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This review is from: Quest For Fire [DVD] (DVD)
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.