10,000 B.C.


Being chased by a mastadon can ruin your whole day.

Being chased by a mastadon can ruin your whole day.

(2008) Adventure (Warner Brothers) Steven Strait, Camilla Belle, Cliff Curtis, Omar Sharif (voice), Joel Virgel, Afif Ben Badra, Mo Zinal, Nathanael Baring, Mona Hammond, Marco Khan, Reece Ritchie, Joel Fry, Kristian Beazley, Junior Oliphant, Louise Tu’u, Jacob Renton, Grayson Hunt Unwin, Fahruq Ismail Valley-Omar, Boubacar Babiane, Joe Vaz, Suri van Sornsen. Directed by Roland Emmerich

Our prehistory as a species before the great empires of Egypt and Assyria is basically a mystery shrouded by the years. Nothing remains of our nomadic existence prior to the founding of cities except for a few artifacts scattered here and there in Africa, China and a few other places. One can’t help but wonder what came before.

The Yagahl tribe lives peacefully in a post-ice Age valley where herds of mastodon placidly migrate every spring, providing the tribe with most of their food, clothing and shelter. Like the aboriginals of North America once the Europeans showed up, the Yagahl are finding it more and more difficult to keep things going; the herds are getting sparser and appearing less frequently and this being the stone age, nobody’s quite got the knack of the gathering part of hunting and gathering yet.

The Shaman, known only as Old Mother (Hammond) has a vision when an orphan is found on the steppes; this blue-eyed girl (Unwin) is going to become the woman of the strongest warrior in the tribe. Together, they would lead the tribe from their current existence and into a time of prosperity and plenty. The current holder of the number one warrior (Beazley) is less sanguine about it; he doesn’t think that the tribe has long enough to wait for the girl to grow up, so he skedaddles, leaving his infant son in the care of his best friend Tic’Tic (Curtis).

Years later, the young son, known as D’Leh (Strait) which is held – the German word for hero – spelled backwards has lived with the stigma of a father who deserted the tribe, something that is the height of cowardice in their culture. He has fallen in love with the blue-eyed girl, who has grown up into a gorgeous woman named Evolet (Belle). Still, he has no chance at being the tribe’s alpha male – that would seem to be the destiny of Ka’Ren (Zinal), a buff, burly homo sapiens. Still, when the mastodon herd arrives, it is the determined D’Leh who gets the kill, but as he sheepishly admits to Tic’Tic later, it was a matter of luck and not courage that took down the mastodon.

Things get really dicey when the tribe is attacked by “four-legged demons” – slavers on horseback, who kill some of the tribe and take the rest as slaves, including most of the healthy men, but worse yet, also Evolet, who has caught the eye of their leader (Badra). D’Leh vows to go after the woman he loves, also knowing that the tribe won’t survive without most of its hunting force. Tic’Tic decides to go with him, as does a reluctant Ka’Ren. They are followed by Baku (Baring), a young teen whose mother was murdered by the slavers.

They follow them over the mountain range, which nobody from the tribe has ever done, and into a steamy jungle where they and the raiding party are attacked by giant carnivorous dodos. Ka’Ren and Baku manage to get captured by the raiders when D’Leh tries to free Evolet prematurely. Tic’Tic also gets injured.

Following the raiders out of the jungle and onto a grassy African plain, D’Leh encounters a Sabretooth tiger and frees him from a trap. The grateful tiger spares D’Leh’s life and later shows up when a hostile tribe of Africans threaten D’Leh and Tic’Tic with spears. A prophecy of a hero who talks to tigers instantly turns D’Leh into a VIP and the tribe is very ready to have D’Leh lead them against the raiders, who are building a vast city with a gigantic pyramid with slave labor – essentially the tribe mates of the Yagahl and all the veldt. However, it’s a tall order; given that the raiders outnumber the peace-loving tribes. However, if D’Leh can convince the slaves to revolt, they might have a chance, but is he the leader that the prophecies say he is?

The cast is mostly unknowns both at the time this was filmed and years later although both Camille Belle and Cliff Curtis have gone on to pretty decent careers since. Of course you have Omar Sharif – who is the off-screen narrator – who is a legend and deservedly so. There’s not a lot for them and their lesser-renowned cast mates to do. The main thrust of the movie is the gee-wow effects and not the story so few manage to rise above the cliché strata although Belle is certainly beautiful to look at and Curtis manages a nice performance.

The effects of the creatures and the raider city are really mind-boggling. If you choose a movie for great special effects and an imaginative setting, this one has both of those in spades. Although Emmerich is not an impressive director, he is at least an imaginative one, and he brings a vision to life of a world nobody has ever seen. In many ways, you really don’t know what to expect next since D’Leh and his fellow Yagahl who have never left their valley don’t know either. The pacing is nice, although the movie tends to hiccup when they move into the romantic part of the story.

The story is…ummmmm, how shall I say this…superfluous. I think the movie might have benefited from some stronger characters and better writing, but quite frankly, there’s nothing that’s really egregious here on that score. Most of the technical work – the music, the cinematography, the editing, etc. – is competently done, but nothing really breaks new ground except the subject matter itself.

This got some pretty harsh reviews, and I can’t say that I don’t see the flaws. Yes, there’s nothing really new here story-wise, but because you are being transported to a place nobody has really even attempted to show in film, it’s kind of a wash. Go in with low expectations for characterization and story and high expectations for action and special effects and you’ll be fine..

