Film / Quest for Fire

"Drawn by quest for fire, they searched all through the land
Drawn by quest for fire, discovery of man"

Quest for Fire (French: La Guerre du feu, "The War of Fire") is a 1981 film directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud. It is based off the book of the same name by Belgian author J.H. Rosny aîné. It is set in Paleolithic Europe, around 80,000 years ago, and concerns a small group of cavemen as they search for the fire their tribe needs to survive, not knowing how to produce it themselves.

Provides Examples Of:

  • All Cavemen Were Neanderthals: Averted: The Ulam (the trio and their tribe) resemble Neanderthals, but the Ivaka are clearly Homo sapiens, and the Kzamm and Wagabu are both shaggy and bestial, suggesting more primitive species of hominid.
  • Babies Ever After: By the closing scene, Ika has become pregnant with Noah's child.
  • Bears Are Bad News: Gaw is severely mauled by a cave bear.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Naoh is the most handsome member of Ulam, and he is our primary hero. Our heroine Ika conforms to modern sensibilities of attractiveness, being sleek and slender, while her tribe prefers women that would be considered obese by conventional modern tastes. By contrast, the villains of the film, including the rival tribes of sub-humans and the treacherous members of the Ulam, are all ugly.
  • Big Beautiful Woman: Seems to be the ideal of beauty among the Ivaka, to the point that the much thinner Ika is treated poorly for being deemed ugly.
  • Bi the Way, Situational Sexuality: After watching Noah and Ika copulate face-to-face for the first time, Amouker approaches Gaw to mate, but is rebuffed.
  • Con Lang: Writer Anthony Burgess created the prehistoric languages for the film. He explains his methods here.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance:
    • Ulam "courtship" consists of males grabbing random females and mounting them with little to no verbal communication or negotiation. This causes some problems when Ulam males come into contact with Ivaka (Homo sapiens) females.
    • The Ulam don't understand laughter. When Ivaka laughs for the first time, they become unsettled. Later, they seem to have adopted the concept and bring it back home with them.
  • Do You Want to Copulate?: Sex in the paleolithic is extremely open and casual. Truth in Television: even today, people in hunter-gatherer societies live in very close quarters with little if any privacy, so sex often occurs in full view of other clan members, including children.
  • Dude, Not Funny!: In-universe. In one scene a guy gets hit on the head. Ika laughs hysterically for over a minute; the others glare at her. This is because the concept of laughter is unknown to them. Later, however, they have a healthy dose of it.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: The group returns with fire... only for it to be extinguished by the tribe's fire tender. Naoh tries to make fire with sticks, to no avail. Then Ika tries... and succeeds!
  • Frazetta Man: The Wagabu definitely fit this trope, being hairy and bestial, with intense physical strength.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Subverted. The film is quite bloody and gory in places, most notably the scene where a spear is thrust through a Wagabu's mouth and out through the back of his head.
  • Groin Attack: A Kzamm bites Noah in the genitals, causing him severe pain. He is later healed by Ika.
  • Humans Are Special: The Ivaka (anatomically modern humans) are initially the only people capable of understanding humour, starting their own fires, constructing free-standing shelters, and copulating face-to-face. Science Marches On, and it is now thought that all, or most, Homo species shared these abilities to some degree (even great apes like chimps and gorillas are known to understand humour and mate face-to-face).
  • I'm a Humanitarian: The Kzamm are a cannibalistic tribe of Neanderthals. Truth in Television, as many anthropologists think that at least some Neanderthals practiced some form of cannibalism.
  • Intimidation Demonstration: A big factor in conflicts between human and proto-human tribes. The Kzamm smash their clubs on the ground when they approach the Ulam. Amouker boldly responds with his own demonstration.
  • Intimate Healing: Ika's treatment of Noah's wounded genitals may or may not involve oral sex.
  • Mama Bear: A literal example: Gaw and Ika tamper with a Cave bear cub with the expected result.
  • Misplaced Wildlife: The film depicts wolves, Gryphon vultures, Marabou storks, sabre-toothed cats, Wooly mammoths, and cave bears living in the same region.
  • National Geographic Nudity: Ika is naked throughout the movie. In particular, Rae Dawn Chong was cast as Ika because she was the most comfortable with nudity. She remained nude and covered in body paint between takes to stay in character.
  • One Million B.C.: Slightly more accurate than most examples. The caption, as noted above, reads "80,000 years ago", but Annaud admits in the DVD commentary that it might just as well be 800,000, so...
  • Questionable Consent: Given the culture of the setting, and the generally animalistic behaviour it's unclear to what extent consent is given, if at all, and some of the sex scenes definitely resemble rape.
  • Savage Wolves: Several Ulam survivors are overpowered and killed by wolves as they flee from the Wagabu.
  • Scared of What's Behind You: The Kzamm aren't frightened by Amouker's Intimidation Demonstration, they're afraid of the herd of mastodons behind him.
  • Scenery Porn, Real Place Background, Shoot the Money: The film was shot in Canada, Scotland, Iceland, and Kenya, leading to some gorgeous shots.
  • Silence Is Golden: This is essentially a silent film, with the only dialogue spoken in fictional languages.
  • Stock Dinosaurs: No non-avian dinosaurs are present, but the prerequisite woolly mammoths and sabre-toothed cats show up.
  • Super-Persistent Predator: The sabre-toothed cats wait under the tree for the trio to fall, long after any real predator would give up.
  • Slurpasaur: The aforementioned sabre-toothed cats are played by trained lions with prosthetic teeth.
  • Truth in Television: As mentioned under Science Marches On, the film got many things right as well:
    • It is now known that neanderthals and other archaic humans possessed the ability to use and make fire, but it is possible for this ability to be lost in a culture that does not have a system of writing or any other way of keeping records. Even in recent times, some hunter-gatherer cultures lack the knowledge to start fire and will maintain one continuous fire like the Ulam do in the film.
    • The film portrays multiple human species interacting and even interbreeding. This has now been found to be accurate. At least two species (the Neanderthals and the mysterious Denisovans) have left traces in the human genome.
    • The Wagabu are portrayed as a more primitive, ape-like species covered in shaggy hair. In the traditional view of human evolution, the idea of such a primitive species living alongside Neanderthals and modern humans seemed unlikely but the recently-discovered Red Deer Cave people seem to share features in common with early species like Homo habilis, and given the sketchy nature of the fossil record, it is entirely possible than many such archaic species may have survived until recent times in habitats where fossilization doesn't occur.
    • The idea of three different hominid species being found in relative proximity in the late Pleistocene wasn't supported when the movie came out, but it is now that both Neanderthal and Denisovan remains have been identified in southern Siberia and dated to about 50,000-40,000 (just before or around the time modern humans also moved into the area).
  • Uncanny Valley Makeup: The makeup effects on the people works very well...too well.