Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Quest for Fire (1981)

It's a pretty gutsy move to make a film where none of the characters' dialogue is intended to be understood.  A huge amount of information must be conveyed by actions, body language and expressions.  Quest for Fire succeeds so well in this regard that I wanted to give it a Qualified Recommendation just for that.

Unfortunately, there are some pretty significant flaws with the film that ultimately made me come down on the 'not' side of recommendation.  Still, if you have an interest in the craft of film-making, especially acting or direction, then I think this is a movie that you should see.  It does a great job with the non-verbal communication.

The film begins with a text scrawl informing us that 80,000 years ago, humanity relied on fire for survival, but lacked the means to make it for themselves.  When they found a natural fire, they had to protect and nurture it, tending it and feeding it constantly to prevent it from being extinguished.

We then meet a primitive tribe who possess such a fire.  Alas for them, they're about to be attacked by another, even more primitive group of humanoids.  Despite being bestial, naked ape-men, the attackers launch an orchestrated and quite sophisticated attack.  In fact, for my money it feels rather more orchestrated and sophisticated than it ought to be.

In any case, the attack succeeds in driving the first tribe out of their cave, and the little 'starter fire' they keep in a skull goes out in the escape.  So they are left in the middle of a swamp without their source of warmth and main protection from wild animals.  The obvious thing then to do is send off several strong warriors to look for a new fire and bring it back for the tribe.

The rest of the film is dedicated to ... well, to the titular quest.  The trio of warriors journey across the land, crossing paths with dangerous animals and cannibalistic neanderthals, among other encounters.  And it's here that the movie really has its issues.  While many of the individual sequences are quite well-executed, it feels like some scenes are given much more time than they need while others - which are more plot-relevant - are brushed aside in seconds.  Then there is the fact that the events we see require a period of weeks - if not months - to have gone by before the group returns from their quest, but nothing in the film suggests that more than a few days have elapsed.  These two issues combined to make me disengage from the film well before the - blatantly obvious half an hour earlier - conclusion rolled around.

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