Tuesday, February 4, 2014

'Quest for Fire' Review

This is the first movie in the Blind Spot Series sponsored by TheMatinee.ca. There is still time to join so please see his website for details. For the remainder of the year, I will be highlighting a movie that I have never seen before, thus a "blind spot." You can see my Blind Spot list in my right hand sidebar. 'Quest for Fire' is the first movie on my list. I guess I find it fitting to start with a movie about prehistory. I missed the last Tuesday in January, so I'm playing catch up. I'm posting this on the first Tuesday in February. My next post will be on the last Tuesday in February ('Attack of the 50 ft. Woman' in honor of Valentine's Day of course).

Based on the novel by J.H. ROSNEY SR. 

So why 'Quest for Fire?' Admittedly, I asked myself the same question. I am a history buff. I'm always fascinated how people lived during different times throughout history. I have never seen 'Quest for Fire,' nor have I seen other prehistoric films like, 'The Clan of the Cave Bear,' or 'One Million Years B.C.'  The closest I've come to watching a prehistoric film was one of the first scenes in '2001: A Space Odyssey.' So I've been wanting to watch a prehistoric film, primarily out of curiosity. I also have wanted to see a film with little to no dialogue.

Surprisingly, 'Quest for Fire' was able to convey everything it needed to without any intelligible dialogue. The French film conveyed everything visually as it traveled through some lush landscapes, including Scotland, Iceland, Nova Scotia, and Kenya. Director Jean-Jacques Annaud is a visual director, well known for his distinct style. Annaud also directed the 1988 film, 'The Bear.' Likewise, 'The Bear' did not have very much dialogue, as it was about the life and times of an orphaned bear cub. 'The Bear' may not sound all that interesting, but 'The Bear' is a riveting adventure and my favorite Annaud film.  So for all of the above reasons I chose 'Quest for Fire.' I suppose it is the one and only non-science fiction film on the list. 
Ron Pearlman (Amoukar), Everett McGill (Naoh), and Gaw (Nameer El-Kadi)
Plot: Set 80,000 years ago, 'Quest for Fire' is the tale of "three cities," the cave people (or Neanderthals), early humans (Cro-Magnons), and ape-like proto-humans (Homo-Erectus). Instead of a man versus nature film, this is an early man versus early man battle. 'Quest for Fire' is what it's name suggests, "a quest for fire," as the cave people and the ape-like tribe didn't know how to make fire so they had to either come upon a naturally occurring fire (lighting strike or forest fire) or steal it from other tribes, sometimes violently. These tribes had fire keepers, or a tribe member whose sole task was to keep the fire going in an open clay pot with kindling. I'm not sure how anyone living in modern times would know something like this, but this is the premise for the movie.

The film centers around a neanderthal tribe called the Ulams. The Ulams are attacked by the ape-like Wagabu tribe. The Wagabus hurt and kill some of the Ulams to get their fire, forcing the Ulams to abandon their homes. The Ulams send three of their tribe members on a quest to find more fire. The three tribe members are Naoh (Everett McGill, of 'The People Under the Stairs'), Amoukar (Ron Pearlman, 'Hellboy'), and Gaw (Nameer El-Kadi). 
Another day, another mud pit
This is a primordial world, so it goes without saying that these three come across some crazy stuff: Saber-Toothed Cats, Wooly Mammoths, and perhaps the most dangerous, a cannibalistic Neanderthal tribe. The three Ulams decide to attack the cannibals as the cannibals have fire. The cannibals have also kidnapped two humans to eat them and have tied them to a tree, one of which is Rae Dawn Chong (Ika). The cannibals have already removed one of the poor souls forearm and are gnawing on it in front of him when the Ulams come. Seeing an opportunity, Ika makes her escape and helps her injured friend. This was perhaps the most disturbing scene, as even when Ika frees her friend he doesn't seem to run away, as he is no doubt in a state of shock. Fearing for her life, Ika leaves her armless friend to his fate. Harsh world.  

Seeking protection, Ika finds refuge with the Ulams and pays particular attention to Naoh. Ika is different than the Ulams. She understands laughter, has decorative body paint, and seems to have a language, whereas the Neanderthals wear animal skins and speak only in grunts. Watching this film reiterates what I already knew. I would not have wanted to be a woman during those times. Basically the way Naoh claims Ika is by raping her, which he deems par for the course. They're cavemen after all. No thank you. 
Rae Dawn Chong
As Ika travels with the group she recognizes familiar settings and encourages them to come with her to her tribe, the Ivakas. When the cavemen fail to understand her cues, Ika abandons them. Missing her, Naoh later follows her. The Ivakas are an advanced group of humans. Unlike the Neanderthals, they have a developed language, they are painted decoratively, have pottery, long-flying spears, and most importantly they know how to make fire. Something that has eluded the Neanderthals. At first Naoh is ridiculed, but he is eventually accepted into the tribe and shown how to make fire. He is also forced to mate with the high ranking women in the tribe. Evidently larger women with big breasts (similar to fertility statues) have high rank and skinny women (like Ika) have low rank. I'm not sure why this aspect of culture changed! Naoh is forced to mate with these women instead of Ika, making Ika jealous.

