Roland Emmerich’s best film since his 1998 destruction epic Godzilla, 10,000 B.C. is a film of unforgettable imagery, fearless filmmaking, and finally – a storyline that, while not believable by any means, is as good as anything Emmerich has worked on since the tedious, but overly-informative war epic The Patriot. While watching 10,000 B.C. I knew that Emmerich wasn’t a better filmmaker, but something told me that this Emmerich was finally ready to ground his characters and not parade their personal issues around with directorial grand-standing the likes of which was found in both The Day After Tomorrow and Universal Soldier. Still, every scene, no matter what its scale, is rendered in a way that makes it seem important – whether it be through the over-produced score by Harald Kloser and Thomas Wander, or the overly-indulgent cinematography by frequent Emmerich collaborator Ueli Steiger. This feeling of importance is a trick that Emmerich frequently uses in his films to try to sell them to the audience. In empty motion pictures like The Day After Tomorrow this does not work, but in 10,000 B.C. there is a deeper struggle that these characters go through together that eventually leads them to an epic struggle, during which Emmerich finally made me care.
The reason I cared about the characters in Godzilla is because I understood them, even if I didn’t fully understand their plight or their experiences. I didn’t understand them because they were so unrealistic and unfathomable, but as long as the characters contained some sort of humanity I was absolutely fine with the sheer ridiculousness of the action on screen. I feel the same way about 10,000 B.C. as the screenplay sets up the romance, which almost starts out as an innocent friendship, between main characters D’Leh and Evolet in a way that made me want them to be together, almost as much as I wanted Jaguar Paw to succeed in Apocalypto. So I did believe in these characters and their other-worldly adventure going against a God-like Egyptian Pharaoh whose slaves are people he doesn’t know, but views as his own kin.
Cynics have labeled this film as racist, since the leader of the rebellion against the Pharaoh, D’Leh is white, and the people he leads are unmistakably people of color. These cynics are the same ones who bat their eye when Emmerich displays the reliance D’Leh has on Nakudu – his African friend and tribe leader who is definitely much more intelligent than D’Leh is and if it isn’t for this character, D’Leh would have never even gotten to Egypt. Emmerih solidifies this film is not racist at the end when he shows Nakudu and D’Leh embrace as a sign of their ever-lasting friendship and devotion. The cynics are the ones that color these characters in broad strokes. Well, when I see a black person in a film I don’t automatically become suspicious of his role being one of a servant or the like, I view him or her as just another character, and it is my belief that Emmerich also believes in this type of equality and that belief can readily be seen in this film.
The technical qualities of this film are above par, and the special effects are breathtaking, especially the building of the pyramids. The God-like Pharaoh is instantly revolting and Emmerich is successful at making the audience cheer for the success of his slaves’ revolution. It is the first time I’ve felt emotion during an Emmerich film since Godzilla’s death (shot by Emmerich in manipulative, but tried-and-true, slow motion) and it signals a filmmaker who has finally taken a step in the right direction. Indeed, it is more than just a little rough around the edges, but 10,000 B.C. is entertainment on a level that can be labeled as totally recommendable.