Where would we have been during the ’90s and ’00s without Roland Emmerich to guide us subtly in the way things were? The alleged 33rd-degree mason delivered a string of very successful, slickly high-concept disaster movies that underlined some of the key agenda items the Elite wanted out there, either ones underlining the official paradigm, or which apparently undermine the official paradigm, when really, they reinforced it through only partial reframing. I’m not as down on Emmerich’s oeuvre as many, not so much out of a desire to defend his diligently unrefined fare, but because he’s a consistently technically capable director, one who knows how to put together a serviceable special-effects blockbuster while many of his peers are all at sea with their demands.
Indeed, Terry Gilliam was once given to observe how many shots Emmerich stole from Spielberg, but it’s Emmerich who continued crafting respectable action-adventure spectacle when the ’Berg had stopped caring (one thing’s certain, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull could only have been a better movie, had Spielberg quit it through disinterest and a more than capable imitator had taken the reins instead). 10,000 BC represented less of a no-brainer than most of the director’s fare to that point and after. Alien invasions, giant monsters and sudden climate change had all given him Top 10 global box-office hits, even if one (the middle one) was commonly decried by die-hard fans. This one, however, bore more in common with more-modest earlier hit Stargate (a mere thirteenth for its year), which was more famous for spawning a TV franchise than truly wowing audiences.
That one delivered soft disclosure for how the universe is actually traversed. Forget all that interstellar spaceship nonsense; portals are where it’s at (albeit, they’re purely technological ones in Stargate). It also added a liberal dose of von Däniken, with its Chariots of the Gods ancient aliens in ancient Egypt informing the culture. Now, much of that it is scuttle overlaying scuttle (you can dismiss the aliens visiting Egypt, but in so doing, you’re essentially saying “Ancient Egypt is valid, but…” Which is what they want you to think). 10,000 BC is doing something similar but in terms of popular science’s spell-weaving regarding prehistory.
The stone age is patchy territory for the movies, rarely hitting pay dirt when it comes to full-on cavemen/Neanderthals. Perhaps because audiences innately know they’re being fed a line somewhere in the scenario. Perhaps because they simply aren’t much fun, unless Ringo Starr is on board. Emmerich appears to know this, because he eschews any aesthetically challenging prosthetics and opts instead for trendy dreads, giving us a chic-ish tribe of hunter gatherers, closer to a fashion shoot on the topic of “What crusties are wearing this season”. Emmerich namechecked Quest for Fire and Robert E Howard, but it’s clear he was really angling for his other cited influence, Hancock’s Fingerprints of the Gods.
That, and the real lure of prehistory: monsters. Or better still, dinosaurs (who, as we know, are made up). None of this boring sparking a couple of pieces of flint together, waiting to see what happens. So Emmerich lobs hundreds of mammoths our way, rather curiously helping to build the pyramids (THE pyramids, or just SOME pyramids? Well, there are three, and Hancock was keen on dating the great one to about Emmerich’s time frame, so we can draw our own conclusions). He also gives us terror birds (stretching the official time period somewhat) and sabretooth tigers. Whether you care to believe either actually existed – or mammoths, come to that, although they seem to be legit – is up to you, but Emmerich’s presenting a medley of invented elements here, the net result being that critics – or indeed, the old IMDB boards – won’t say, “Well, all this prehistory was a load of nonsense anyway”; they’ll say “It wasn’t like that, it was like this”, and point to the “this” they’ve been told it was like.
I devoured Fingerprints of the Gods when it first appeared – it even mentioned Edgar Cayce! – and while Hancock may or may not have been a shill for the manufactured side of the New Age movement, it would be unfair to characterise the work as favouring ancient aliens. Or indeed Atlantis, particularly (the lost continent is mentioned on only two of the book’s 600-plus pages). So basing one’s critique of the movie – a critique based without exception on the officially-prescribed record; perceived filmmaking flaws are just gravy – on Emmerich’s devotion to Hancock, and thus Hancock’s inherent failings, is a little unwarranted.
