Monday, March 03, 2008

The saber-tooth tiger is too big!

The husband and I have been arguing about something stupid lately: Roland Emmerich’s new movie, “10,000 B.C.” Our point/counterpoint goes something like this: the movie looks totally, completely and ridiculously anachronistic and unrealistic to me. The husband argues that it shouldn’t matter because it’s just a movie. I continue to argue that it does matter, mostly because I think it’s funny to hear him argue about mastodons but also because it really does kind of piss me off.

First of all, I’m no kind of paleontologist or anthropologist. I don’t have extensive knowledge of prehistoric animals or early human culture. Still, though, there are things that seem glaringly wrong to me in the previews I’ve seen for “10,000 B.C.” including saber-tooth tigers the size of ambulances, gigantic palaces and structures that seem to bear striking resemblances to the Luxor in Vegas and organized armies fighting each other. A quick check of the internets tells me that 1) saber-tooth tigers stood about chest high to humans and weighed around 800 pounds max, meaning they were smaller than ambulance-sized breadboxes; 2) in 10,000 B.C., people were still living in caves and stone structures were just a glimmer in the eyes of the dudes who first built them in 9,000 B.C. None of the structures had flat-panneled TVs or 24-hour access to the poker lounge. And 3) humans were nomads. They weren’t organizing any Army vs. Navy football games, let alone attacking each other in well-organized masses of humanity. I may be wrong on some of this stuff, but I’m pretty sure Roland Emmerich is even more wrong.

Which leads me to the bigger question: should I really even bother being aggravated by this, regardless of how entertaining it is to fight with my husband? Getting upset by explosions in oxygen-less space or getting miffed that the guns used in “3:10 to Yuma” weren’t even invented at the time the movie was set is definitely a nerdy thing to do, so I embrace it heartily on that front. But the husband argues that if I’m going to get huffy about realism and anachronism in certain movies and TV shows, how can I disregard stuff like the fact that Spiderman can’t really crawl up the sides of buildings with super-sticky spidey fingers and Mr. Ed can’t actually talk (blasphemy!) and Hello, Kitty isn’t really stealing as many souls as I think she is. Where should I draw the line?

I guess “10,000 B.C.” bothers me because I feel a movie with an actual date in the title should try to be at least a little bit true to that time period, unless of course it’s a caveman movie starring Ringo Starr. (The fact that there are any movies starring Ringo Starr is enough of a brain tickler that I’m not really going to fight it.) But if I’m watching a movie about Abraham Lincoln, I don’t want to see him getting to Ford’s Theater on a Segway. On the other hand, if I’m watching a movie where James Spader leads a bunch of a people through a magical gate and they find themselves in a pseudo-Egypt where people shoot each other with lasers, I’m going to be cool with it because I just watched some dude walk through a magical gate. To me, the key is that it’s all about context.

Either that or I worry about really, really stupid stuff.

20 comments:

TheName said...

You've gotta remember: "10,000 BC" sounds so much better than "2-3,000 BC with a few things from around 10,000 BC"

Velociraptor vs. Jurassic Park anyone?

Liz said...

I was thinking they could call it, "Steroid Taking Saber-Tooth Tigers vs. Well-Organized Prehistoric Humans: Part I." But you're right, "10,000 BC" is catchier, I guess.

Scrap Irony said...

The problem, it seems to me, is that the masses will easily regard the events in movies such as 10,000 BC as being historically accurate because of the title and because there's enough historically accurate stuff going on to make it seem plausible. The problem isn't that the movie's entirely inaccurate, it's that it mixes inaccuracies with historical accuracies. For the most part viewers won't know which things they can take seriously and which things they can't.

Science Fiction and fantasy by and large doesn't try to be historically accurate, that's why it doesn't bother me and seems not to bother you that certain people can stick to walls and other people can go to pseudo-Egypt through a magic Stargate. It's easier to take things like Mr. Ed and Spiderman for granted because they aren't trying to convey any greater historical truth.

It's a great postmodern dilemma that you're talking about here. People don't really know history so they take what comes from the movies and then ultimately get it wrong. I know so many people who can think of Queen Elizabeth and see not one of the great portraits, but instead see Cate Blanchet in one of the Elizabeth films. It's the signifier and the signified. We see what the film represents and not the actual history behind it.

Okay, that was a ridiculously long response.

DMG said...

Hey, just take a look at the posters for the 2004 "Teenage cavegirl" and suddenly Emmerich's film will seem ultra realistic

Anonymous said...

Re: Extra large S-T Tigers...I am not sure, but I believe that it was right around 10,000 B.C. that evolution started producing bigger humans at the same time that kitty's started getting smaller. Sometime, between then and now, I believe the perspective that the husband is envisioning was in play.
But at that time, it was all about the cat. They may be much smaller, now, but they maintained the attitude.

L-D's D

jenn said...

Roland himself said at WonderCon that the movie is fantasy. So while they did try to get a lot of details as close to realistic as possible, they pretty much realized that the whole premise of a lost civilization was conjecture/most likely fiction, so fantasy it is.

The film doesn't look that great either way, but sometimes I'm a sucker for special effects and stuff, so yknow. :)

TheName said...

