Everything I know, I learned from 10,000 B.C.

Well, not really. But one thing I love about the movies — even the really bad ones — is how they can stimulate interest in subjects that we might not otherwise have looked into. For a history buff like me, it can be especially fun to fact-check movies that are set in the past. If a movie gets something right, great; and if it doesn’t, there is still educational value in figuring out where it went wrong. (See the book Past Imperfect: History According to the Movies for dozens of examples of this sort of quasi-affectionate nit-picking.)

So as bad as a film like 10,000 B.C. might be, I have to admit that it got me curious about a number of subjects — though admittedly not so curious that I bothered to look them up in anything more authoritative than Wikipedia, for now. Below is a list of some of the “facts” that I found — and if any of these claims are in error, feel free to correct them, whether here or at Wikipedia itself.

But remember, this is all in fun; as a moviegoer, I don’t mind the historical inaccuracies in 10,000 B.C. anywhere near as much as I mind the fact that the film isn’t all that entertaining.

So, on to the list:

In my review, I mentioned the fact that sabre-toothed tigers lived in the Americas — and went extinct around the time this film is set, if not a few thousand years earlier — whereas this film features entire tribes of people who appear to be African.

In my previous blog post on this film, I said I was distracted by the eye make-up worn by Evolet. The earliest known evidence of cosmetics usage “is found in Ancient Egypt around 4000 BC.”

Evolet has blue eyes, which is treated even within the film as something new and unusual — as well it should be, since the genetic evidence suggests blue eyes are a mutation that “may have arisen in a single individual around the Black Sea region 6,000-10,000 years ago,” i.e. between 4,000 and 8,000 B.C.

In an even earlier blog post, I alluded to the fact that the earliest known city — Jericho or maybe Damascus — dates to between 8,000 and 10,000 B.C.

The first pyramids, built in Egypt or Mesopotamia or possibly even Greece, date to the 2,000s or 3,000s B.C.

The domestication of horses might have begun in the Eurasian steppes (around Ukraine) as far back as 4,000 B.C., but it didn’t really take off until the 2,000s B.C.; prior to that, horses were hunted for meat.

The woolly mammoth “ranged from Spain to North America” but died out around the end of the Ice Age c. 9,600 B.C., though “A small population survived on St. Paul Island, Alaska, up until 6000 BCE, and the small mammoths of Wrangel Island became extinct only around 2000 BCE”.

Metalworking “predates history”, and “The end of the beginning of metalworking occurs sometime around 6000 BCE when copper smelting became common in the Middle East.” So the villains’ use of swords and gold-plated ornaments might or might not be all that out-there.

Of course, the filmmakers can always claim the villains brought some of the more technically advanced stuff from outer space, or Atlantis, or wherever it is they supposedly came from.

Meanwhile, on a related note: Just think what fun we will have with all the anachronisms next year, when Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs — the third film in the popular Ice Age series — comes out. (The photo below is taken from ComingSoon.net‘s report on the ShoWest convention currently taking place in Las Vegas.)

MAR 14 UPDATE: Pat Graham of the Chicago Reader isolates some of 10,000 B.C.‘s other amusing anachronisms.

His Dark Materials — not quite dead yet?

Last week, I speculated that New Line’s absorption by Warner Brothers might not mean the end of the His Dark Materials trilogy, even though The Golden Compass‘s underwhelming box-office performance in North America has been widely cited as one of the reasons for New Line’s demise. Yesterday, Variety published a long-ish column by Adam Dawtrey on this subject, and his speculations dovetail with my own — while adding a few new wrinkles:

After its strong start in Japan last week, “The Golden Compass” is on course to make box office history as the first film to gross $300 million in foreign while failing to reach $100 million in North America.

That’s an appropriately ambiguous record to mark the end of New Line as we know it. Some might argue it sums up the dysfunctionality that led Time Warner topper Jeff Bewkes to decide enough was enough.

As producer Deborah Forte points out, with a global gross heading for $375 million-$400 million and an Oscar to its name, “Golden Compass” counts as a success by most yardsticks — just not necessarily for New Line.

As with all its films, New Line sold off the international rights to “Golden Compass” to a patchwork of foreign indies plus a couple of local Warner arms, in order to pay for the $180 million official budget. So it will reap little reward from the international success, while retaining maximum downside from the pic’s paltry $70 million domestic gross.

With a downsized New Line set to become Warner label, the intriguing question is now whether Warner toppers will see past the domestic flop and greenlight the second and third installments of Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy — “The Subtle Knife” and “The Amber Spyglass” — based on those boffo foreign grosses.

Indeed, Warner, the studio behind “Harry Potter,” may turn out to be a better home for the Pullman franchise than New Line ever was. . . .

Bewkes has cited the foreign upside of “Golden Compass” as one justification for channelling New Line’s pics through Warner’s global distribution in future. But a less ambitious, less independent New Line might not have embarked upon a project as bold and risky as “Golden Compass” in the first place. New Line turned to Pullman’s trilogy of British bestsellers to feed the demand of its foreign partners for something spectacular to follow “Lord of the Rings.”

