The caveman film. So ridiculous, so kitschy, so irresistibly watchable. The release this week of "10,000 B.C." serves to remind that this debased genre — down there at the bottom of the film food chain with slasher flicks and teen sex comedies — has been with us for decades and shows no signs of going the way of the Neanderthal.
Think "Clan of the Cave Bear." Or "Encino Man." It soon becomes obvious that the terms "Oscar-winning cinema" and "caveman flick" are mutually exclusive (so maybe 1981's "Quest for Fire" won an Oscar for best makeup. It sure didn't win any awards from Cro-Magnon historians). Which is probably why the creators of "10,000 B.C." have called it "a sweeping odyssey into a mythical age of prophecies and gods."
What that means is that this tale of a tribe of mountain hunters pursuing mysterious warlords who have kidnapped the village hottie has about as much historical reality as Fred Flintstone's cave auto. "10,000 B.C." for example, features the sight of buildings that look larger than the pyramids — countless millennia before those wonders actually were erected.
It has been thus since such early gems as 1958's "Teenage Caveman" (starring a young Robert Vaughn) helped coax along the genre.
"Seeing people in dramatic situations wearing loincloths and fur is tough to take seriously," says Irv Slifkin of moviesunlimited.com. They "also present a challenge for both the filmmakers and audiences: How can a film with little or no dialogue be exciting or compelling to the masses? It takes a special filmmaker to pull this off because it's a tricky proposition."
"10,000 B.C." director Roland Emmerich might be the man for the job, because he's already directed such successful big-budget flicks as "Independence Day," "The Day After Tomorrow" and "Stargate." Slifkin says he's the kind of guy who can "turn big idea subjects and troubling situations into popcorn movies that audiences love."
That'd be good. Because for the most part, caveman flicks are beyond camp. Why does a certain subset of humanity love (or at least tolerate) them? Well, there are all those character names: like Tumak, Loana, Atouk and Gog. Then there's the knuckleheaded view of Stone-Age life, which allows for the possibility that dinosaurs coexisted with humans who looked just like us (Not!). And finally, there's caveman fashion. All those buff guys in mastodon briefs fringed with saber-toothed tiger hair. All those hot babes in their two-piece, cleavage-baring ur-bikinis, the latest from the style house of Chez Pleistocene.
In fact, it's the fashion statements that are the most interesting aspects of many of these flicks.
Don't believe us? Check out the following:
—"One Million B.C." (1940): Starring Victor Mature and Carole Landis, this incredibly dated foray into pre-historica is also a perfect example of what happens when limited creative talent bumps up against the strictures of the Hollywood Production Code. In other words, Landis, a hotsy-totsy whose publicity photos didn't stint on the cheesecake, was forced to wear the Mother Hubbard version of Cro-Magnon chic. In fact, both stars, whose costumes look like they were pilfered from a biblical epic, are covered up even by the standards of 70 years ago.
—"The Flintstones" (1960-66): OK, it's a TV show, but let us not ignore what the well-dressed cave baby is wearing. Tykes Pebbles Flintstone and Bam-Bam Rubble are so adorable in their saber-toothed ensembles, set off by diapers made of pterodactyl membrane. Pebbles is particularly hip in the hair department, thanks to that dinosaur bone scrunchy which maintains her up-do.
—"One Million Years B.C." (1966) and "When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth" (1970): Hoo-ha! Now we're getting down to the real skinny! They don't get much more babe-a-thonic than "Million's" Raquel Welch and "Dinosaurs'" Victoria Vetri. With costumes that cover just enough to keep the censors at bay, these two films are about as uncovered as non-skin flicks get. And that includes the guys, many of whom wander around in skimpy loincloths. But it's Welch, who stumbles through her movie looking stunned, gorgeous and half-naked, who wins the day — the poster from "One Million Years B.C.," featuring Welch in all her pulchritudinous glory, has graced the bedrooms of millions of teenaged boys.
—"Caveman" (1981): How low can a Beatle go? Well, if Ringo Starr weren't Ringo Starr, we probably would have forgotten about this trifle years ago. The Beatles drummer looks silly and mighty uncomfortable in his all-fur, all-the-time ensemble. As for wife Barbara Bach, she's barely dressed — de rigueur for cave babes — but her outfits seem a little anachronistic, more Middle Ages than anything.
—"The Flintstones" (1994): Well yabba-dabba-doo, cave fashionistas! Here's a flick that went all out on the style front, as if Karl Lagerfeld and Nicole Miller had lived about 6 gazillion years ago. Fred and Barney sport snug-fitting, over the knee one-piece cured animal-skin outfits with fringed bottoms, while their wives look lovely in off-the-shoulder dresses slit ever so slightly up the thigh. Color was obviously in this year, making our cave couples look adorably frolicsome, ready for mammoth hunts or that special pterodactyl barbecue.
—"10,000 B.C." (2008): As ahistorical as any other caveman flick — "10,000 B.C." features humans fighting mastodons, which probably died out about 2,000 years before the movie takes place — this latest foray into cave fashion ups the style ante. Dig those cool dreadlocks sported by our cast members! How about the sort of "Gladiator"-lite outfit worn by our hero, perfect for easy mobility while hunting saber-tooth tigers? And even though female lead Camilla Belle is fairly covered up, there's no doubt she looks stunning in her two-piece cured mammoth-skin outfit, featuring tailored, cape-like top. Let's hear it for caveman couture!
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