Nah, we don't have to worry about "the masses" buying it as historically accurate; most of the masses don't even believe 10,000 BC is a real date :-)

liz: I do like your title. That's a movie I'd see.

Bakerloo said...

I refuse to see 10000 BC, based solely on the improbable architecture. However, I am fairly convinced that there is a secret wizarding community through the back door of a dive pub in London. You can call me crazy if you want.

Jennu said...

I'm right there with you. I once tried watching The Mummy on TV and turned it off because they were killing people by mummification, which um no. (They were, in actuality, killing them by pulling their brains out through their noses, but still, um, no.)

I read an article about 10,000 BC in Geek Magazine. Apparently, Roland Emmerich read some book that claims that the original pyramid builders were actually around in 10,000 BC. Possibly the book also said they were aliens--I didn't care enough to remember.

So the film is about the nomads vs. the pyramid builders. Whatever. Emmerich was also quoted as admitting the film is for pre-teens. So it's aspiring to be that crap movie you loved as a kid and doesn't hold up when you watch it as an adult.

erindubitably said...

If you're looking to be entirely accurate, you probably shouldn't call it a saber-tooth tiger, either.

Liz said...

Erindubitably, that's absolutely true. I was looking at all the correct names online but figured it would take too long to define everything so figured I'd just go casual. But, you know, not as casual as Roland Emmerich.

Done That! said...

Asikli Höyük was built in three phases in about 10,000-9000 BC.

This was a sophisticated society with a wide-ranging diet that consisted of meat from both wild and domesticated animals and a variety of cultivated wheat, barley, peas and lentils – a huge step forward in human progression from the nomadic hunter-gatherers.

So says British TV, channel 4 on its website. I believe them because Television, unlike the hollywood evil movie corporation conspiracy thingy, never lies!

Liz said...

Done That, I would have been totally fine with them calling the movie "9,000 BC" because like you said, things were totally moving along nicely civilization-wise by that time. I just think Roland is off by 1,000 years.

And yes, I too always believe television, especially British television! :-)

erindubitably said...

I think it would be hard for mere mortals to achieve such a degree of casual-ness without some sort of advanced class in the subject. One that apparently involves psychotropic drugs and a complete devotion to historical inaccuracy.

But hey, at least there's Terror Birds!

amanda said...

I'm a bit torn about "10,000 BC" -- ok, really torn. Also, I really want to stick an "E" on the end of that title, but that's another story.
I feel the same way about this film that I did/do about "Apocalypto".
I'm an anthropologist, so I know better than to think that any "historical action" film put out by Hollywood would put an emphasis on the history bit. I think it might be a truly entertaining action flick -- just like "Apocalypto" -- however historically inaccurate. At the same time, there is the issue of people going to see such films and believing that Roland Emmerich and Mel Gibson are presenting the God's Honest Truth. Perhaps if the emphasis was more on the fiction/fantastic aspect of the films, rather than the historical, we would be less annoyed.

Anonymous said...

You're right about the SB Tigers. Having actually looked at a SB Tigers skull at a museum, and comparing it to modern-day tigers, aside from the larger fangs, they are the same size.

The size of the mammoth though, seems to be somewhat acurate, as they were MUCH larger then modern elephants.

Hollywood has been known to exaggerate historical figures for dramatic effect. An over-sized SB Tiger is much more menacing and appealing to the masses then an acurately sized one. In Hollywood, money talks and acuracy walks.

Sarah said...

Thank you, thank you, a thousand times thank you.

I have had this argument surrounding both "300" and "10,000 BC", in which my friends try to get me to see it, I snot about historical inaccuracy (and Frank Miller being a misogynist douchebag) they say, "But it's just a movie!" And I yell, "IT'S STILL WRONG!" and have to go somewhere that's else to decompress.

I mean, historical inaccuracy is all well and good- I read historical romance novels, I have to deal with it- but... there's a difference between poor research in a trashy book and a kajillion dollar flick which is Very Serious. It just doesn't work.

Anonymous said...

hahaha! An amusing read. I agree with you, though- it was a pretty shoty movie as far as hystorical accuracy is concerned.

Joshua said...

DOn't make so many assumptions about the masses newbs. There are many genus ans species of sabertooth tigers. Perhaps one of them is as large as portrayed.

Anonymous said...

smilodon was a huge forefather to the saber toother tiger and lived during the epoch 1.8-10,000 years ago. It is an extinct genus of the subfamily machairodontine saber-toothed cats endemic to North America and South America living approximately 1.790 million years ago. And for 10,000 B.C the species Smilodon populator was the largest 47" tall,83"long,w/a 12"tail. With an estimated weight of 880lbs. Upper canines reached 28 cm or 11"and protruded up to 6.7" out of the upper jaw. Check out the info on the internet, it is all true, I am doing a reasearch paper on the subject right now. I hope you and your husband can stop arguing and go watch a Disney film.LOL. I am a Spartan descendent, 300 was not completely wrong. Yes they wore full bronze armour and no their were not only 300 spartans, they also had 7,000 cretans and phoacians and a navy led by an Athenian leader named Themystycles. They guarded the Artametium straight that would have let king Xerxes flank King Leonidas. Let hollyweird stay that way and let us all enjoy the movies. And be glad that we can read the truths of our history for ourselves.