Journey to 10,000 BC is a new made-for-TV documentary about Clovis-era North American archaeology and palaeontology (not to be confused with Roland Emmerich’s baroque fantasy feature 10,000 BC). The format of the film is conventional: a voiceover intercut with clips from interviews with scholars. The academics acquit themselves well and get a lot of interesting information across in the brief soundbites allotted them. This is the film’s main strength. The voiceover (written by David Padrusch and Ian Stoker-Long) isn’t too bad either: there are a few sensationalistic bloopers and endorsements of controversial views, but mainly the information given is correct and delivered in a lively way.
Half-way through the film, Dennis Stanford of the Smithsonian Institute and David George of Saint Anselm College are given ten minutes to air the controversial Solutrean hypothesis. Briefly, this holds that the Americas were not peopled from Beringia, or not exclusively from Beringia, but (also) from western Europe. The similarities between Solutrean projectile points (France) and Clovis ones (US) are in fact superficial and cannot be taken to indicate any genetic relationship. Yet this is the main argument for the Solutrean hypothesis. Few specialists accept it, and its inclusion is my main scientific point of criticism against the film. As Wikipedia puts it, “The hypothesis is challenged by large gaps in time between the Clovis and Solutrean eras, a lack of evidence of Solutrean seafaring, lack of specific Solutrean features in Clovis technology, and other issues.”
The film pushes the Solutrean angle further by mainly using actors with Europid features (and 80s hair-metal wigs, which kind of tends to ruin the impression) to portray Palaeoindians. Then, ten minutes before the end of the film, Beringian immigrants are introduced into the narrative, and they are played by actors with Native American features. Anyway, the message isn’t one of white supremacy.
Overall, the film has very poor visuals. It looks cheap, it’s repetitive and it conveys a lot of wordless errors. We get endless ugly machinima-level computer animation combined with bluescreened live actors who interact with beasties that aren’t visible to them. There are many cloned copies of each digital being, with jerky movements that Harryhausen wouldn’t have accepted 40 years ago. The same clips recur time and time again: the viewer will grow to loathe a model of a mammoth head whose beady animatronic eye keeps showing up in extreme close-up to scary music. A wounded digital mammoth stomping on the head of an unfortunate hunter in slow motion is pure slapstick.
Director David Padrusch has a whole excavation team march toward the camera brandishing shovels, then cuts to the first Palaeoindian colonists, walking around in a similar group. We see no children, no elderly people, no luggage, no winter clothing, and the actors are looking around with dreamy astonishment at everything they see. It’s as if what they met with in North America were wildly different from what they’d known for all their lives in their area of origin, which in Beringia’s case would have been, like, fifty miles to the west.
Berries and nuts are collected in smooth leather dishes that look like upturned cardboard lampshades. Finely tanned and industrially finished animal skins are uselessly stroked with flint scrapers tilted the wrong way, scrapers that would in any case have been applied only at the messy beginning of the tanning process. Late Palaeolithic people sail across the Atlantic to illustrate the Solutrean hypothesis, and the mast is at the aft of the boat. Painful stuff.
I don’t know who the target audience of this film is, but the production values suggest screenings at underfunded schools and museums. The production company might actually hire the voiceover guy to record a few introductions to the interviewees and then re-cut the film’s soundtrack as a decent radio documentary. But as it is, Journey to 10,000 BC is a pretty sorry excuse for a documentary film.
The film is also reviewed at Archaeoporn .
[More blog entries about archaeology, clovis, film, review; arkeologi, USA, film, recension.]