in the past, as you at least get to see a little bit of the animation process. Director Emmerich is on hand to discuss matters, as are the visual effects director and the principal cast. 'Inspiring an Epic' also runs for around thirteen minutes and deals with author Graham Hancock's book 'Fingerprints of the Gods', which inspired the film by supposing that an advanced ancient civilisation existed many thousands of years ago. I found it quite interesting for what it was, but it's not really long enough to thoroughly explore the concepts presented.
The alternate ending features one of the characters (now an elderly man played by Omar Sharif) telling the story around a camp-fire. It adds a bit more dialogue and a little more exposition, but it's even more dull than the original ending. Ten minutes of additional scenes reveal little that would have made the film more appealing. In fact, they would only have bogged the proceedings down with more talkie moments.
A couple of relatively short and fluffy featurettes, a some disinteresting deleted scenes and an alternate ending don't add up to much, but sadly they're about par for the course on Blu-ray. Still, I guess you can't blame Warner for not going all out on a film that was a financial failure at the box office. Oh, before I forget, all bonus material is presented in 480i rather than high-definition.
Oh Roland, where did it all go wrong? 10,000 BC is one of the most boring would-be blockbusters that I've ever seen. It's not that it's a terrible film, it's just that it's so shockingly average. There really is nothing to see that hasn't been seen before in more entertaining films. The Blu-ray itself is strong in the audio-visual departments, but the bonus material is an afterthought and offers very little in the way of repeat value. I can't really bring myself to recommend this one, although if you're massive genre fan you might want to consider a rental at some point. Just pop a couple of ProPlus beforehand.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Chris Gould
Suitable only for persons of 12 years and over
Release Date: 21st July 2008
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 French, Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Extras: A Wild and Wooly Ride, Inspiring an Epic, Alternate Ending, Additional Scenes
Easter Egg: No
Director: Roland Emmerich
Cast: Steven Strait, Camilla Belle, Cliff Curtis
Length: 109 minutes
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