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4.2 out of 5 stars
Quest For Fire [DVD]
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49 of 51 people found the following review helpful
on 28 May 2007
Jean-Jaques Annaud managed to produce one of the most original movies of the 1980s with his prehistoric adventure: Quest for Fire. He battled for years for the right to produce and direct this film; the reason being that the film executives didn't see the point of making a film about such an obscure era, especially one that had no English dialogue or ordinary narrative. But It's a great thing that they finally took the initiative to create this movie, as it really is an excellent film; the likes of which we will probably never see again.

The film tells the story of a Neanderthal tribe (The Ulam) who are attacked by their savage neighbours (The Wagabu). In the midst of a battle the tribe lose their cave home, but even worse, they lose control of their fire, an element they know how to tend but not how to produce. Faced with death through exposure to the cold environment; three of these Neanderthals set off on a quest in search of another source of fire, venturing off into unknown lands where they come across wild beats, bloodthirsty cannibals, and many other wonders and dangers.

The film looks absolutely brilliant, as a lot of time was devoted to searching for places on Earth that still had the touch of the primordial. From the woodlands and moors, to the swamps and the deserts, it feels like you're glimpsing at the world of 80,000 years ago.

The costumes and make-up are also very convincing; the Neanderthals look primitive, but not too backward as to be ridiculous. The other Hominids look great, especially the ape-like 'Wagabu' and 'Kzamm' tribes . Extra detail is produced with the human tribe (the 'Ivaka'), who have their own tribal body paints, technology and clothing.

Another thing that adds an air of authenticity to the film is the use of body language. The characters move and interact with each other in a primitive way, yet this strange body language isn't so odd that we don't understand what emotions they're conveying. If anything, the gestures and facial expressions make it more than clear what the characters are feeling. Still, there's only so much you can convey through gestures and that's where Anthony Burgess (of 'A Clockwork Orange' fame) steps in, with his invented "caveman" language. Despite having no subtitles, these are easy to understand. Usually, a strange language becomes a barrier for the viewer, but in Quest for Fire it becomes one of the film's attractions.

Despite the effort taken by the director to make the film feel authentic, it should be noted that it's not an accurate portrayal of the Palaeolithic era. But then again, which "Historical" film has ever been a faithful reconstruction?

One of the film's great touches is its humorous moments. There are many scenes that spring to mind, especially the fight between one of the protagonists and a cannibal. The expressions and grunts of the various cavemen also bring a comedic value to the film, which helps make the characters much more 'human'.

What makes this DVD worth getting is its great extra features. Usually older obscure films of this type never get an extra feature beyond a trailer. But this DVD has two film commentaries (one by the director, the other by the actors) an interview, a making of documentary and 15 video galleries with audio commentary.

All in all, this film might not be for everyone's taste, yet it's definitely worth watching.
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32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on 30 January 2005
Having first seen this film in the cinema, I have waited over 20 years for a DVD version.
The story is set in the world as it might well have been in prehistoric times. Although little can be certain of the actual daily life of the early inhabitants, the amount of research and care for detail of costume and body language as deduced is tremendous.
The story centres on the vital importance of fire. It grips the interest and imagination from beginning to end.
Equally fascinating is the additional gallery of commentary and photographs and film clips about the making of the film, which took 4 years in its production.
This DVD is in NTSC and coded to Region 1. You will need a multi-regional DVD player to view it. I ordered a Sony NS355 from Amazon, which played the DVD just as it were a European Region 2 DVD.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
This movie by Jean-Jacques Annaud is highly recommended. Shot in the early 1980s and now a classic of sorts, it delineates the fate of a small Neanderthal tribe which has lost its most important possession, a torch of fire, in a fierce battle with some ape-like hairy creatures resembling Homo erectus (which actually didn't exist at the same time as the Neanderthals, one of the movie's many paleoanthropological blunders). Because they apparently only know how to use fire without being aware of how to make it, the tribe's three most capable warriors, portrayed convincingly by Everett McGill, Ron Perlman and Nameer El Kadi, set off on a trip to reignite the torch for their kinsfolk. On the journey they encounter a female Homo sapiens, played by the unforgettable Rae Dawn Chong. Some sort of culture shock takes place, as it begins to dawn on the Neanderthals that they are culturally and technologically inferior to their taller, leaner cousins. The big question is: will the Neanderthals be able to learn from their human cousins or are they doomed to die out?