WHY RENT THIS: Spectacular special effects. Omar Sharif’s narration.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: No plot to speak of. Writing is poor and characters kind of all blend together eventually.

FAMILY MATTERS: There is a scene of human sacrifice, and some of the critters are extremely menacing, particularly the dodo-raptors, who are a cross between the raptors of Jurassic Park and the angry giant birds of Mysterious Island.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The constellation referred to in the film as “the sign of the warrior” is actually Orion. That constellation also played a key role in a previous Emmerich film Stargate.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: The Blu-Ray edition adds a featurette (not on the DVD version) that focuses on author Graham Hancock whose Fingerprints of the Gods opines an advanced civilization that existed during the epoch the movie is set in. Although primarily about his own theories, the featurette does tie in with the movie somewhat.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $269.8M on a $105M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: One Million Years B.C.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Fiddler on the Roof

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The Croods


Eep reaches for her dreams.

Eep reaches for her dreams.

(2013) Animated Feature (DreamWorks Animation) Starring the voices of Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds, Catherine Keener, Clark Duke, Cloris Leachman, Chris Sanders, Randy Thom. Directed by Chris Sanders and Kirk DeMicco

At the dawn of time, everything was new. Even change was new. Survival was the only motivator for anything and those who were able to change, survived.

Eep (Stone) is a young cave girl whose father Grug (Cage) has lived life by a strict rule; fear everything. Grug has depended on brute strength and caution to keep his family alive, including his wife Ugga (Keener), son Thunk (Duke), feral baby Sandy (Thom) and his mother-in-law Gran (Leachman), the latter of which he wouldn’t mind seeing violate a few of his rules. Eep chafes at the restrictions placed upon her, longing to see the world outside the cave but there are too many dangers in the prehistoric world for her to do that on her own.

Then one night she sees a light outside the cave. What was the sun doing out at this hour? But it wasn’t daylight. She must investigate! She follows the light and runs into Guy (Reynolds), a step up on the evolutionary ladder. He has invented fire and is running around the countryside with it. After some time, she gets that he has a lot of interesting ideas and might be a valuable addition to the family (most of their neighbors have fallen to pestilence and predators). He also has a cute little mammal named Belt (Sanders) who provides quite a few functions, not the least of which is providing appropriately dramatic musical accompaniment.

However, Guy has a warning; the world is changing and tearing itself apart. They’ll need to get to high ground in order to survive. Grug pooh-poohs the idea; they can ride anything out in the safety and security of their cave. However, when the cave is destroyed, Grug has to rethink his position (and believe me, that’s quite an accomplishment for Grug). The family will have to make its way through an increasingly hostile landscape facing all sorts of bizarre and fearsome threats before they reach safety.

I have to admit, my expectations weren’t very high for this one. It seems that of late there’s been a surfeit of mediocre animated features (some very successful I might add) that really seem to be little more than an attempt to create characters that can be marketed as toys, happy meals, TV shows and whatever money-generating idea the studios can think of. And I don’t doubt that there is some of that involved here too

But still this one has plenty of heart. Yes, the message seems to be “try bold new things” which is something most kids have trouble doing. However, the filmmakers borrow liberally from such things as the old Looney Toons Roadrunner cartoons. Some critics have complained about it; either because it’s ripping off a classic or because the classic is so violent and outrageous to begin with. However, as one who grew up on them, I can say that you couldn’t pick a better source to rip off from. And homage is the sincerest form of flattery is it not?

The voice cast is pretty small for one of these things which works out nicely. Cage, normally an actor who can lose it in an instant, plays the dad with comparative restraint. He actually has some very nice scenes with the spunky Stone as their fractured parental bond is repaired in the crisis. Da Queen shed more than a few tears and I have to admit to being misty eyed myself. That was completely unexpected.

It was also nice to hear Leachman, who last year attended the Florida Film Festival and then tended bar at the Eden into the wee hours of the morning, doing her thing. She announces with that tone that tells you she knows how irritated Grug is with the fact that she’s still alive that she is indeed, still alive. It’s Cage however who gets the best line of the film: “Release the baby!!” You had to be there I guess.

Funny and endearing, this is the kind of animated feature that the kids will love and their parents won’t mind. In fact their parents might end up liking it more than the kids, which doesn’t happen often. The Croods relies on slapstick humor, a bit of pathos and a can-do attitude to be successful, tuning out the cheap potty humor which seems to be creeping into kid flicks more and more these days (and how did I start sounding like my Dad?) which is appreciated. The first major animated feature of the year (not counting Escape From Planet Earth which I haven’t seen yet but admittedly it comes fro a mid-major) may turn out to be the most surprising – and one of the best. Who’da Thunk?

REASONS TO GO: Surprisingly moving and well-animated. Fun for the whole family. Road Runner-esque.

REASONS TO STAY: Nothing particularly new or daring.

FAMILY VALUES:  Some of the scenes in the film depict some peril that might be a bit too scary for the really young.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: After a long run with Paramount, this is the first DreamWorks Animation film to be distributed by 20th Century Fox.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/28/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 67% positive reviews. Metacritic: 55/100; the reviews were pretty mediocre trending towards the negative.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Incredibles

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

NEXT: Red Planet