The lost art of Caveman Movies

Carly at the Movies column by Carl Larsen

10000-bc.jpgIn 1923, Buster Keaton devoted one-third of his “Three Ages” feature film to an energetic, slapsticky take on our cave-dwelling ancestors.

Perhaps we should have left well enough alone, and just completely abandoned the idea of ever making a “good” movie about our Ally Oopian predecessors from days of yore.

Since that time, roughly 100 Caveman Movies (not to be confused with Dinosaur Movies like “Jurassic Park”) have been made, and the results – including the brand new “10,000 B.C.” – are almost totally catastrophic.

Hollywood just can’t seem to take Early Man seriously, and we usually end up with either a kid-oriented action flick or a pie-in-the-Neanderthalic-face comedy.

Luckily, over the past 85 years there have been two exceptions to that rule, but before exploring them, let’s make short work of Roland Emmerich’s latest large-scale disaster (in more ways than one) film, “10,000 B.C.”

This murky and muddled mish-mosh of prehistoric teen romance is enough to send anyone over the age of seven racing for the nearest tavern. From what I could make out, it’s all about a young mastodon hunter tracking down the villains who kidnapped his main squeeze, rescuing her, setting the slaves free, kiss-kiss bang-bang the end.

Along the way, they DO have a mastodon hunt, and it’s spectacular and all too brief. Then we go on (for way too long) to learn that Cavepeople invented the whistle, the travois, domesticated horses, congregated in large cities, and built pyramids. A few of them could even work magic, see into the future, and everyone spoke English. And they battled and beat such fearful critters as giant chickens, saber-toothed tigers, misplaced dinosaurs and, of course, the aforementioned mammoths that filled most of the trailers and little of the movie. The mammoth hunt, maybe. The rest: well, so much for your school textbooks, kiddies.

The dialogue is all pompous baloney, the kind of pontification that packed the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy with so much hot air. Just a lot of overly-solemn young people waving their dirty fists in the air and swearing revenge whilst over-acting elders chew the hairy scenery and the scabrous villains lacked only black mustaches to twirl. Ugh.

I shouldn’t really have expected anything besides eye-popping special effects from Emmerich, anyway. After all, he masterminded such epics as “Independence Day” (1996), “Eight Legged Freaks” (2002), and “The Day After Tomorrow” (2004), all of which were long on action and short on common sense. This one, featuring no actor or actress you’ll ever remember, will join the others in Roland’s pantheon of posh-but-pitiful pictures.

I really wanted “10,000 B.C.” to be good because, even though the genre has consistently broken my heart, I truly love Caveman Movies. Two of them in particular:

Jean-Jacques Annaud’s 1981 film “Quest for Fire” is a quiet little masterpiece, one that I never tire of viewing. It won the Academy Award for Best Makeup but has been vastly overlooked by film historians. It stars Everett McGill, Rae Dawn Chong and Ron Perlman in a tale of simple survival. A tribe loses their most-prized possession, fire, and a trio of men set out to get more. Along the way, their world, their unique language invented specifically for this film, their humanity and courage are all tested and revealed.

Simple story, complex plot, much meaning. If you’re about to give up on Caveman Movies altogether, I urge you to find “Quest for Fire” on DVD and give it a shot. Wonderful film.

As a young boy, my favorite film was 1940’s “One Million B.C.” starring Victor Mature and Carol Landis, with Lon Chaney Jr. It still stands up well, even though the dinosaurs are from another era. It’s the original tale of the Rock People and the Shell People learning to live together in peace. A bit Romeon-and-Julietishly hokey, yes, for nowadays tastes, but I still hold it dear to my heart and still occasionally awaken from a deep sleep shouting, “Leecha! Leecha!” as the giant lizards attack Tumac and Luana.

This movie it was remade as a vehicle for Raquel Welch’s breasts in 1966. Same plot, bigger boobs, and entitled “One Million YEARS B.C.” Better special effects, but that child-like innocence exuded by curly-headed Vic Mature just couldn’t be duplicated.

In conclusion, let us sadly admit that, in truth, the Caveman Movie is a lost art form. And if it wasn’t dead before, “10,000 B.C.” surely killed it.

Carl Larsen is a regular contributor to The Augusta Free Press. Look for his At the Movies column on Mondays.


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