In fact, the foreign-friendly nature of “Golden Compass” makes it a glaring exception on New Line’s recent slate. Since the “Rings” trilogy, its overseas distribs have had to suffer three years of very American comedies, horror and urban pics, with little value in the overseas market.

It’s hard to imagine the folks at Warner Intl. rubbing their hands at the prospect of more of the same from a downsized New Line. But they might welcome “The Subtle Knife,” the second book in Pullman’s trilogy, for which Hossein Amini has already written a script, and the final installment “The Amber Spyglass.”

New Line’s foreign distribs would certainly snap up the sequels, if offered. If Warner gives the greenlight, the overseas indies won’t get a look-in, but should Warner put the rest of the trilogy into turnaround, there’s a ready-made independent market for the pics.

One way or another, Forte won’t give up the fight. “I will make ‘The Subtle Knife’ and ‘The Amber Spyglass,’” she vows. “I believe there are enough people who see what a viable and successful franchise we have.”

I wonder… if the sequels were produced by some company other than New Line or Warner Brothers, would the actors who signed on to do the entire trilogy still be obliged to take part in those movies? Or were their contracts specific to the New Line productions, only?

There’s a lot more in Dawtrey’s column about the differences between the North American and foreign marketing schemes for this film, and how those differences might have affected the box-office performances in those respective territories. For example:

Take Italy, a heavily Catholic country where the pope himself blasted “Golden Compass” as “the most anti-Christmas film possible.” The movie nonetheless overcame a weak opening to gross a perfectly decent $15 million.

Italian distrib 01′s marketing topper Gaelle Armentano says, “By having a dialogue with the Catholic press we were able to limit the controversy and all that anti-clericalism that was so devastating in the U.S.”

I think there may be something to this, though how much, I don’t know. What I do know is that it always struck me as kind of odd that New Line didn’t even seem to be trying to reach out to the religious market the way that Sony did — with some success — for the similarly controversial The Da Vinci Code (2006).

Meanwhile, on a related note, Variety also posted a story yesterday on the fact that nearly every fantasy movie seems to do a lot better overseas than in North America — even the so-called “duds” like Stardust and, well, The Golden Compass.

10,000 B.C. — the review’s up!

My review of 10,000 B.C. is now up at CT Movies. One detail I don’t mention there is that I found Camilla Belle’s eyebrows, and eye make-up in general, as distracting in this film as I found Raquel Welch’s eyebrows in One Million Years B.C. (1966).

Billy Graham — the biopic?

Billy Graham has appeared in many movies, most of them produced by his own company — I wrote an article on the subject three years ago — but as far as I can tell, no one has ever played him before, except in parodies long and short like Tricia’s Wedding (1971) and White House Madness (1975). That will soon change, however, since a movie called Billy: The Early Years is set to start shooting in Nashville later this month.

The funny thing is, no casting announcements have been made yet, save one — and it’s a head-scratcher. Hal Holbrook, who was recently nominated for an Oscar for his effective supporting role in Sean Penn’s Into the Wild, has been cast in the film, and in a story posted by The Tennessean on February 22, it is said that the film “focuses on the early years of Billy’s life and career, and especially on his relationship with his mentor, Charles Templeton, who will be played by Hal.”

There’s one slight problem with this. Charles Templeton was 29 years old when he and Billy Graham, who was then 26, co-founded Youth for Christ in 1944. And Templeton was 42 years old when he proclaimed himself an agnostic in 1957. Hal Holbrook, meanwhile, is currently 83 years old.

Is Holbrook playing the old Templeton, who died in 2001 at the age of 86, only six years after writing a book reportedly critical of Graham called Farewell to God: My Reasons for Rejecting the Christian Faith? He certainly can’t be playing the young Templeton. If Holbrook is playing the old Templeton, then who knows, this could be a more interesting film than anyone might have expected — told from the point of view of a spiritual doubter and former colleague of Graham’s as he looks back on their early years together.

The alternative is that the original Tennessean story was wrong. And it may be worth noting that a follow-up story posted by The Tennessean on February 27 simply says that Holbrook is playing “the famed preacher’s mentor,” without saying who that mentor is, exactly. (The story also quotes director Robby Benson to the effect that the film is “a period piece that takes place between the late 1930s and goes into the 1950s.”) Likewise, a report on the TV station WKRN that is also dated February 27 simply says that Holbrook is playing “the role of Graham’s mentor.”

As ever, I guess we’ll find out in the weeks and months to come, as more casting details are announced and the film goes into production.

(Hat tip to CT Movies. The photo above, taken from this website, depicts Charles Templeton, J. Stratton Shufelt and Billy Graham boarding a plane for England in 1946. This was apparently the first-ever trip to Europe for all three men.)

Jesus, sexuality, and the Anne Rice books.

