Quest for Fire (1981)

quest for fire

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Cavemen search of fire.

After their tribe is attacked by another one and their only source of fire put out three male members from the group (Everett McGill, Ron Pearlman, Nicholas Kadi) set out to find fire from somewhere else and bring it back to the others.  Their quest is not easy as they are forced to travel through harsh terrain, escape from man eating tigers, and fight off a tribe of cannibals. They also meet up with Ika (Rae Dawn Chong) who comes from a more advanced tribe where the members live in huts instead of caves and who also harbors the secret to starting a fire, which she just might share with the others.

Filmed on-location in Canada, Scotland, and Kenya this film brings to life the true nature of prehistoric times in vivid detail and better than any other movie that has dealt with the same subject. The male actors were fitted with masks that gave them ape-like features and except for one brief moment there is no discernable line of dialogue and communication is spoken through grunts and groans as well as words not connected to modern day language. Some DVD issues do have subtitles, but to me this is taking the viewer out of the experience as the whole idea is to allow one a true sense of how things where like back then and therefore forcing one to try to understand things through the primitives means of communication during that period is the only way to do it and I’m thankful that the theatrical version and the streaming version that I saw did not offer them.

While I applaud the filmmaker’s commitment to keeping things close to the true form as possible and not willing to compromise it simply to make it more accessible to a mainstream audience I still found it to be confusing at spots and even at times boring. The opening battle between the two tribes seemed almost unintentionally funny and the loud, booming music played over most of the movie is a bit off-putting as there was clearly no music at the time of the setting, so silence or natural sounds would’ve kept it truer to the authentic tone.

There is also a scene where the men come upon the remains of some meat left from another tribe. The men are hungry and begin eating the remains only to realize that what they are chewing on is human flesh, which sickens them and they spit it out, but I wasn’t so sure that genuine Neanderthals such as the ones portrayed here would be so ‘civilized’ and instead more concerned with simply satisfying their hunger needs.

Rae Dawn Chong’s presence is a major plus and the movie gets more interesting when her character appears. She remains fully nude at all times while covered in body paint, but isn’t as erotic as you might think. The scene where she gets raped by the men late at night is brutal, but authentic to the animalistic level that I would assume sex would be approached with during that time period. The way her character ends up bonding and even forming a romantic attachment to the one of them as the film progresses is genuinely touching.

The film has a lot of lulls and may be just too unique for some. I found myself intrigued at certain parts and bored at others, but the scene where the men watch in amazement when Chong creates a fire for the first time is a surprisingly exhilarating moment where the viewer feels the same emotion that people back then must’ve felt, which to be able to convey such a feeling to a modern audience is an achievement in itself and a sign of astute filmmaking at its finest.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 16, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated R

Director: Jean-Jacques Annaud

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

5 responses to “Quest for Fire (1981)

  1. I guess I liked it more than you did. I do have to revisit it. In 1981, it was pretty shocking to see a prehistoric epic like this one. It was considered gutsy, even visionary. We were so used to the likes of Rachel Welch in One Million Years B.C. Strangely enough, The Clan of the Cave Bear (1986) reverted back to the old cliches.

    • I didn’t know you were already around in ’81. I guess I thought you were younger. I’ll be reviewing ‘The Clan of the Cave Bear; next Monday although I’m sure it won’t be as good.

      • Sometimes I feel I’ve around since the Cro-Magnon era! Seriously, I saw it in theaters. I was 12-years-old. Looking forward to your review of The Clan of the Cave Bear. I’m curious about your reaction. Jean M. Auel’s books were very popular and the film version was highly anticipated. If memory serves me well, the movie was a huge box-office bomb.

      • I was also 12 in ’81, so I guess me, you and Peter Hanson from Every ’70s Movies are all the same age and authors of what I consider 3 really good movie blogs too!

        As for ‘Clan of the Cave Bear’ I know Darryl Hannah is the star and I usually like her, so that will help. The usually reliable John Sayles wrote the screenplay, so that should be another plus, but critics really tore it to shreds, so I’m not too optimistic.

      • It can be worth watching for Daryl Hannah’s performance. But it’s no match for Quest For Fire, which as a prehistoric story, alongside 2001: A Space Odyssey’s Dawn of Man, is still the best for me. Thank you for your review.

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