Dr. Joan Bushwell's Chimpanzee Refuge

One of the guilty pleasures of my sabbatical from the dark halls of Pharma-dur is the freedom to take in a movie on a weekday afternoon. There’s just something special about sitting in a theater of the local googolplex with maybe three to ten other people and watching a new release on the big silver screen. It’s like my own semi-private showing, and I can make believe that I am a dowdy suburban semi-literate version of the late Pauline Kael.

Among the flicks I’ve taken in as afternoon delights: No Country for Old Men (saw it twice – I’m a combined Cormac McCarthy/Coen Brothers fan), There Will Be Blood (very good), Cloverfield (when I wasn’t sick from vertigo, it was Godzilla-on-steroids and quite a horror-thriller), In Bruges (semi-bitter Belgian chocolate of a dark comedy), Vantage Point (not so fresh) and 10,000 B.C..

The latter has been roundly panned up, down and sideways, including here on Science Blogs where the honorable proprietors of Laelaps and Pharyngula have sneered at its various failings. To any critic expecting scientific accuracy, I must say, “What the fuckadiddleleeucklely, neighborinos? You were maybe expecting precise prehistorical and zoological replication from the dude who brought us Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow? What about caveat emptor do you not understand?” Well, OK, Professor Pharyngumyers didn’t plunk down his hard earned dead presidents; he rightly eschewed the egregious work of cinema that he figured would offend his sensibilities so he’s off the hook. Still, I’ve got to say I winced at the lip-curling pedanticism displayed here, there and elsewhere.

Now with my superior pop cultural attitude*, I was brutally honest with myself and knew I wanted to see the movie for pure visual effects. This isn’t the first movie that I’ve plunked down cash just so I could watch it the same way in which I might flip through a lavishly illustrated book or even a graphic novel yet fully aware that the acting and storyline would be wanting.

The gorgeous imagery of 10,000 B.C. did not disappoint. I also viewed the (very) thin plot line and the vividly portrayed environments, paleocritters and peoples as an imaginary prehistory of our world. An imaginary prehistory, people! That means you must suspend belief, like you do for most movies.

I am not a paleontologist-in-training like Brian of Laelaps, but I’m familiar enough with the field, as well as anthropology, to comprehend that the film would be fraught with scientific inaccuracies. So I can understand the irritation a paleontologist or an anthropologist might feel while watching this.

These kind of inaccuracies lead to Learning Moments in which an expert who has viewed such a film may later explain the nature of the inaccuracy and then the real deal. I’ve done this with my demon-spawn children countless times. And to be fair, I believe Brian offered to do the same in Laelaps. One of the reviewers highlighted on the Rotten Tomatoes reviews quipped: “Take the kids along; unless you want them to grow up to be palaeontologists.” I would contradict that and say sure take your paleontologically inclined kids to the movie but then get them to a natural history museum after or before that.

I do understand the compulsion to MST3000 films like these, and I succumb to it as often as the next nerd. Outbreak, Medicine Man, The Constant Garderner and Side Effects all pushed my pharma-biochemist’s buttons in some manner (well, Side Effects because of the extremely irritating thespiatic stylings of Katherine Heigl), but I also recognize these are about entertainment, not films for Educating the Public. There will be distortions. Certainly this is the case in each of the aforementioned films, but these allow avenues for discussion.

So I guess I can stomach the sneering pedanticism, and I am guilty of it myself, but what really turns my G.I. tract inside out is the rank stupidity of some reviewers, e.g., the loathsome Stephanie Zacharek (Salon), who, instead of thoughtfully panning a film or even doing it with a modicum of wit, aims for the glib and drops far short of the mark in all her reviews. For example, check out her comments on “10,000 B.C.” here. OK, I will admit that I gibbered arrogantly at her comment about “historical accuracy.”

As far as “cavemen” flicks go, I agree with these Salon hipsters that those with humor fare better. Caveman with Ringo Starr is unspeakably stupid but hilarious as hell thanks to Ringo’s rubbery mug. One Million Years B.C. with Raquel Welch? Boring, boring, boring. Much more so that “10,000 B.C.” One rarely hears any complaints about the co-existence of dinosaurs with either Caveman or One Million Years B.C. Could it be due to the presence of bodacious tatas especially such as those of the young Raquel? Hmmm? Hmmmm?

My all-time favorite prehistoric flick is Quest for Fire. Sure, I’ve read all the cheap shots aimed at the introduction of the “missionary position” – and hey, let’s not malign that, dammit! There are certain – ah – major benefits to this so-called vanilla flavor. But Rae Dawn Chong turning over to create the beast o’ two backs with Everett McGill is hardly the main feature of the movie. My hat’s off Jean-Jacques Annaud for creating an imaginary (imaginary) prehistory with humor and human emotion while using a proto-language and gestures. And if one wants to whale on mammoth inaccuracies, the beasts in Quest for Fire are freakin’ puppets – far closer to a Snuffleupagus than those in 10,000 B.C. Seven minutes of Questiness follow:

Maybe I find these flicks so entertaining because I am not a paleontologist or anthropologist, but neither do I stand up in full fledged pedantic fury when Sean Connery whips out the smallest mass spectrometer known to mankind – an instrument so sophisticated that a fully resolved structure of the unknown natural product -including chirality – appears on its monitor right there in the middle of the rain forest. Or that I buy into the allusion that executives from a place like GSK might be hitmen.

