Special-effects breakthroughs like CGI come at a price. Once the seemingly impossible has been realized, it tends to lose its wonder. There's another danger as well: Once the price tag of those breakthroughs drops a little, they can end up in the wrong hands. Specifically, Roland Emmerich's hands.
With his former partner Dean Devlin and now on his own, Emmerich has blazed a path of big-budget mediocrity that stretches from Stargate to Independence Day to Godzilla and beyond. Viewers get adequate, derivative special effects, crepe-thin characters, and stories that never escape the shadows of their bigger-than-big premises. 10,000 B.C. is Emmerich's first directorial outing since 2004's The Day After Tomorrow, and it does little but swap the end of civilization with this beginning. Viewers get a few moments of screen-filling effects, some angry CGI animals, and a whole lot of walking around.
A never-more-serious Omar Sharif narrates the story of a hardworking tribe of mammoth-hunters and the young man (Steven Strait) destined to save them from doom at the hands of "four-legged demons." These, disappointingly, turn out to be armed men on horseback, but 10,000 B.C. does have its share of fantastical prehistoric creatures in the form of mammoths, saber-toothed cats, and giant birds that behave just like Jurassic's raptors. Maybe, like Emmerich, they've seen that movie a few too many times, too.
Strait is forced to leave the comforts of his tribe when the four-legged demons kidnap his Lindsay Lohan-like girlfriend (Camilla Belle). He embarks on an epic journey that takes him across frost-covered plains, the jungles of Africa, and the desert, environments that apparently exist within a few days' march of each other. Along the way, he forges an alliance with some African friends, fights animals, and from all appearances, develops feet impervious to sores as he tramps along. There are home movies of toddlers that place less emphasis on walking.
The Day After Tomorrow was kind of stupidly fun, and 10,000 B.C. might be too, if it weren't so stupidly dull. And when the dullness stops, the film still has problems. Emmerich knows how to fill the screen with spectacle, but not how to field-marshal it. Stampeding mammoths and flying spears play more like visual clutter than the wonders of a lost era brought back to life. He summons up a dead world, only to kill it again, one pixel at a time.