10,000 B.C.
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Showbiz 7s: Seven historical film flubs

By Deborah Netburn, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

The further back in history a film is set, the less information is available for writers, directors and art directors to use. And so in some ways, trying to figure out what 10,000 years in the past looks like--in this week’s “10,000 B.C.” for example--isn’t that different than imagining a time 10,000 years in the future. At a certain point, pure speculation takes over.

This week we spoke with Professor Jack Williams, who teaches classes on cinema history at InterAmerican College in National City. Williams, who has a doctoral degree from the University of Arizona in anthropology and who also teaches archeology at Cal State San Marcos, talked about what Hollywood tends to get wrong in movies based back in what he calls “distant antiquity.” (Ollie Upton / Warner Bros.)
They collapse time. “Films will often take things that took thousands of years or centuries to happen and show it occurring in a much shorter amount of time. A good example is in ‘Quest for Fire’ -- we have a variety of early Hominids, all living at the same time. That wasn’t the case.” (Twentieth Century Fox)
They try to relate modern and ancient sensibilities. “In showing man in these earlier stages there is often an attempt to create a modern mentality or assign our sensibilities to ancient peoples, when in reality I don’t think there is reason to believe they were anything like us. They had far, far fewer social contacts; they lived in a very different world.” (Mitch Haddad / ABC)
The technologies are often goofed up. “A good example is in ‘Kingdom of Heaven,’ which had great art design and spectacular sets, but it showed medieval warfare as being like a light show. The siege of Jerusalem looked more like ‘Star Wars’ than a medieval battle.” (Twentieth Century Fox)
They conjecture about what ancient people looked like. “We don’t know how people physically looked 10,000 years ago. Sometimes crazy prejudice comes into it in films. For example, the ancient barbarian group that usually gets pictured in films are Mongols. We see them as looking really Asian, and Asians see them looking really western.”

(John Wayne starred as Genghis Khan in the 1956 movie “The Conquerer.”) (RKO Radio Pictures,Inc.)
That halting language is probably all wrong. “There is a tendency in these films to make people speak in a primitive style. There is no reason to think their language was any more stilted than ours is today. The ‘Me Tarzan, you Jane’ stuff is pretty awful.” ()
They always make characters from antiquity look dirty. “In general, ancient people are portrayed as horribly filthy dirty people. We don’t know how clean they were. Some Native American people didn’t bathe much, but we know many of them bathed like crazy. Not for sanitary reasons, just because they liked to bathe.”

(Q’orianka Kilcher is Pocahontas and Kalani Queypo is her brother, Parahunt, in “The New World”). (Merie Wallace / New Line Productions)
They romanticize or vilify the time too much. “Often the tendency is to romanticize the time and create a utopia, or to suggest there was no sensibility and it was purely a survival of the fittest. What is probably closer to the truth is some people like us were relatively peaceful and pleasant people, and some weren’t.”

(Marco Antonio Argueta, center left, and Richard Can, center right, star in “Apocalypto”). (Andrew Cooper / Icon Distribution)