Monday, March 17, 2008

10,000 B.C. (2008)

I was all set to enjoy this one, since in years past I've enjoyed Roland Emmerich'sIndependence Day and The Day After Tomorrow, but oh man, this one is no good. When your movie pales in comparison to the Godzilla remake, you've got problems.

It's almost exactly the same movie as Apocalypto - tribal warfare sets a young hero on a journey through a primitive world to a corrupt city, with pyramids, even. But whereas Mel Gibson's movie actually had a perspective and something to say through a detailed recreation of pre-Columbian life, Emmerich is only interested in the hollow CGI spectacles of wooly mammoths and slaves building pyramids.

Not that there's necessarily anything wrong with that- my enjoyment of Emmerich's earlier movies mostly stems from his ability to show us things that we've never seen before, from alien spaceships destroying American cities to vast weather formations wreaking havoc on, er, American cities. In his own adolescent, uncomplicated way, Emmerich is a visionary.

But in this movie, it feels like he's just going through the motions. The spectacle of huge pyramids being constructed by swarms of slaves and mammoth stampedes and giant flightless birds are impressive, but pointless. The narrative is just your standard self-actualization through special effects for young men, because who can prove their mettle if not by leading a multi-ethnic army of slaves against a phony god-king?

On the plus side, for a movie that's five hours long, it really flies by and only feels like 3 or 4, tops. In addition, I applaud the effort that seems to have been made to make the various 'good guys' an inclusive, multi-racial group with the hero's tribe consisting of Caucasian, African-American, Asian, and Middle Eastern actors, (including the always reliable Cliff Curtis). But the movie also falls into the same lazy trap of 300 by having the bad guys be effete 'Eastern' barbarians.

Basically, if the movie had been willing to be sillier and less earnest, with so many ponderous mid-Atlantic speeches and pointless narration, and with some more honest violence or unpretentious thrills, it could have at least been as entertaining as Lucio Fulci's Conquest or The Beastmaster. I am, however, looking forward to the sequel, 10,000 C.B., about a group of prehistoric truckers.

4/10

18 comments:

John M said...

If I send you a starter stamp collection, will that keep you occupied enough to not pay to see movies like 10,000 BC?

Jeff McMahon said...

No. There was a chance it was going to be enjoyable. And it's (slightly) better film than Savage Grace.

john m said...

Yeah, I'll just let that provocation slide, Armond.

Jeff McMahon said...

Turnabout is fair play, John.

john m said...

Turnabout? What's that mean?

Is that a blogging term?

Anyway, comparing Savage Grace to 10,000 BC is pure Armond. You're comparing two films that have nothing to do with each other, and saying one is better than the other, as though intention and aim, even purity of heart, were worth nothing in a critical argument. What's the point of that?

And really: The Patriot wasn't enough for you to write off Emmerich? His racist, bloodthirsty re-imagining of American history? It's like a $150 million Simpsons parody.

Sure, different strokes, but it's odd you like him at all, really. He's kind of anonymously bad.

And he ruined Godzilla.

Jeff McMahon said...

You've never heard that phrase? I thought it was pretty common.

My original point in comparing the two movies was simply to take a shot at your presumption of superior taste, but if you want me to expand, I will: both movies are tedious and badly acted, but at least 10kBC has some visual dynamism to it, while SG looks like a stage play. The Band's Visit is a movie shot in a series of small enclosed rooms, but they get it right through careful framing, excellent cinematography, production design, etc.

The Patriot is, overall, a very mixed-bad movie, not fully bad. It fails at what it sets out to do, but there's a really good half-hour buried in the midst of its 2:20 running time. And I'm going to stick by my appraisal of Independence Day and Day After Tomorrow as worthwhile popcorn movies. If that type of movie isn't your cup of tea, I have no argument.

John M said...

I really, really think you're selling Savage Grace short. (Visually, it strikes me as intelligent and concise rather than stagy.) But whatever--have a feeling you won't try it again.

I do remember enjoying parts of Independence Day...didn't see Day After Tomorrow. I mean, all of these movies will give you a "high" moment to moment--I mean, they BETTER do that, for Christ's sake-- but they sure leave a bad aftertaste. And I'd never want to revisit them. The pleasures are distinctly fleeting.

john m said...

And what's turnabout?

Jeff McMahon said...

It's an idiom.
http://www.bartleby.com/59/3/turnaboutisf.html

I think I have a pretty good sense for when a director is being 'concise' on purpose vs. not really knowing what they're doing and sticking a camera in a boring white room. But there was very little I liked in that movie so I think it has to rest there.

re: popcorn movies, as far as I'm concerned it depends on the individual movie. Emmerich's movies aren't cream of the crop like a Spider-Man 2 or a Batman Begins, but they're better than a Lost in Space or Rush Hour.

john m said...

"I think I have a pretty good sense for when a director is being 'concise' on purpose vs. not really knowing what they're doing and sticking a camera in a boring white room."

Okay, because you're being more than a little dismissive here, I will step out on a limb and sacrifice decorum and suggest that no, apparently, you don't have that sense. First off, as you know, I know the director, and he knows what he's doing. You can take me at my word on that. Secondly, in the same breath, you note some of the "visual dynamism" in 10,000 BC, which I can only imagine means swooping remote heads and CGI-laden pre-visualization (no doubt involving charging woolly mammoths). If you think that kind of thing makes a director worthwhile, then, well, what can I say?

