This 30 year old film stands alone by far as the best film ever made about prehistoric man. Set 80,000 years in the past, the movie has recently become more relevant with the newly discovered landmark evidence of interbreeding between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens, which actually occurred during this time period, much earlier than previously believed. We now know that all Europeans and Asians carry between 1 and 4 percent Neanderthal DNA in our genome.
Compelling and well researched, no one has even attempted a film of this kind since. This is one of my all-time favorite films because not only is it the most realistic and accurate movie of its kind, but it follows the classic hero’s journey story line. I would consider this film to be essential viewing for anyone interested in prehistory and anthropology as I’ve never found another film that portrays the dawn of man so authentically.
The uncompromisingly original French director Jean-Jacques Annaud, who is also responsible for such unique films as The Name of the Rose (1986), The Bear (1988), The Lover (1992), Seven Years in Tibet (1997), Enemy at the Gates (2001) and Two Brothers (2004), has created such a diverse body of work, mostly historical in nature, that he is a truly international film maker who can work with many languages, cultures and historical settings and still make his stories universally appealing.
Quest for Fire (1982) is based on the 1911 Belgian novel of the same name by J.H. Rosny-Aîné and follows the journey of three cave men chosen from a tribe of Neanderthals that have been attacked by another more aggressive but less skilled Homo erectus tribe for the fire they possess. Without this essential element, the control of which gave us the power to dominate our world, the tribe cannot survive and since they have not yet discovered how to create fire, it has to be stolen from other tribes and kept alive.
The tribal elder, one of the few remaining survivors of the wounded and fire-less Neanderthal band, chooses three of their best and most skilled warriors to begin the journey to find the life-giving flame and bring it back alive. The film then follows these three men on their fateful lifesaving adventure across vast distances and landscapes and unimaginable dangers and mysteries as they encounter stampeding mammoth herds, hostile tribes, saber-tooth tigers and cave bears while searching for the well-guarded sacred fire that will save their tribe from extinction.
Filmed on actual locations around the world including Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia Canada, Scotland, Iceland and Kenya, Quest for Fire is considered so accurate that it has been recommended in many schools for students of history and anthropology. Such well known and authoritative experts as Desmond Morris, author of The Naked Ape and Anthony Burgess, author of A Clockwork Orange were consultants on the film to give the movie a genuine feel. Desmond Morris who is an expert in human behavior was consulted for the physical gestural and body language that would have been used by early man, and Anthony Burgess who is an expert in early linguistics was consulted for the primitive language that would have been used at this early stage in human development.
Using only their skill and ingenuity while working together in cooperation as a team, our Neanderthal heroes manage to not only steal back the fire that was lost but also discover and learn new skills that will ensure the survival of their kind. This movie goes far beyond what you would expect and really gives us a fascinating insight into our early culture, way of life and contact between differing groups of pre-modern humans.
The hero’s journey is described by Joseph Campbell in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces as an ancient formula that is found in stories of all cultures from around the world and is the inspiration for many storytellers throughout time including George Lucas who was inspired by it to create his Star Wars saga.