A tale of three prehistoric warriors who embark on a quest to rediscover the flame their tribe has lost, braving mammoths, saber-toothed tigers, and tribes of cannibals.
You’ve got to admire the effort put in to this attempt to recreate the realities of prehistoric living (a clue: it wasn’t pretty); director Jean-Jacques Annaud even turned to linguist Anthony Burgess to create a genuine proto-language of grunts and burps just for the movie. We are supposed to marvel at man’s emerging traits: communication, teamwork, civility (of a sort), but there is one inescapable problem with daring to go verite with the land before time — whatever you do, it looks and, indeed, sounds, like a parody. And, no matter how hard you true to take it seriously, no dice.
In fact, for all its mud and blather, the savage landscapes captured from the Canadian and Scottish locations, you can’t help missing the stop-motion dinosaurs chasing after Raquel Welch in One Million Years BC. Any half-bright schoolboy could tell you man and dinosaurs have never shared the same hunting grounds (65 million years separates the species) but it leaves a big fun-shaped hole. Thus the perils this trio of hairy, fur-clad actors (Everett McGill, Ron Perlman, Nicholas Kadi) earnestly ooga-booga-ing like its Shakespeare with mastodons, are left to face include such tame palaeonotological difficulties as legging it from a saber-tooted tiger, a tribe of argumentative apes (who could be relatives) and getting trodden on by wooly mammoths (elephants in disguise!). Any excitement is severely limited.
Annaud is fired by the idea of showing how mankind founded a primitive form of civilization, and treats us to the rapid birth of art, industry (well, regular fire making) and, most radically, respect for women. Actually, there is something quite charming in the scenes where they discover comedy — one tribesman is hit on the head by a loose stone. It might be Annaud’s most telling suggestion — that civilization gained greatest ground through the powers of the belly laugh.
This is supposed to be serious hard-hitting but with most prehistoric depictions, only manages either school reconstruction or parody.