I'll take two more steps out on that limb and say that even the lauded, "successful" new Hollywood epic-makers, notably Peter Jackson and Sam Raimi, are overrated and trite, and have little control over the medium. Virtually nothing comes to mind in Raimi's work that could even be considered an original "sequence." I know he's one of your favorites, but in pure visual terms, he's given us (meaning the world, meaning cinephiles, meaning popcorn-eaters) nothing new.

Peter Jackson, meanwhile, seems more control designing video games than portraying a coherent string of action.

And yes, I lump Roland Emmerich in with them....except he's kind of dumber.

Jeff McMahon said...

"as you know, I know the director, and he knows what he's doing. You can take me at my word on that."

John, 'knowing the director' is a pretty weak argument. Maybe you were privy to conversations were he told you "the intention of this scene was ______" and that filled in the gaps for you, but not being privy to such conversations, I can only judge the film by what's on the screen - like 99.9% of all other viewers. And I didn't care for most of what I saw.

And yes, all other things being equal, I'll take a bad movie where there's a swooping camera and some landscapes over a bad movie that's in a white room.

Sam Raimi is a good director, but he's not one of my absolute favorites.

I hope you can hear me, I don't know if my voice can reach all the way up as your horse's legs are quite tall.

john m said...

I love it, every time I have a strong opinion about something, you accuse me of elitism. I know a good political party you could write speeches for, if you're interested...

And the director, as you also know, was my teacher. Indeed, my teacher of two years. In directing. An exceptionally knowledgeable directing teacher. So, feel what you feel about Savage Grace--and again, your comments thus far on the film have been more dismissive than thoughtful--but it's a pretty narrow tactic to shrug the movie off by saying that the director didn't know what he was doing. (Judging by the gasps heard throughout the screening I went to, the film wasn't on auto-pilot.)

So, answer this: when a director you love misfires, is it because he doesn't know what he's doing? Now THAT's a high horse.

Jeff McMahon said...

"I love it, every time I have a strong opinion about something, you accuse me of elitism. "

Well, yeah. Because you have snobby taste. I don't think your taste is worse than mine, but I do think it's more constrictive.

"And the director, as you also know, was my teacher. Indeed, my teacher of two years. In directing. An exceptionally knowledgeable directing teacher."

I can only assume, from the available information, that he's a better teacher than do-er.

"your comments thus far on the film have been more dismissive than thoughtful"

That's how little I thought of the film - that there was very little to think about within it.

"Judging by the gasps heard throughout the screening I went to, the film wasn't on auto-pilot."

Anybody can get gasps by having a mother sit on her son's cock. And by the way, John, just because a movie's 'indie' and 'edgy' it doesn't make it inherently good; and when a movie's a studio movie about non-controversial themes, that doesn't make it inherently bad.

"when a director you love misfires, is it because he doesn't know what he's doing?"

Yes. Like when Spielberg made Always, he was trying to make a kind of movie that he didn't really know how to do and was blinded by his own nostalgia for A Guy Named Joe etc. And when DePalma made Redacted, he was so angry about Iraq that it clouded his judgment. Nobody's perfect, John.

Jeff McMahon said...

I should add, I had plenty of USC professors who I thought were good teachers, but not a single one who I thought was actually a more-than-mediocre director. The skills are not inclusive.

john m said...

"Anybody can get gasps by having a mother sit on her son's cock."

I'm shocked you took this argument strategy, really, never saw it coming. (I don't even really agree--it wasn't the incest in SG that I found interesting in and of itself, it was the horrifyingly convincing portrayal of said incest...and not just incest, insanity.)

"And by the way, John, just because a movie's 'indie' and 'edgy' it doesn't make it inherently good; and when a movie's a studio movie about non-controversial themes, that doesn't make it inherently bad."

Yeah, thanks, I had no idea--I'm sorry, have we met?

I will say again that comparing non-commercial art films to 200 million dollar tentpole movies doesn't really get anyone anywhere. One is necessarily designed to please people, one isn't. Yes, you might come away having "liked" one and not the other, but that really doesn't merit comparison...that's like a tactic Roger Ebert would use, in his lazier moments. "Ya see, if only David Lynch had HALF Rob Reiner's delicate touch with female actors..."

Do I think it's a braver act, especially in the US, to make an art film rather than a commercial one? You bet I do, buster.

BTW, regarding art, did you ever review THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD? I just saw it. Really good.

Jeff McMahon said...

John, you have this annoying habit of attacking my opinions, but then never really presenting your own. That's why, when I write in response to you, I can only fill in the gaps based on the incomplete dialogue.

Re: Savage Grace, I would argue that the movie was only made because of the 'shocking' subject matter and its appeal to audiences. The scene in question is designed to provoke and titillate, not to provide us with insight. I would honestly like to know what the movie reveals to us about insanity or incest, beyond that they happen and that rich people be crazy, yo.

"I will say again that comparing non-commercial art films to 200 million dollar tentpole movies doesn't really get anyone anywhere."

I'm comparing one kind of bad movie with another kind of bad movie, that's all.

Jeff McMahon said...

Oh yeah: Yes, I saw The Assassination of Jesse James, I don't think I wrote about it here. I liked it, especially the cinematography production design, and Affleck and Pitt's performances. I thought the storyline was kind of slack though.

Jeff McMahon said...

I don't know my own blog:
http://whenthedeadwalktheearth.blogspot.com/2007/10/assassination-of-jesse-james-by-coward.html