And they said to one another, “Come, let us make
bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had
brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they
said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a
tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make
a name for ourselves…
This thrilling chase film will irk sticklers for history, but it offers exciting diversion for fans of this genre. Indeed it might remind them of the more historical Mel Gibson film set in a similar environment, Apocolypto. High in the mountains a tribe of mammoth hunters is guided by the shaman Old Mother (Mona Hammond). She predicts a noble future for young D’Leh, even setting him on the path that will join him with the lovely girl Evolet. But fate intervenes when D’Leh’s father abandons the tribe to set forth on a journey to discover where the every dwindling wooly mammoth’s are migrating to due to changes in the environment.
Thus D’Leh (Steven Strait) becomes stigmatized by his father’s seeming betrayal of the tribe, even though the young hunter wins the White Spear for leading a successful hunt for a mammoth. Soon there is an attack by slave traders while D’Leh is away, with Evolet (Camilla Belle) and many others being carried off. D’Leh and a few friends follow the tracks, and the epic chase begins. It includes running battles, an encounter with a giant saber tooth tiger that owes much to the old story of Androcles and the Lion, a joining of forces with a black tribe, and then a spectacular sequence in which the captives are forced by an evil ruler to become part of the massive slave force laboring to build the pyramids—and of course, there is a Spartacus-like slave rebellion that one would expect.
The reactions of critics have ranged from grades of “F” to “B,” so if you go, be warned at how bogus the history is. Saber tooths and mammoths were long extinct, and the pyramids aren’t quite 10,000 years old, nor had the horse been domesticated enough for riding, but who says that a movie is supposed to teach us history? Just look how the makers of The Other Boleyn Girl have so garbled Tudor-era history! The filmmakers’ viewpoint concerning “civilization” might be interesting to discuss. Is this (and Apocolypto) a Rouseauan take on humanity, with D’Leh’s tribe representing the Noble Savage, and the high king or pharaoh of the pyramid builders corrupt civilization? How is this similar to the view of the author(s) of Genesis, and for that matter of the prophets and writers of the Psalms, who seem to have a higher regard for the austere desert culture of their ancestors than that of the current city-based culture? How has Hollywood for a century also held this view—the slick but corrupt city dweller versus the pure and simple living small town hero?
There are some silly aspects to the film, including some of the dialogue and the excessive eye make-up for a supposed mountain girl of that era, but if you have a free afternoon (this thing is worth only matinee price) and want some thrills, then go and have some fun—there is an underlying message of courage, friendship and loyalty across racial lines, as well as the usual questionable affirmation of violence. I thought that the film was going to end on a bitter-sweet note, but apparently the filmmakers lost courage and tacked on a more audience-pleasing note. (I wonder if this is one of those pop films that they test out with an audience in a northern California town?) It would have been a better film had it ended five minutes or so earlier. As it is, we have essentially a throwback to those innocent Saturday matinee kiddy films laden with jungle/desert/mountain adventure in which the Noble Hero rescues the Beautiful Heroine with the help of Wonderful Sidekicks (usually member of a minority group).