Quest for Fire
Billed as a "science fantasy adventure" in the days when every other sci-fi release was a rip-off of either Star Wars or Conan the Barbarian, Jean-Jacques Annaud's 1981 Quest for Fire is an astonishingly vivid, gripping, and provocative bit of prehistoric speculation. Imagining what life might have been like for neanderthal humans, Annaud's adaptation of J.H. Rosny Sr.'s novel (with screenwriter Gérard Brach) crafts a fantastic and convincing world. Everett McGill stars as Naoh, the leader of a primitive tribe carefully protecting their only source of invaluable fire. When their flame is snuffed following a violent attack, Naoh leads two of his followers across an evolving new world in search of a light. Leaving arguments about science, evolution, and creationism aside, Quest for Fire is both imaginative and realistic (physical communication designed by famous anthropologist Desmond Morris trumps dialogue, which rarely amounts to more than a limited vocabulary of rudimentary sounds created by the great Anthony Burgess), and, best of all, surprisingly intimate. Against a stunning backdrop, Annaud tells a small and moving story about the bewildering capacities of man and the awe-inspiring versatility of life. Quest for Fire is a gorgeous work of minor art, and Claude Agostini's cinematography is beautifully captured in Fox's 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer, while Philippe Sarde's music is represented by a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. Annaud chats on one commentary track, while producer Michael Gruskoff is joined by performers Rae Dawn Chong and Ron Perlman on another. There's a good 22-minute made-for-TV featurette hosted by Orson Welles on board, but even better are the 15 still galleries covering the inspiration, production, and release of Quest for Fire and narrated by Annaud (unfortunately, however, there is not a "play all" option; each of the one-to-six minute-long galleries must be accessed separately). Trailer, keep-case.