This $12 million Canadian/French co-production was the first film attempt to accurately portray the primaeval world at the very beginning of man’s existence.
Quest For Fire was the culmination of three arduous years of preparation and exhaustive research by a large group of filmmakers led by director Jean-Jacques Annaud and executive producer Michael Gruskoff.
Locations were scouted all over the world for areas which had never been captured on film before and which were appropriate for such a journey back in time.
The filmmakers ultimately chose remote parts of Canada and Scotland to recreate the waning Ice Age and contrasting locations of blistering heat in Kenya.
Everett McGill, Rae Dawn Chong, Ron Perlman (in his film debut) and Nameer El-Kadi were chosen for the four leading roles, following a global search for unknown actors who had the physical characteristics that would suggest early man and an ability to master the techniques of mime (as much of the film’s drama was conveyed through gestures and a newly created language).
The cast also had to perform with only the barest rudiments of clothing in freezing Canada and Scotland and be scorched by 120 degree days in the Rift valley of Kenya. Most of the cast, including large numbers of extras, wore prosthetics to heighten the impression of primitiveness, and a small army of makeup artists had to be assembled.
Novelist/screenwriter/linguist Anthony Burgess used his enormous wealth of knowledge of Indo-European language roots to fashion a tongue similar to that most probably used by our ancestors.
Best-selling anthropologist Desmond Morris created a complimentary vocabulary of gestures to support Burgess’s primitive words, and the resulting collaboration heightened the drama of the action-adventure by aiding understanding. The words may be foreign to viewers, but the meaning never is.
Animals were also shifted around the world for the film like modern-day tourists. Elephants were shipped from London to Scotland, from Los Angeles to Ontario; bears flew in planes, and wolves howled along highways in the United States. The elephants were then placed in wigs as big as a carpet and fitted with giant prosthetic tusks while contemporary lions were (very carefully!) made sabre-toothed.
Set 80,000 years ago in Paleolithic Europe, the movie begins with the Ulam tribe being attacked by savage Neanderthals – the Wagabou – who steal their most prized possession, fire. In a ferocious battle, the Ulam are almost entirely wiped out and the battered survivors are quick to realise that without fire, they are doomed.
As a last resort, they send their three best warriors – Naoh (Everett McGill), Amoukar (Ron Perlman) and Gaw (Nameer El-Kadi) – on the most perilous and adventurous of journeys: the quest for fire.
Venturing out of their tribal area, the stamina and courage of the trio are severely tested. The terrain is incredibly inhospitable and they must fend off warriors from a host of other tribes, as well as such predatory animals as gigantic mammoths, bears, wolves and sabre-toothed lions.
During this ordeal, they encounter a group of vicious cannibals – the Kzamm – from whom they rescue Ika (Rae Dawn Chong), a young girl held captive. Naoh and Ika add a new dimension to Homo Sapien relationships by falling in love as opposed to simply choosing a mate.
The four find their way to Ika’s tribe – the Ivaka – who teach them the secret of making fire. With this greatest of all skills and accomplishments, they return to the weakened Ulams and bring them the gift of life.
British wrestler Giant Haystacks appears as one of the Kzamm tribe.
Rae Dawn Chong