Anyhoo, Naoh's friends eventually find him and drag him out of there. Ika follows. They make their way back to the Ulam tribe who are struggling and living in the swamps. Naoh and Ika's romance continues to develop and he becomes more "sensitive" to her and less "cave-many." Along the way, the three Ulams begin to understand laughter. 
The Neanderthal cannibal tribe
They face a few more hurdles along the way back to the Ulam tribe. Gaw is mauled by a cavebear and Naoh's dominant male rival, Aghoo (and his merry band of Ulam hunters) attack the group. Using Ivaka technology, (several long range spears or atlatls) the group quickly kills the Ulam hunters. When the group is finally reunited with the Ulam clan in the swamp, in the clan's excitement one of the clan members drops the sacred fire into the swampy waters. The tribes people are enraged, but Naoh calms them by trying to "make" not steal, fire. Naoh's fire making skills are still in young, so Ika takes over and makes fire. SHOW SOME RESPECT! Remember Tom Hanks in 'Cast Away?' It's not easy to make fire without a lighter? As the tribe enjoys their newly created fire, Naoh and Ika cuddle on a nearby rock enjoying the moonlight. Naoh rubs Ika's pregnant belly. THE END. 

And yes, there is evidence that Neanderthals mated with humans, although the interbreeding occurred much more recently, like 30,000 to 40,000 years ago. For some of us, at least two to three percent of our DNA is Neanderthal. One look at Ron Pearlman's big thick forehead tells us that. There is evidence that genes linked to several modern diseases, most notably Type 2 diabetes come from Neanderthals. Thanks Neanderthals, but my family really could have done without diabetes.
Ron Pearlman, Rae Dawn Chong, Everett McGill, and Nameer El-Kadi
It's not a great film, but it's a good film with solid performances. Seriously, I would be miserable if I had to do what these actors did. These actors literally ran around mostly naked with no shoes in swamps, knee-deep mud, and woods. The main actors, excluding Rae Dawn Chong, only spoke through grunts. Imagine having to act without any dialogue? This had to be difficult to pull off. Rae Dawn Chong, who is perhaps one of the most underrated actor out there, was definitely the highlight in the film. You sympathized with Ika's plight and you wanted her to survive.

Side note: I have completely embraced modern technology. I am an iPhone user for goodness sake, but sometimes when I see people texting or playing on their phones in place of having actual conversations at the dinner table, I get irritated. Who knows, we may eventually devolve and revert to speaking in grunts in the near future. I have happened upon many people who simply stare at you when you speak to them. They don't seem to know how to respond when you politely ask them to press an elevator button.
Naoh (Everett McGill) falls into a sand pit and the Ivaka make fun of him
It's not a film I would want to watch again, partially because it's kinda depressing. The film is of course a critique of how hard it was to live back them. These people lived hard, brutish, and short lives. Watching this movie will make you thankful for being born in modern times. I don't mind the idea of "roughing" it, but I do believe that a few aspects of our modern lives have become necessities for good living. Things like a warm dry home, running water, dentistry, modern medicine, are absolutely essential in my opinion. Despite our troubled world (which has always been troubled), it makes me grateful to live in a modern world with penicillin, prenatal care, the polio vaccination, indoor plumbing and heating, etc. These ancient people weren't living in hobbit holes. Those hobbit houses look quite comfy. No, these people lived in mud huts with dirt floors or caves. If they ate it they had to kill it or grow it. As for us, we are total wimps compared to these people.

Our ancestors deserve some serious kudos for getting us here. Every single one of us are here today because of them. If there is one positive thing I took from the movie is that modern humans are too disconnected from the natural world. I can barely grow a garden, let alone live in the wild, not that I would want to. I know that I would not be able to make fire, which is essential for warmth and cooking. I look to this blogger for inspiration (Down to Earth). The film may also help you reevaluate our modern materialism. If you think about it, what is really a necessity and what is most important in life? It's certainly not our iPads. 


  1. I admit I wasn't that impressed with it, but then again, it has been over thirty years since I watched it. Forgot how many actors were in it.

  2. I understand. It would not be a movie that I would want to see again, but I did think it was a good movie. It's the kind of movie that you only need to see once for the effect. No need to see it again.

  3. Just wanted to say thanks for writing a January post! I’d leave a longer comment, but I’ve never seen Quest for Fire myself – it’s a Blind Spot for me too.

  4. i always enjoyed this film, it was very raw in a movie sense... you should check out the score, which is in my top 20 soundtracks...

  5. I remember seeing this as a kid. It was like nothing else I had seen to that point. Jean-Jacques Annaud seems to always want to give a voice to non-verbal beings.

  6. Ryan-- Thanks! I'm looking fwd to seeing other blindspots.

    Jeremy-- I did think that the soundtrack was great. I'll do a search on your site for that link.

    Movies-- Yes, he's quite good about that. I don't know of many other directors who have managed to do that.

  7. I have not made a top twenty score post, which I really should... you gave me an idea...

    Here is info:


  8. Nice review, and certainly looks like an interesting movie. I haven't spent much time watching pre-historic films but I'm going to try to give this one a shot! :)

  9. It's an interesting film. I wouldn't want to see it again, but I'm glad I saw it.

  10. I think this is simply an amazing movie. Naoh's reaction to the guy who made the fire causes an adrenaline burst through my bloodstream. It showed the hope which came from the deduction that fire is a controllable entity, so is nature. You could see on his face the optimistic results this ability would soon cause in his and his tribe's lives. From now on, he could live proud and free, without most of the fears that dominated his life before.

    1. Very insightful comment. Thank you. I agree. It was well done.


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