The Clan of the Cave Bear (1986)

clan of the cave bear

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Girl gets new tribe.

After her mother is killed in an earthquake and escaping from the clutches of a hungry lion a very young Ayala (Daryl Hannah) gets taken in by a tribe of Neanderthals. Her addition causes strife amongst the other members particularly Broud (Thomas G. Waites) who feels she doesn’t conform enough to the subservient female role. When it is found that she has taught herself to hunt by using weapons that the women were forbidden to touch she is kicked out of the tribe and forced to survive on her own.

I realize that this film has been almost universally lambasted by movie goers and critics alike, but overall I found it to be watchable. The biggest issue in many ways were the action sequences. The opening earthquake bit as well as the lion attack comes off as stagy and phony and even border on being unintentionally funny. Later on when Ayala saves a young child from a wolf the movie reverts to slow motion, which gives it too much of an over-the-top Hollywood feel. There is also another segment where the cavemen torment a grizzly bear as part of an ancient tribal ceremony. Some of the men get torn up and killed by the bear, which to me was just fine as they should’ve left him alone in the first place!

Hannah is the perfect choice for this type of role, but for whatever reason her performance seemed a bit off and not as effective as it could’ve been. She was also probably too tall for the part as people back then was much shorter than they are now.

The movie has a little too much melodrama and eventually resembles just another cheesy Hollywood drama. The authenticity is questionable and the grittiness from the more popular Quest for Fire is definitely missing. I also wasn’t too crazy about the outdoor shots, which includes the opening one, that shows sunlight filtering through the tree leaves in a haze-like fog that gives it too much of a fairy tale-like look.

The part where Ayala is forced to survive on her own goes by too quickly and hardly seems as brutal as it should’ve been and I was also confused about how she was able to come upon this fur shawl to wear that protected her from the cold because when the tribe kicked her out she left with nothing but the flimsy outfit that she had on.

Yet despite all this I still found it to be reasonably compelling. Maybe it’s just the idea of seeing an individual learn to survive on her own, standing up to unjust authority and learning to find independence that manages to connect us no matter what the time period, but in either case it’s an okay time filler if you don’t think about it too much.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: January 17, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Chapman

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

3 responses to “The Clan of the Cave Bear (1986)

  1. Agreed. Watchable, but kinda cheesy and phony. A bit too Hollywoodized for its own good. I tend to hate remakes, but I think this movie is ripe for a modern redo. There Is a great movie buried here somewhere.

    • I would be very enthusiastic to see a remake. Much could certainly be improved!

      • I found it watchable too thanks to Daryl’s beautiful performance. I was a fan of hers ever since first seeing her in Blade Runner and Splash. She has a gift for such roles. Thanks for your review.

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