JUST WATCHED: ‘Quest for Fire’

The site is redesigned and the Cinematic Revival is back. For those of you that have been reading the first seven issues of the Cinematic Revival and were looking forward to my comments on Almost Famous and The Wolf Man I still have my notes on both of them, but they aren’t exactly fresh in my mind any longer and I am going to have to go back through to write up thorough pieces. I don’t ever want these articles to be half-assed and I think if I wrote those articles right now that is exactly what they would be. However, I just watched the 1982 Oscar-winner Quest for Fire as well as Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs. While I am chomping at the bit to tell you about Straw Dogs, because you guys are going to love that film, I wanted to talk about Quest for Fire first and give as many of you as possible a chance to watch Straw Dogs before I talked about it next week.

Diving into Quest for Fire, what we are talking about here is a film set 80,000 years ago, a time where Cro-Magnon man walked the Earth. The film follows a specific tribe who is attacked early on by an even more primitive group of Neanderthals, and in the attack they lose what they need and cherish most… fire. Before even a single frame of live-action footage is shown we get this introduction:

80,000 years ago, man’s survival in a vast uncharted land depended on the possession of fire.

For those early humans, fire was an object of great mystery, since no one had mastered its creation. Fire had to be stolen from nature, it had to be kept alive — sheltered from wind and rain, guarded from rival tribes.

Fire was a symbol of power and a means of survival. The tribe who possessed fire, possessed life.

Based on what I told you and what that introduction tells you I think you know where this is going. Three men are sent out to bring fire back to the tribe, and in the process you get an early glimpse of the evolution of prehistoric man.

The film is directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud who also helmed Enemy at the Gates (a movie I did not like) and Seven Years in Tibet (a movie I believe I am one of the few that actually did like it). It is presented in something of a documentary style fashion, but the biggest detail that should be mentioned is that at just over six minutes in you get the only distinguishable word spoken in the entire film, “Hot,” and that is due to the use of the word “hotra” for fire in the film. Outside of that there are nothing but grunts, groans and what can best be described as caveman speak. If that sounds like something that doesn’t interest you then you may as well stop reading now, but I can tell you now it isn’t as big of a deal as you may think it is, that is if you find yourself believing in what you are seeing and not ultimately laughing at the sight of grown men jumping around like apes and enough naked women to make this look like a National Geographic special. I was able to believe in what I was seeing due to impressive performances after the opening attack scene, which doesn’t exactly work due to the design of the Neanderthals (something of a Cro-Magnon/ape mix), but beyond that it all works very well.

For those of you that can believe three men really are cavemen living 80,000 years ago then I am happy you continue with me exploring this film.

Digging deeper into the language used in the film, it wasn’t exactly like Annaud told his actors to randomly toss out grunts and indistinguishable words. He actually brought in Anthony Burgess to create an entire language for the film, and that is what was used, primarily by Ika played by Rae Dawn Chong (pictured above in all her nude glory). Chong as Ika pretty much lives the entire prehistoric experience as her character is naked for 90% of the entire film, and when she isn’t she is being raped in the mud, but more on her and her character’s importance later.

Coincidentally, using a “three-degrees of separation” scenario we can connect Quest for Fire with Stanley Kubrick’s 2001. Burgess wrote the novel “A Clockwork Orange” or which Kubrick adapted into a feature film back in 1971, but before that he directed 2001 in 1968, a film that draws an interesting parallel to Quest for Fire in its depiction of primitive apes. Kubrick’s apes can easily be compared to the Neanderthals at the beginning of Quest for Fire, and if you weren’t able to believe in Kubrick’s apes then you probably aren’t going to believe in Annaud’s cavemen.

For those of you that can believe three men really are cavemen living 80,000 years ago then I am happy to have you continue on with me as we explore this film.

The three men that set out on this journey are led by Naoh (Everett McGill), accompanied by Amoukar (Ron Perlman in his first feature film) and Gaw (Nameer El-Kadi). I only know their names due to watching the credits, I am not sure if they are actually ever said during the film, but it hardly matters. As these three set out to steal fire from another tribe and bring it back they are going to have to contend with the elements on the way. By this I mean saber tooth tigers that chase them up a tree, a band of cannibals and even wooly mammoths (they used elephants in costume, click here for a peek). In the process they also meet the previously mentioned Ika and save her from the cannibals where she was being held as a slave.

Ika’s presence in the film becomes the source for everything that drives the second half of the story. While the three men have already found fire and carry it with them, their introduction to Ika’s tribe shows them that Ika’s tribe is far more advanced; not only have they learned how to make fire for themselves, they know how to make clay pots and live in primitive huts.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *