Monday, December 14, 2009

10,000 B.C. Fang and Spear on the Big Screen

I have been on a pulp movie kick here lately. See my Time Forgotten post. So among the films that I love for the pulp style goodness is 10,000 B.C. from 2008 starring Steven Strait and Camilla Belle; written and directed by Roland Emmerich.

Set in a nebulous pre-history, the story centers around the hero journey of D’Leh, a young hunter who lives under the stigma of being the son of a man that had been the head warrior yet abandoned his people. He is guided by Tic Tic, his father’s friend and the village’s leader. After a mammoth hunt D’Leh kills one of the great beasts by himself, earning the white spear, the mark of the lead hunter, from Tic Tic. But the mammoth’s death was an accident of opportunity, so D’Leh does not feel that he has earned neither the spear nor the hand of his love Evolet.

Raiders come on horses, with iron/steel weapons, and take Evolet and many others as slaves. D’Leh and Tic Tic set off in pursuit, guided mystically by the Old Mother, the village’s shaman. The adventure takes the heroes through the lowlands and encounter giant flightless birds that attack the raiders and pursuers alike. Meanwhile the leader of the raiders falls in lust with Evolet, singling her out for special treatment after a slashing with a whip leaves her with a telling mark.

D’Leh passes a hero test by freeing and friending a saber-tooth cat the indigenous people call Long Spear. Through this friending D’Leah makes allies of the savannah tribes that are encountered. He discovers his father did not abandon his people but rather left to find a better way for the tribe. But he too was taken by the raiders to a great city beyond the desert.

D’Leh gathers warriors to him from the surrounding tribes to pursue the raiders, missing the villains as they board the “red birds” which are red sailed ships that pass up the river. So the gathered warriors pursue their quarry across the vast desert, following what I take to be the planet Venus on the horizon, the Morning Star.

At the head of the river the primitive army discovers a society of advanced builders similar to ancient Egypt, where slave labor and mammoths used as beasts of burden to build what appear to be pyramids. Through stealth and guile D’Leh enters the city and learns of his father’s fate and plans a slave revolt to free his friends and over throw the enemy. Meanwhile the leader of the raiders attempts to take Evolet for his own and is taken by the priests for his treachery. The marks from the whip upon Evolet are noticed by the priests of the city and taken before the leader, for such a mark is prophesized to be the god-like leader’s end. Of course it is her presence that causes his down fall as D’Leh leads the revolt causing massive destruction and ruin to save her.

The adventure ends with the hero’s journey completed, D’Leh returns with Evolet and a bag of seeds provided by his new friends. The seeds will provide a new way of life for D’Leh’s people and fulfilling his father’s quest.

This movie was panned by critics, but in reality, this was a great story and the stuff of the serials. 10,000 B.C. is a fantasy story in the vein of Robert E. Howard’s Spear and Fang and many others. You have primitive man, savage yet, noble, and the decadent advanced culture that tries to dominate and enslave them. There is magic and ritual, great action, and the classic hero’s journey as I noted above. It was not supposed to be an accurate depiction of pre-history; it is a fantasy in a fictional past as much as Howard’s Hyboria. The movie succeeded in telling the tale with an underlying complexity.

The city of the builders, who are not really named in the film, seem to be its own architecture, but meant to evoke Egypt or Babylon. To me, it made me think: is this supposed to Atlantis, a remnant of that society after its fall? Regardless, that was the image it created to my mind and took me back into those other stories by Howard, Lovecraft, Burroughs, and Moorcock.

The story has elements seen time and again, but it is presented in such a setting that the hero quest is fresh and engaging to me. This movie should not be looked at as prehistory… Clan of the Cave Bear attempted to bring that epoch to life with varied success. 10, 000 B.C. should be viewed with an eye toward fantasy and the enjoyment of a story that unfolds in the best tradition of heroes.

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