Review: Quest for Fire / Cert: 15 / Director: Jean-Jacques Annaud / Screenplay: Gerard Brach / Starring: Everett McGill, Ron Perlman, Rae Dawn Chong, Nameer al-Kadi / Release Date: August 5th
Dinosaur devotees disgruntled by the dearth of hilariously anachronistic stop-motion tyrannosaurs and pterodactyls (as seen in Hammer’s 1960s prehistoric grunt fests One Million Years BC and When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth) in Quest for Fire will at least be able to take solace in the clutch of sabre-tooths, herd of mammoths and one big angry bear whichprovide some animal anguish in this surprisingly engrossing 1981 adaptation of J.-H. Rosny’s 1911 novel. Quest for Fire postulates what life might really have been like for the early hominids and on the evidence of Jean-Jacques Annaud’s stark and brutal film it really wasn’t much fun.
80,000 years ago and it seems that fire, and not a recording contract with Simon Cowell, was the one thing simple-minded humans most desired. How to create fire is a mystery to our filthy fur-clad friends of the Ulam tribe but once a naturally occurring source is found it’s guarded and nurtured jealously. They’re slightly put out (as is their fire) when they’re attacked by the apelike Wagabu tribe. The chilly cavemen decide to send three of their nimblest warriors on a journey to find a replacement source – a quest for fire, if you will. But their tortuous journey leads them into encounters with hungry animals, ravenous cannibals and a slightly more sophisticated tribe who live in mud huts instead of caves and practice a clever trick with two pieces of stick, some dung and dry grass. Don’t try this at home.
With dialogue which, like a Seth Rogen comedy, rarely rises above the level of nggggg and orrrrrggg, it’s remarkable just how easy it is to become immersed in the drama of Quest for Fire and how quickly we find ourselves adapting to – and understanding – their primitive methods of communication and relating to their basic desire for the one thing human beings need above everything else. Noah (McGill), Amoukar (Perlman) and Gaw (al-Kadi) battle tirelessly against unimaginable adversity and encounter the ghastly, casual bone-shattering violence which is fundamental to their savage existence. But their quest ultimately teaches them more than just how to ignite a flame; they learn more about themselves and their world as they take the first faltering steps on the long road to what we might call civilisation.
Over thirty years later, Quest for Fire remains a towering and triumphant achievement, a haunting and provocative movie beautifully filmed in stark locations in Kenya, Canada and Scotland and sympathetically presented on this stunning new Blu-ray transfer with genuinely fascinating bonus material.
Extras: Two commentaries / Contemporary ’making of’ feature / New subtitled 33-minute director interview