If contemporary filmmakers were as shameless as contemporary artists, they could brag about “appropriating” texts. In that kinder universe, Roland Emmerich would be king, chairman of the appropriations committee by virtue of his voluminous borrowings, as anyone who’s seen the improbably good-bad movie Independence Day must be forced to attest. This film, Emmerich’s latest since the trivializing doomsday device known as The Day After Tomorrow, is even more kleptomaniac, stealing from Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto, Jean-Jacques Annaud’s Quest for Fire, Michael Chapman’s Clan of the Cave Bear-not to mention Conan the Barbarian, The Scorpion King, and (in a move that brilliantly surpasses all his fellow thieving artistes) his own junk classic Stargate.
Of course it would be a lot more praiseworthy claim if this film were half as good as any of the lunkheaded films listed above. Make no mistake; I love movies with klunky special effects and overly pompous acting. But this movie, despite its cheesy charms (like unconvincing mammoth herds), never seems to get started. For the first 20 minutes we follow a tribe of mud-scrabbling dullard neophyte humans (with voice-over narration by Omar Sharif, a half-step up from Ricardo Montalban). Then, after an interminably boring voyage and unlikely siege on a proto-Pharaonic Egypt, our thoroughly uncharismatic warriors return to their mud huts, apparently unconvinced that sunny deserts near rivers with alabaster dwellings might constitute an improvement. So much for evolution. By the time the credits roll, you will have probably had a nice nap, including dreams better than anything happening onscreen in 10,000 B.C.; a period apparently before dramatic tension had been pioneered.
It is an honor, nonetheless, that we live in an age where a filmmaker with the aesthetic instincts of Roger Corman gets to make films with budgets our military might envy, particularly when this auteur is already renowned for remaking films that have been universally deemed bad. The biggest appropriation, the one of which studio publicity people are no doubt proudest, though, will be the money and the time they gladly steal from you.