I never did finish reading Anne Rice’s Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt last year, but I probably should get it back from the library and finish it at some point; it was a very intriguing mix of deeply traditional yet spectacularly innovative storytelling. It’s one thing to suggest what Christ might be thinking, as Mel Gibson did in The Passion of the Christ (2004), by using flashbacks and point-of-view shots, but it’s quite another to tell us what Christ is thinking by writing an entire book — nay, an entire trilogy! — in the first person, from Christ’s point of view. Even C.S. Lewis, after writing The Screwtape Letters from a demon’s point of view, said he didn’t dare write a book from the opposite angelic point of view, because “every sentence would have to smell of Heaven.” How much more daunting would a book written from the point of view of God himself be. And yet, Jesus is not merely God; he is a man, too, and the challenge for all Christians is to identify with his humanity and, through it, to identify more fully with that aspect of his divinity that is imprinted on all of us by our Creator yet is currently obscured by our corrupt and sinful nature. Novelists just have to meet this challenge in a different way from the rest of us.

Anyway, one of the reasons why I should probably finish the first book soon is because the second book in Rice’s trilogy, Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana, came out this week — and as one who wrote an entire essay on the treatment of sexuality in Jesus films (for the book Scandalizing Jesus?: Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Christ Fifty Years On), I am very intrigued to read this bit from Cindy Crosby’s review in Books & Culture:

With the plotting of a master storyteller, she weaves together Jesus’ love for a beautiful fifteen-year-old village girl, the gifts of the magi, the wedding at Cana, his baptism, and the opening steps of his ministry. . . .

Rice wants us to understand Jesus in the context of his culture. What would it have meant to be thirty and unmarried in Nazareth? In one early scene, his older brother James demands of Jesus, “What’s the matter with you? … When will you take a wife? … There are two men as old as you in this town who’ve never married. One is crippled. The other’s an idiot.” In one early scene, two boys unjustly accused of homosexual acts are stoned to death. “Be careful men don’t say the same things of you, Yeshua,” his friend Jason tells him, complaining, “Where is your wife, Yeshua, where are your children?”

If I’m not mistaken, Anne Rice’s son is gay, and her vampire books, among others, have had their share of homoerotic content. I have also heard that Rice wrestled with the Church’s teaching on sexuality in particular as she made her way back to Catholicism a few years ago. So it is interesting to see these elements introduced into what is, to all appearances and by all accounts, a deeply, devoutly, and even traditionally constructed life-of-Jesus work.

And it will be very interesting to see how Jesus’ relationship with that 15-year-old girl compares to, say, his chaste interest in Mary the sister of Lazarus in Roger Young’s Jesus (1999; my review).

A seven-years-plus quest comes to an end.

The first DVD I ever bought, on Boxing Day 2000, was The Fantasia Anthology, a three-disc boxed set containing the original Fantasia (1940), its sequel Fantasia 2000 (1999), and a third disc of bonus features.

In the months that followed, I picked up a few other Disney films — films as diverse as The Black Cauldron (1985), a deeply flawed fantasy flick that I liked a lot when I was a teenager, and Pinocchio (1940; my comments), which I acquired partly as “research” in the months leading up to the release of Steven Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001), which had a strong Pinocchio subtext.

But it wasn’t until a friend of mine and her young daughter dragged me into the Disney Store at Metrotown that I thought about systematically acquiring all of the films produced by the Walt Disney Feature Animation division. The store was having a sale, and there, on the shelf, I saw copies of early episodic films like Saludos Amigos (1942) and Fun and Fancy Free (1947); and since I recognized some of the cartoons contained therein from the TV shows I had taped when I was a kid, I picked ‘em up. And there, on the backs of the DVDs, were notes proclaiming that each film was the 6th or 9th or whatever feature-length effort in Disney’s filmography … and, well, you can’t dangle numbers like that in front of me without making me wonder if I can fill the gaps between them.

As it turns out, there have been 46 feature films so far in the “official” Disney canon, and I’d guess at least half of them had not even been released on DVD when I first thought of collecting the lot. So I figured I’d pick up whatever was available at the time, and then fill the gaps gradually as each remaining film came out.

And today, with the release of the “platinum edition” of One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961), my collection is finally complete.

The film has actually been released on DVD once before, as one of several bare-bones “limited issue” discs that Disney put out in 1999. But those films were out of print by the time I got into DVDs, and in any case, I like bonus features and I knew Disney would re-issue the film one day. (In the meantime, I rented the earlier disc and watched it with my family, which produced at least one amusing result.)

Alas, the framing issues I have raised with regard to some of Disney’s other films seem to be a problem here, too. Maybe only a slight problem, but still, a problem nonetheless. Below this paragraph are four images from the film, picked more or less at random, with the 1999 DVD on the left and the 2008 DVD on the right — and you can see how the new DVD generally “pinches” the picture and loses some of the image on some or all four of its sides:

Incidentally, a number of the “canonical” Disney films have been released on DVD at least twice since I began collecting them, and I have resisted getting most of the recent re-issues; usually there’s only one or two extra bonus features, and in some cases the re-framing of the picture has been even more drastic than what I posted above. (Robin Hood and The Aristocats, for example, were originally released in their original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, but the most recent DVDs cut off the top and bottom of the image for a 1.75:1 aspect ratio.)

But I may have to let myself double-dip when Sleeping Beauty (1959) is re-issued later this year. Not only is it being given the full “platinum edition” treatment this time; it is also the first hand-animated Disney film to get the Blu-Ray treatment. And, well, it is a classic and all.