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  Quest for Fire HeatseekerBuy this film here.
Year: 1981
Director: Jean-Jacques Annaud
Stars: Everett McGill, Rae Dawn Chong, Ron Perlman, Nameer El-Kadi, Gary Schwartz, Franck-Olivier Bonnet, Jean-Michel Kindt, Kurt Schiegl, Brian Gill
Genre: Drama, Historical, Adventure
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: It's eighty thousand years ago and a neanderthal tribe are just waking up for the day. The most important thing in their lives is their fire, which burns at the mouth of their cave, but this day tragedy strikes when they are attacked by a rival tribe of apemen who kill many of them and drive the rest out of their home. Worst of all, the fire goes out. The survivors move on, wandering through swamp land until they begin to freeze and starve. There's only one solution: three members of the tribe must set out on a journey to find fire and bring it back to save their friends.

Written by GĂ©rard Brach, from the novel by J.H. Rosny Sr., this stakes its claim as a film you have to take very seriously from the opening credits, proudly boasting body language devised by Desmond Morris and special language by Anthony Burgess. Perhaps a special language by Johnny Morris would have been more appropriate, because Quest for Fire has its share of unintentional laughs, as you might expect from watching a bunch of grown men and women acting like Cheeta in the Tarzan movies.

Alas, there's no sign of Raquel Welch amongst these cavepeople, not even Victoria Vetri, but the makeup is very well realised. The actors are naked except for animal skins and furs, and certainly look the part. Filmed in Canada, Scotland and Kenya, the locations are impressive, but it does make you think the three cavemen Musketeers travel an incredibly long way just to get their fire, and it's never explained how they came by their original fire, the one that went out, in the first place.

The three constantly grunting cavemen, led by Naoh (Everett McGill), have an adventure ahead of them. First up, they meet a couple of sabre tooth lions on a plain, and resort to climbing a tree to escape them, not unlike a character in a Looney Tunes cartoon. Then they follow a wandering tribe of neanderthals who have left the ashes of their fire behind. Rummaging through the embers, they find bones and one of the cavemen tries the scraps of meat that are left - at least he does until they find a human skull there too.

Not wishing to turn cannibal, the trio attack the big bad maneaters for their fire, and in the process save a young, homo sapiens, woman (Rae Dawn Chong, naked apart from body paint) who joins their party. She's a sophisticated lady, or at least more advanced than the neanderthals, and can even laugh. When we finally meet her tribe, they're a pleasant bunch who offer the daughters of the tribe leader to Naoh.

If there's a message, it's that a little knowledge is not a dangerous thing, and soon the three have learned to make fire themselves, thanks to their new friends (who they run away from at the earliest opportunity). Obviously there's not many stories you can tell about the days of early mankind, and if the handsome look of the project doesn't entice you, then the self importance will surely put you off, as will Philippe Sarde's way-over-the-top music, ensuring that if there one thing Quest for Fire isn't, it's subtle. And when you see only reason the survivors are in a swamp is to cue the lesson in firemaking at the end, it seems as fake as the woolly mammoths. It is better than The Clan of the Cave Bear, however.

Aka: La Guerre de Feu

[Second Sight's 2013 Blu-ray had the same features as the Region 1 DVD, including two audio commentaries (Ron Perlman is a hoot) and two featurettes.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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