Jean-Jacques Annaud’s Quest for Fire is an engaging prehistoric yarn that happily never degenerates into a club and lion skin spinoff of Star Wars and resolutely refuses to bludgeon the viewer with facile or gratuitous effects.
Despite four years of effort, a $12 million budget, grueling location shooting in Kenya, Scotland, Iceland and Canada, hundreds of masks and costumes and a herd of difficult elephants (making their screen apperance as mammoths), Annaud and his collaborators have brought off a polished entertainment.
Technical advisor Anthony Burgess invented special primitive jargons for the occasion, which are used in moderation and don’t jar comically on the ears.
Gerard Brach’s screenplay is loosely based on Jean-Henri Rosny the Elder’s La guerre du feu (1911), a classic of French language popular literature. He also introduces a female character as a major dramatic and emotional pivot.
Three warriors of a primitive homo sapiens tribe are sent out to find a source of fire after their old pilot lights are extinguished during an attack by a group of unneighborly Neanderthals. After numerous adventures they find a fire amongst a cannibal tribe, but also learn how to produce it when they are led to an advanced human community by a young girl whom they’ve saved from the cannibals.
Everett McGill, New York stage actor Ron Perlman, and Turkish-born Nameer El Kadi etch engaging portraits as the three early homo sapiens, but the best performance comes from 20-year-old Rae Dawn Chong (daughter of comic Tommy Chong), unaffectedly radiant as the tribal nymphet who teaches them how to make a fire and eventually mates with McGill (after showing him how to make love face-to-face).
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