10,000 AD: Legend of the Black Pearl
Raul Gasteazoro, Julian Perez, Russ Russo, Lilly Husbands, Chyna Layne
(Northern Fire Productions; US DVD: 4 Nov 2008; UK DVD: 4 Nov 2008)
Most independent filmmakers lack balls. Oh sure, they think that by tackling their lingering interpersonal issues, traumas tripped by memories of failed potty training and the lack of parental love, they are being brave and brazenly honest. Nothing could be further from the truth, actually. In a nu-reality world where people procreate artificially and then sell the rights to said stunt for aggrandized TLC fame, picking apart you past is like shooting familial fish in a barrel. We’d say “been there, done that” if both said sentiment, and the situation it describes, weren’t so clichéd. So when a couple of crazy cinephiles decide to make their own outsider statement, one automatically expects a journey back through Oedipal/Elektral memory lane, or worse, another sloppy scary movie. As luck would have it, 10,000 AD: Legend of the Black Pearl has substantially bigger and better celluloid carp to fry - and it does so in the dopiest, most delightful way possible.
Like Teenage Caveman only with even more leaps in logic, two tribes now roam a surprisingly fertile post-apocalyptic wasteland. They are the warrior race known as Hurons, and the agricultural clan called the Plaebians. After years of living in relatively harmony, the arrival of an evil presence known as the Sinasu has the clans clashing with one another. To make matters worse, there is a regressive religious prophecy that predicts the arrival of The One, a being that will create balance between the people and put wickedness out to pasture. In everyone’s mind, young Huron champion Kurupi is the chosen savior. Mentored by Tukten in the ways of combat, he must accept five different challenges, collect the five sacred stones that result, and then raise the mythic Black Pearl. Only the power inherent in this legendary orb can defeat the sinister Sinasu. But when his master goes missing, Kurupi appears lost. Luckily, hot-tempered teacher Ergo will complete the boy’s training. Only then can he save the Earth from itself - again.
There are only three words that can accurately describe 10,000 AD: Legend of the Black Pearl: Oh…my…god! It is safe to say that never before in the history of independent genre cinema has so much artistic vision and eye-popping onscreen imagery gone to such a ludicrous, laugh out loud bit of future shock falderal. Credit definitely goes to the directing team of Giovanni Messner and Raul Gasteazoro. Their sense of the epic is so skewed, so “why have a conversation in a clearing when we can have it on the edge of a cliff poised several thousand feet above a lush autumn glen”, that it literally rattles your brains. One moment, you are snickering at the stupid dialogue and goat cheesy choices for mythology and folklore. Part of the movie actually plays like Quest for Fire meshed with a Uwe Boll level of prehistory. But then our dynamic duo will set said silliness in a location so gorgeous, so beyond all manner of sensible scope or size that we acknowledge the flaws and still find ourselves transfixed.
With its homoerotic leanings, awkward action sequences, and nonstop pseudo-Tolkien-babble, this movie is a real mess. Messner and Gasteazoro clearly have an eye for vistas - the locations chosen need to sign these two up for promo travelogue duty pronto! From mountaintops that put Michael Mann’s Last of the Mohicans to shame to waterfalls that sing of nature’s undeniable beauty, 10,000 AD really does look absolutely stunning. Heck, even the costume design and personal appearance elements add to the overall effect. As Ergo, Gasteazoro lets his dread head freak flag fly. Real or not, his matted hair helmet gives the film a rather authentic feel. Similarly, Julian Perez’s Kurupi is not some ripped slice of stuntman. Instead, he looks like someone who has spent his life in hermetical service, waiting for the sign to stand up to the notorious Sinasu.
But the rest of the movie - whoa! If you think that Introduction to Theology class back in college was tough going, if you believed The Matrix would have been better with more bullet time and less proto-philosophical gobbledygook, then you better give this mumble jumble movie an incredibly wide berth. There is just too much D&D dipsticking here, enough World of Warcraft roleplaying retardation to give Magic: The Gathering geeks uber-ultra hissy fits. One moment, the narrative takes us to places paranormal. The next, Ergo and Kurupi are rolling around like extras in the Pet Shop Boy’s “Domino Dancing” video. Random villagers show up and make ominous predictions. In the meantime, monochrome flashbacks add their own “the A-bomb woke me up” confusion. As a piece of speculative fictionalizing, 10,000 AD: Legend of the Black Pearl is mortifying. But as a work of pure cinema, it’s an embarrassment - of riches.
This has to be the best looking bad movie ever made. The craptastic kitsch factor just can’t compete with the National Park level of gorgeous eye candy included. Every time you’re ready to tune out the tripe flowing freely from the characters’ mouths (including mindnumbingly insane moments in a nonsensical “native” tongue, with subtitles), the backdrop draws you back in. For their part, Messner and Gasteazoro treat the widescreen frame like a canvas, painting pictures you won’t soon forget. And they even go so far as to add unusual elements to the scenes, like filming underwater and utilizing the ruins of real buildings as part of their production value. Even the musical score by Jed Smith makes significant strides to sell us on the overall otherworldly ambience involved.
But that doesn’t stop 10,000 AD: Legend of the Black Pearl from stinking like a rank Huron’s loincloth. Given a chance, this movie messes up everything except the way it eventually looks. We don’t care about the quest, don’t really understand the folklore logistics involved, and constantly question the decision to set the film in the future. It there really a need for the opening stock footage Armageddon or do Messner and Gasteazoro really believe that such a flimsy foundation adds to their adventure? Whatever the case may be, you’ll definitely find better examples of this strangulated cinematic type, but here’s betting that none look as lovely as this. 10,000 AD: Legend of the Black Pearl may ultimate fail as science fiction or implausible peplum fantasy, but it has some oddly artistic touches. It’s as confusing as it is captivating.