The Mammoths Are Great the Rest Is Woolly; BEAUTY AND THE BEASTS: Camilla Belle and Steven Strait Star Alongside Computer-Generated Woolly Mammoths and Sabre-Toothed Tigers in 10,000 BC

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Byline: Matthew Bond

Say what you will about 10,000 BC, but one thing is undeniable: thewoolly mammoths are great. Theyre big, woolly (obviously), have elaboratelycurved tusks and are a triumph for the films hard-working and largely highlyproficient special-effects team.

One minute these wonderfully convincing pachyderms are thundering around alpinemeadows trying to evade the spears and nets of the Yagahl hunters; the nexttheyve been detusked, enslaved by evil, pyramid-building demigods and reducedto hauling huge blocks of stone up ramps. You could weep for these noblebeasts, really you could.

Alas, the mammoths turn out to be just about the only thing you will be weepingfor at the end of this long and emotionally uninvolving film. As acomputer-aided spectacle, it does just about enough to satisfy a youngishaudience. But as a would-be epic tale, its just dull, dull, dull.

Particularly frustrating is the fact that its all served up in strange, and attimes almost impossible to follow, accents that are clearly intended to signifywhat my children used to refer to as the olden days. They have grown out ofthat habit but director and co-writer Roland Emmerich, who brought usIndependence Day and The Day After Tomorrow, clearly has not, so its olden daysaccents all round, Im afraid.

A narrator, who slightly surprisingly turns out to be Omar Sharif, kicks thingsoff portentously by announcing that only time can teach us what is truth andwhat is legend. He then introduces us to the hilltop world of the Yagahl, atribe of hunter-gatherers whose post-Ice Age survival is dependent on a nowdwindling number of mammoths, and who are guided by a shaman-like figure knownas Old Mother.

So when a beautiful little girl with startling blue eyes is rescued from theburning remains of a nearby village that has been raided by the four-leggeddemons, it is Old Mother who takes her in, gives her the name Evolet andprophesies a great future.

Evolet, it turns out, is destined to be the womanthe word bride, we surmise, has not yet been inventedof a new leader for the tribe who will fight a great battle and take them intoa new era.

At least, I think thats whats predicted. As I say, the accents make thingsdifficult to follow but so too does the fact that the young men of the Yagahl,who are competing for Evolets hand, all look the same: matted locks, wispybeards, healthy outdoor, Mesolithic tans.

It takes a long time to work out which one we are supposed to be cheering forand by the time we do the white rain has come (its snowed), the four-leggeddemons (slave-traders on horseback) have raided the Yagahl and poor Evolet (bynow a pretty teenager played by Camilla Belle) has been carted off by a swarthybaddie in a turban and his scarily bald, one-eyed henchman.

Leh (a name I didnt get until the final credits revealed Dboth the spelling andthe fact he was played by newcomer Steven Strait) resolves to go after her,aided and abetted by the trusty Tic Tic (Cliff Curtis) and the youthful Baku(Nathanael Baring). From here on, its pretty much an English-language, 12Acertificate version of Mel Gibsons blood-soaked, authentically Mayan epicApocalypto, to such an extent that Gibson will either find the similaritiesflattering or somewhat annoying.

An attack by giant gobbling turkeys is just about scary enough not to be silly.But a sabre-toothed tiger, by the high standards of the mammoths that precedeit, proves an extinct beast too far for the special-effects department.

That said, they more than make up for it with the computer-generated creationof the ancient, pyramid-erecting civilisa-tion that provides the spectacularsetting for the pictures finaland definitely besthalf-hour. The mammoths, Im pleased to say, turn out to be pivotal. …