Olaf Stapledon used the evocative phrase “hawk flight of the imagination.” That’s what I did with “10,000 B.C.” I let my imagination soar and emerged myself in the pretty pictures of an imagined world with no expectations of intense soliloquies pertaining to drinking milkshakes, fate resting on the toss of a coin or that a saber-toothed cat’s morphology might be wildly inaccurate. Strictly or loosely speaking, these flicks are art, and art is not quantifiable. Letting one’s imagination soar is just as good for a scientist as it is for anyone. Use the inaccurate crap to say what is accurate. Or just don’t pay the money to walk into the darkened theater if you don’t want your delicate scientific sensibilities to be offended.

*I might just be self-deprecating here. Maybe.

Comments

  1. #1 Laelaps
    March 19, 2008

    I knew it was going to be bad going in, but even the special effects weren’t that impressive. The “Proboscideans of Unusual Size” looked pretty good, but the sabercat and the terror birds seemed out of focus and made my eyes hurt.

    The main thing I had against the movie, for whatever other shortfalls it might have, was that it was pretty dull. I kept looking at my watch, hoping I’d be let go soon. Some films I’ve seen have been so terrible that they’ve been enjoyable for the unintended laughs they deliver, but I expected a bit more eye-candy from 10,000 BC.

    You’re right about what I tried to do with the mammoths on my blog, though. I figured I might as well use the silliness of what happened in the movie to illustrate a minor aspect of biology, although I don’t know why the director decided to have the animals gallop when the people they talked to told them that mammoths don’t move that way. Oh well.

  2. #2 Sarcastro
    March 19, 2008

    Of course it should be MSTified. ALL movies should be.

    A decent movie may not need the full “Every frame of this picture looks like someone’s last known photograph” treatment that movies like Manos or Werewolf or anything involving Coleman Francis deserved, but even the guys on the Satellite Of Love lit into some decent flicks every once in a while. Heck, any of the four Russo-Finnish epics they did are more watchable than 10kBC even without the riffing.

  3. #3 Paul
    March 19, 2008

    One cannot possibly mention MST3K and cave-dwellers in the same article without also referencing two classics: Roger Corman’s 1958 “Teenage Cave Man” starring a youthful Robert Vaughn, and “Cave Dwellers” from 1984, both of which received the full MST3K treatment. From the latter, the following exchange:
    Q: “How much Keeffe is in this movie?”
    A: “Myles O’Keeffe.”

  4. #4 ...tom...
    March 19, 2008


    Still, I’ve got to say I winced at the lip-curling pedanticism displayed here, there and elsewhere.

    Now …that almost demanded immediate linkage to the offending, albeit surely entertaining, writings . . ..

    …tom…
    .

  5. #5 Doc Bushwell
    March 19, 2008

    Laelaps:The main thing I had against the movie, for whatever other shortfalls it might have, was that it was pretty dull.

    You know, I was expecting to feel the same way, but for whatever reason, the movie retained my interest. A movie that I thought might have visual appeal but amounted to much squinting at my watch was “Elizabeth: The Golden Age.” Amazingly enough, that was far worse than “10,000 B.C.” in the dull and irritating factor.

    Some films I’ve seen have been so terrible that they’ve been enjoyable for the unintended laughs they deliver…

    Ahem. I watch the SciFi Originals on the SciFi Channel. “Mansquito” remains my all time favorite followed closely by “Alien Express.”

    but I expected a bit more eye-candy from 10,000 BC.

    Huh. Well, all I can say is that Steven Strait, Joel Virgel, and Affif Ben Badra worked for me.

    Sarcastro:Of course it should be MSTified. ALL movies should be.

    Oh, I agree. No movie is above derisive vivisection. I was simply taken aback that anyone walked into “10,000 B.C.” expecting to see anything scientifically credible.

    Paul: Roger Corman’s 1958 “Teenage Cave Man” starring a youthful Robert Vaughn

    I must confess that I have seen neither one and feel strangely inadequate because of this. “Myles O’Keefe” – heh.

    …tom…:Now …that almost demanded immediate linkage to the offending, albeit surely entertaining, writings.

    Yes, yes, I know, but the Refuge already draws enough flies to its piles of bonobo scat.

  6. #6 G Barnett
    March 26, 2008

    What? You forgot the abysmal Eegah! starring a pre-Jaws (the Bond villain) Richard Kiel in your caveman movie listing?

    For SHAME! ;)

  7. #7 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    March 31, 2008

    Are all the chimps being fed properly at the refuge?

    Where is everyone?

  8. #8 Doc Bushwell
    March 31, 2008

    Hey, your simian holiness!

    Kev’s taking a break from the blog for a while. One can spew such delightful invective for only so long before a rest is needed. Jim has some personal stuff to attend to, and I recently got back from a week-long visit to an Internet-free zone (my almost 94 year old mom’s house). I expect to get some chimp scat up on the Refuge this week, for good or ill.

    Thanks for missing us! :^)

  9. #9 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    March 31, 2008

    Wonderful.

    I had a feeling that Kevin might be due for a rile engine tune up. He had it revved pretty high there for a few weeks.

    Good to hear everyone is ok.