Quest for Fire

Quest for Fire (French: La Guerre du feu) is a 1981 film adaptation of the Belgian novel by J.-H. Rosny.
Directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud and adapted by Gérard Brach. It is set in Paleolithic Europe, 80,000 years ago, its plot surrounding the struggle for control of fire by early humans.

Scientific accuracy

The story of the novel takes place 80,000 years ago, during the last glacial period. The movie adheres to this date but, in the commentary accompanying the DVD release, the director Annaud stated that a much earlier date would actually have been more reasonable, if he had made the film recently with modern knowledge of the subject matter. Clearly, in order for Neanderthals and something like Homo Erectus (the very hairy ape-like hominins that attack the Neanderthal encampment early in the film) to exist, the scenes depicted would need to date to at least 150,000 years ago. Such a dating would still be consistent with the use of Clactonian technology, which is depicted by the Neanderthals in the movie, and the development of symbolic language, a trait that is demonstrated by the more modern human female who accompanies the film’s Neanderthal progenitors through most of the story. The use of wooden spears by the Neanderthals and the hand drill style of fire-starting by the modern female would also be consistent with the earlier dating.

The film, in keeping with the novel, presents two species of Homo: Homo neanderthalensis (Wagabu and Kzamm) and Homo sapiens (Ulam and Ivaka). The Ulam are portrayed as the stereotypical cavemen, in an intermediate stage of development compared to the ape-like Wagabu, on one hand, and the culturally more advanced Ivaka on the other.

The H. sapiens tribe (Ivaka) is depicted as using body ornamentation (jewellery, body paint, masks, headgear), fully developed language and simple technology such as gourds as vessels and the atlatl. These are features that, in combination, amount to full behavioral modernity characteristic of the Upper Paleolithic.

The Ulam and Kzamm are depicted as light pigmented, the Kzamm even as red-haired, in a peculiar anticipation of the result of genetic studies conducted in the 2000 which concluded that some Neanderthals did indeed have red hair. The H. sapiens woman, Ika, is depicted as wearing full body paint and is cast with a multiracial actress, leaving her racially indistinct. This is again in keeping with studies post-dating the film which established that light skin in European descendants of Cro-Magnon developed only towards the end of the Middle Paleolithic, or during the Upper Paleolithic.[4]

The language spoken by the Ulam was created by Anthony Burgess. The more advanced language of the Ivaka, according to Annaud’s commentary on the DVD, was largely that of the Cree/Inuit native people of northern Canada, which apparently has caused some amusement among those in this group who have seen this film, since the words have little to do with the plot. The gestural and body language was overseen by Desmond Morris, author of The Naked Ape.

Link (full movie). 


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