I’ve been unable to locate an Emmerich interview where he details his and Harald Kloser’s intentions behind the civilisation building the pyramids in 10,000 BC (they do not appear to have any connection to Stargate, though). The pyramids align with Orion, sure, which is out of Hancock (while Camilla Belle’s Evolet bears scars showing the constellation, “the Mark of the Hunter”, as fulfilment of a prophecy of the civilisation’s downfall… That would be the one that arose from the one that previously downfell, then?)
Emmerich leaves as sketchy the nature of the god-king Almighty, though, a spindly (white) human played by Tim Barlow (Tyssan in Destiny of the Daleks!) Wiki will tell you this guy is the last of the Atlanteans, but Emmerich is non-explicit on the matter. As much as we get is “Some say they came from the stars. Others believe that they flew across the great water when their land sank beneath the sea”. The latter would be fairly explicitly Atlantis (other commenters on the movie suggest they’re both, that Atlanteans are extra-terrestrial, per Hancock’s theories – and Warlords of Atlantis’ facts! – but again, Hancock didn’t suggest this). There’s a map in the movie (suggesting the continent was in the Atlantic), but nothing helpfully saying “Atlantis”. In a way, this vagueness is refreshing. Had Ridley Scott made it, we would have had six prequels filling in every detail by now.
Regardless, the takeaway from Emmerich’s maybe-Atlanteans is they’re a bad lot, leaving their doomed land (well, at least one of them does), forming a new society and dealing in slavery and human trafficking. If you had a vested interest in slurring Atlantis, this would be it (one might charitably distinguish “Law of One” Atlanteans from “Sons of Belial” ones, but Emmerich made no shout out to Cayce as an influence). I have to admit, though, while I can take issue with the story Emmerich’s picked, and that it often falters rather than sustaining interest, I kind of like its anything-goes, mash-up quality. Just throw in elements because they appeal to you. And why not? It’s as good as anything in the officially-stamped version of history.
Ostensibly, Emmerich’s hero – Steven Strait’s D’Leh, mammoth hunter, although he isn’t that big – is there to call out a false god, which we can see as a good thing. However, we can discernibly connect this to the director’s essentially Luciferian traits (ascendency to god-like status), most recently found in transhumanist text Moonfall and the god-like aliens of Stargate. Forget about an actual central divinity/source: It’s all about you and how far you can rise. Here, the god is even called the “Almighty” (IMDB trivia references the all-seeing eye – the Eye of Horus – above the incomplete pyramid, but I’m buggered if I could locate it)
10,000 BC is essentially trading in a kind of pseudo-Gladiator territory, not quite sword & sandals but replete with an ordinary guy overcoming his fears about his leadership qualities and overthrowing an empire (Pompeii tried and failed something not dissimilar, but by way of Titanic). As such, its problems are less the fantasy trappings than Emmerich and Kloser drawing a blank on interesting characters, or any interesting actors to prop up those blank canvases. Strait was quite young when he made it, but has become no more charismatic since (see The Expanse). Camilla Belle sports brightly glowing blue contact lenses. Cliff Curtis is dealt the mentor straw. Omar Sharif manages to lend a hint of the fabular as the narrator, and it needs any such emphasis it can get.
Nevertheless, amid the longueurs and underwhelming leads, I didn’t think 10,000 BC was quite the stinker everyone else seemed to, the first time I saw it; I had the same reaction on this revisit. If you’re seriously taking the time to object to mammoths building the pyramids because they’d get heat stroke, well… Albert Hughes’s recent Alpha makes a considerably more “verisimilitudinous” (I won’t say authentic) hunter-gatherer movie, but if, as I do, you’re all in favour of rampaging terror birds and friendly sabre-toothed tigers, along with a ben-ben stone going flying, this is the movie for you.
10,000 BC did okay business – probably better than might have been expected, all told, with its difficult time period and absence of stars, or even Emmerich’s preferred B-faces – but its main achievement was reaffirming the conclusions on both competing sides. The science and history buffs who can call out its inaccuracies, and the alt-history Hancock devotees who can say “Well, it’s so ridiculous, it could hardly be compared or even said to do Graybags a disservice”. The actual truth is perhaps stranger, with Atlantis choosing to “withdraw” from our corrupting influence and the pyramids and sphinx having been built a mere thousand years ago, by others. But the point would be that, if you want to talk about obfuscating the actual record, Emmerich’s less than a drop in the ocean.