The movie offers a uniquely imaginative story, marvellous landscapes partly shot in the Scottish Highlands and Kenya's savannah, an astonishing proto-human language developed by Anthony Burgess and spherical music forming a perfect backdrop to the epic story. Also, there is a 25 min. special feature about film production on the DVD, which is highly informative. This DVD is definitely worth your dough.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Jean-Jacques Annaud found the ideal way of breaking into the mainstream worldwide market by making films that dispensed with dialog almost entirely - no dubbing or subtitling problems that way - and opting instead for purely visual storytelling with Quest for Fire (and following the trick a couple of years later with The Bear). Thanks to a brilliantly bizarre marketing campaign by 20th Century Fox that sold it as a `science fantasy' - 2001 without the spaceships - this Neanderthal adventure became a huge box-office hit but seems to be almost completely forgotten a quarter of a century on despite giving us both the great Ron Perlman's screen debut and plentiful nudity from a very fit Rae Dawn Chong. With a French title that literally translates as War of Fire, it follows the adventures of a trio of cave dwellers after an attack by ape men leaves them without fire. As they trek across African and Scottish landscapes doubling convincingly for prehistoric landscapes, they encounter sabre-toothed tigers, cannibals, and treacherous bogs and, along the way they also discover religion (in the God-like form of mammoths), slapstick comedy, love and the missionary position. At times you find yourself admiring the achievement more than the film itself - thanks to a mixture of strong physical actors, Chris Tucker's convincing makeup, body language designed by Desmond Morris and a limited vocabulary courtesy of Anthony Burgess - but it's still head and shoulders above just about every other caveman movie ever made. And no dinosaurs or mink bikinis either, which may or may not be a good thing depending on your taste.

The DVD boasts an excellent extras package, with for once the various stills galleries turning out to be one of the highlights thanks to Annaud's commentary over them giving them a sense of context.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 11 April 2009
This film was new to me and I had no idea what to expect .However I realy enjoyed it .As the title says it is all about fire and the struggle to have it for your tribe and to keep it burning and to stop other tribes from stealing your fire .I dont know if the events in the film are typical of the lives of our ancestors but they are beliveable .I did enjoy the various tribes with various stages of civilization that are shown living in that world .The film had a strong story ,though simple but I found it quite gritty.It also portrayed human emotions even humour.
All in all I enjoyed the film and am glad that I took a chance when I bought the film unknown as it was to me .
If you like the Clan Of The CaveBear style films you may like this film
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 7 April 2015
Those with power control the resources, as true in our age (oil conglomerates, electricity giants) as in history and pre-history.

Fire was the great force given to earth by nature or the gods. It flashed its form in the sky and roared with thunder before hitting the ground. Fire was born this way. Man could catch it, use it, watch it, safeguard it, but once it went out it was gone. No fire, no warmth, cooked food, comfort, nocturnal light. Without it man would not have survived.

This film tells that story. The quest for fire is really a quest for life and continued survival. Greater than any man, greater even than the group itself, fire is the life-giver, the greatest god of all. Everyone in the troop must protect and preserve it.

In the beginning they do. We are back in time 80,000 years ago in some part of Africa, probably Kenya. The people wear animal skins and speak a basic language. There is a hierarchy. The dominant male is respected and followed by the others. His job is to protect the troop. The women and children are the most vulnerable, as they always are at any time in history.

The troop has fire-minders. Their job, so critical, is to keep the flame going. The flame is kept in a container like a lantern made from animal bones and hides. The fire is eternal if properly minded.

But flaws exist in the structure of the world, and in the structure of man. Rain falls, the wind blows, and either can put the fire out. Men are opportunistic, aggressively fighting for advantage. If the flame can be stolen by others, it will be. Therefore, conflict exists.

As we meet the troop they are living on the edge of a forest in a cave. The cave is protected by a rock overhang, so the fire is protected both inside the cave and at the cave mouth. It is a good arrangement.

A neighbouring group of humans in a rival troop raids the ground. They are aggressive and fight to kill, which they do. They want the fire. The troop is decimated. A main core of about 15 persons survives. They are forced from their ground. Luckily, they have escaped with their treasure of fire. But during the escape calamity strikes. The main fire-minder slips and falls into the water. He holds the fire aloft briefly but the water soon engulfs him and it. The flame is extinguished, the troop stranded. What can it do now?

A decision is made. Two of the strongest males will accompany the leader on a journey. He will take them to the most likely place to find fire burning. But it is too far away for the entire troop, so most must stay behind. If the three leaders can capture fire, they will bring it back with them. Thus begins the quest for fire.

Their journey brings many challenges, hazards, threats. They walk hundreds of miles, sleep in the open, raid bird nests for eggs, escape wild animals. They avoid other human groups if they can, but it is not always possible. They are forced to fight or run.

They come upon a group of cannibals. Captured humans hang from trees, tied up to be eaten. One victim is a girl aged about 18. She is alive and screams in distress. Her thin body is painted blue, as are all the bodies of her kind. After a fight with the cannibals the troop steals fire from their campfire and escapes with it. The girl has managed to free herself and follows them. They rebuff her several times but she is persistent. Finally, after many days trailing them, she is accepted. The leader takes her as his woman. The others are interested as well but the leader won't tolerate competition. He maintains exclusive conjugal rights to her. She learns not to resist, the trade-off perhaps agreeable to her for the protection he provides.

