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Friday, May 2, 2008
Give me Raquel Welch any day
The 1966 film "One Million Years B.C." was one of those classic naff B-movies from Hammer Films in the '60s. Rerun endlessly on both Saturday afternoon and late-night TV over the next couple of decades, the film had something for both demographics: excellent dinosaur animation by Ray Harryhausen (unsurpassed until "Jurassic Park" came along three decades later), and an even more excellent animal-skin bikini that barely contained the ample charms of leading lady Raquel Welch.
Welch, maybe not so well-remembered today, was one of those actresses cast whenever a bombshell was needed. (Think of Megan Fox in "Transformers" and you'll get the idea.) But unlike contemporary Hollywood, "One Million Years B.C.' "s filmmakers understood that Welch's, umm, "special effects" could rival anything the animators could come up with.
Sorry if I'm coming off like a drooling, laddish "GQ" columnist or something, but watching director Roland Emmerich's kinda-sorta remake "10,000 B.C." the other day, I couldn't help thinking what a refreshing change a little sex appeal would be. As usual, with Hollywood's game-boy directors and fan-boy demographic, we get an orgy of digital effects, thrashing combat, and wanton destruction — but, alas, no bikini.
Emmerich is a director who has built his entire career on redoing classic B-movie genres in bigger, more bombastic versions; alien invasion in "Independence Day," gung-ho movie in "The Patriot" and disaster movie with "The Day After Tomorrow." Now he takes on the caveman-and-critters genre with predictable results: just as corny, far less charming.
"10,000 B.C." gives us a stone-age hero named D'Leh, played by Steven Strait, who, with his well-manicured dreads and tribal necklaces, looks like a Goa-trance DJ with a spear. His tribe are hunters of the woolly mammoth and D'Leh is set to prove himself in his first hunt. As usual for an American movie, D'Leh has parental issues: his father mysteriously left the community rather than become its leader, and D'Leh is set to prove he's no runner.
He's also out to win the hand of Evolet (Camilla Belle), the classic "love interest" who has little to do but look desirable, albeit never as ravishing as Welch. Interestingly, considering the demographic for this sort of CG-fantasy film is predominantly male, most of the flesh displayed is bulging pecs and six-packs; like "300," the movie is so clearly in love with glistening masculinity that you wonder why they just don't dump the chick and come out of the closet? (And it comes as no surprise to learn that Strait was a Bruce Weber model.)
Emmerich is a master of spectacle, and the sight of a herd of stampeding mammoths is truly something to behold. An attack by speedy, pecking, ostrichlike carnivores in dense rain forest is also perfectly pitched. But, as anyone who's seen "ID4" or "The Patriot" already knows, he just can't help but throw in some crowd pleasing jingoism
So when a group of raiders attack D'Leh's village, massacring his tribe and taking Evolet off into captivity, did Emmerich really have to make them all hawk-nosed Arabs? As if the point was too subtle, D'Leh follows them to their city, where they have enslaved other races to build their pyramids. D'Leh enlists help from the black tribes to build a "coalition of the willing" to take down the Arabs. Of course, the black tribes never realized they could do this themselves until the white man showed up. "One day, the one will come who will free our people," says the black tribe's chief, and he isn't referring to Nelson Mandela.
Emmerich's racial attitudes seem to be vaguely colonialist, but like "300," he can't resist demonizing Arabs completely. Their king, while not the towering leather/fetish queen of "300," is still some kind of rasping lizardlike subhuman, while D'Leh sagely tells his comrades, "They are not men like us." Cue the big prebattle speech where he yells, "We will free our people!"
Does every American entertainment movie these days have to be about exporting freedom and democracy? Well, at least no one will take it seriously in a film where a caveman trudging through deep snow asks for a swig from a canteen because he's so thirsty. Somebody needs to get out from behind the computer and into nature a bit more.
Besides, the ultimate prehistoric movie has already been made, and it's Jean-Jacques Annaud's "Quest For Fire," from 1981, which has held up pretty well. While "10,000 B.C." is basically a cookie-cutter popcorn flick with caveman sauce on top, "Quest" tries very hard to imagine the era as it was and place you in it. Brilliant filmmaking that really seems to take you to a time and place you've never seen before.