QUEST FOR FIRE is an expensive ($12,500,000 in 1981) recreation of what it may have been like for our Stone Age ancestors as they struggled to procure and protect the precious resource of flame.
Directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud, who co-wrote the script with Anthony Burgess, it’s an up & down affair, balancing some fairly fascinating moments with a few that draw unintentional snickers, fumbles running even with illumination: in other words, Mankind.
Superb makeup, effectively gory scenes of primeval combat, and evocative location filming in various lonely areas of Scotland, Iceland, Kenya and Canada are all praiseworthy. A much publicized collection of grunts, squeals and snorts created by Burgess as primitive tongues (with Desmond Morris pitching in on the body language) sounds like—grunts, squeals and snorts, not much more literate than the babble from One Million B.C.
An encounter with some wooly mammoths is a bit much, while next to the enlightenment of flame, the most important discovery of early Homo Erectus laid out here is switching sexually from dog-style to the missionary position. The sort of argument where everyone wins.
The fine cinematography is from Claude Agostgini. The makeup won an Oscar. 100 minutes, featuring cave bears, saber-toothed tigers, and a nude Rae Dawn Chong, who also titters one heck of a laugh. Everett McGill, Ron Perlman (debut) and Nicholas Kadi as ‘Gaw’. One of the more aggressive cave-folk is played by a renowned Croatian-Canadian wrestler named ‘The Great Antonio’. At 6’4″ and 465, The Great Antonio could eat 25 chickens at one sitting and once boasted he could pull a 747 down a runway if Boeing would give him one for his personal use.
Hold your club, Oop, he had company on the production in the form (or landmass) of a English gentleman, also a wrestler, calling himself ‘Giant Haystacks’, who reigned terror at six-eleven and 685. Now it’s not like I don’t know anything about anthropology: like most kids, I went through a Dinosaur Phase,(pre-Zorro) including steady readings of the latest issues of “Turok, Son Of Stone”, but confess I did not know these facts (nor did you, reader person:own up) until I researched this piece. I’m only human, which is what this movie is all about after all: while I can still readily identify a Anklyosaurus, I do find it helpful to periodically update and revise my research on the whole sexual positions debate. Again, with the honesty…
Back on the subject: reviews were generally good, and the quest for tickets dragged $55,300,000 back to the caves of the 20th Century, the one at Fox.