The girl comes from an advanced tribe. The body paint already points toward this. Also, her speech seems more sophisticated than theirs. They don't understand her, but she talks a lot, or more than they are able to do. She also laughs, which at first they don't understand. They look at her woodenly. She thus becomes an object of intrigue to them. When the troop nears her village she tries to make them follow her but they won't, so she goes off on her own. But the leader follows shortly thereafter. He has become attached to her and doesn't want to lose her. In her village, which he eventually finds, he see things he has never encountered before: thatched huts made from reeds, branches and animal skins; clay pots and vessels; fishing hooks made from bone. He is reunited with the girl and treated as a curiosity by the villagers.

One day she takes him into a nearby cave. Inside there is a fire-maker. At first he is puzzled as he watches. He doesn't understand what is happening. The fire-maker crouches over a tuft of grass. Between his hands he holds a long thin wooden dowel. Lodged between his feet is a block of flat wood. The fire-maker spins the dowel on the block of wood. He is expert at knowing how to make it spin. Over and over he does this. The tip of the dowel and block of wood heat up. Friction causes smoke to rise from the point of contact. A spark is made. Then another. The tuft of grass is brought near the dowel. Another spark and some blades of grass burn. Then more. The fire-maker picks up the grass and blows gently on it. The small flame spreads. More grass is added and all the grass goes up in flames. The fire is started and growing. Fire has been made!

He looks on in wonder, as if in a dream. He has witnessed a miracle he can't understand. Down his cheeks flow tears from his wet eyes. He's crying for everyone and everything he knows. The gods have anointed him with the secret.

He and the girl escape from the village and are reunited with the other two from the troop. She has left her people and will live with him and his people. She will bring the tools and secret of how to make fire with her.

But there is something else she brings as well — the leader's baby. It's in her belly. Not only will they make fire; they will make a baby, a member of the next generation that will be fire-makers.

Odd to think, but true, that the offspring of these fire-makers will eventually become us, the people who will use this fire to power men in rockets to the moon.

Man is a contentious creature, often at war with himself and nature. The Old Testament parable is right: he has banished himself from the garden. But we cannot deny how strange and remarkable his journey has been.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 3 July 2007
"Quest for Fire" has at last come out on DVD in Region 2 and I was more than happy to buy a copy from Amazon, as I had not seen the film since it's original release.

The film was great. It has lost none of its excitement and charm. In fact I think the film ages well like a fine wine. The performances are all excellent but for me the revelation was just how good Everett McGill was in the part of Naoh. His performance is superb and the binding force that lets you understand and enjoy the Film.

The DVD picture quality is great as is the sound. The extras are quite extensive as well. There is an informative and amusing commentary track by the Director. A separate commentary by the self-praising Rae Dawn Chong and the agreeable Ron Perlman, unfortunately they are not joined by Everett McGill. Jean-Jacques Annaud, the director of the film, is the star of the bonus material and luckily he is a very intelligent and an amusing raconteur.

There is a "Making of" documentary and more commentaries over production stills and location recce material.

The only question that seems to linger is the lack of references to Everett McGill or his wonderful performance. Ron Perlman is constantly praised and the story of his audition is often quoted and remarked upon, as is the discovery of Rae Dawn Chong.

During the directors commentary he remarks that another actor was cast as Naoh but left after disagreements with the movement coach. The director was forced to fly to America to cast the roll at short notice. That's it. Never is Everett McGill referred too directly or even praised. Everett McGill is the soul of the Film and holds it all together. He also got frostbite while crossing a freezing river in Scotland at the insistence of the demanding director, so does not that in itself deserve extraordinary and unbiased praise?
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 14 April 2011
This film, although based on speculation as we can't be certain how they really lived in Stone Age times, intrigued me. It begins with a tribe being attacked and losing their only access to 'fire', they don't know it can be made. After the attack three men are sent to find fire, and they make a journey during which they have adventures, ultimately encountering a more hominid type tribe. This tribe has fire and they are shown that it can be made, and they stay a while but begin their return journey with live fire, however, one of their group decides he's not returning and opts to remain with the hominid group. In places the film is quite funny as humour and teasing are discovered, something that doesn't exist in his world, and he realises that there is much more in the wider world than he knew about in his environment with his own tribe. It is a film suitable for all ages, and it does have subtitles, but even without I would have found it enjoyable. Marks out of 10, I would give it 7.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 2 October 2006
This film should be seen by everyone old enough to appreciate it. The Director Jean-Jacques Annaud is a genius and this, one of his early films, is a masterpiece. Although it is graphic and harrowing in places, ask yourself one very important question at the end - have man's basic needs changed much in 10,000 years?. Intelligent viewers will without doubt appreciate the film's profound impact.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 11 October 2006
This is one of those films that will resonate within you long after you've seen it. The landscapes of Scotland and Kenya are only just eclipsed by the superb performances by the actors involved. For me, the most interesting aspect was the fact that there were three tribes, all in varying stages of the evolutionary process. The protagonist tribe are in possession of a fire yet lack the skills to make one from scratch. A tribe of ape-men jealous of said fire steal it and then there is the tribe who excel both in terms of intelligence and crucially the ability to create fire. This is a must-see film.
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