Quest for Fire Review

The Film

Getting a bunch of individuals from a middle class profession to eat each others' nits, prance around near naked and make like primates may sound like child's play to anyone who's been on a company away day. However, watching Jean-Jacques Annaud's compelling and risky Quest For Fire, it does make you think how did the director get a grown man or woman to do that?imagePerpetually on the edge of ridicule, the director gets his cast to act all simian courtesy of the late Desmond Morris in support of his own quest to recapture the lives of prehistoric people some 80,000 years ago. It is a stunning achievement that, barring the initial shock of seeing Ron Perlman willing to throw his poo at the keepers, any humour is of the compassionate rather than the unintentional variety.

Supported by language developed by Anthony Burgess, Annaud's film follows a tribe's hunters as they set out to discover some more of that orangey flamey stuff that keeps you warm after their tribe's fire blows out. What follows is a trek through scuffles with other tribes, a survivalist battle against wild cats and mammoths, and a rutting love story. All absent of conventional dialogue or subtitles to explain.imageThe basic themes of the tale are deal with discovery and the spirit of venturing out and overcoming ignorance and boundaries. Within the first twenty minutes, our tribe is homeless, huddling together in the middle of a swamp with their source of heat extinguished and hope seemingly lost. Sending out three warriors, they first steal and pillage to regain "fire" but eventually learn the skills to make their flames and form unions with others.

Of course, this may sound a little po-faced and awfully precious but it isn't. One particular development in the film is where the three hunters are joined by Rae Dawn Chong's character - a woman from another tribe. She is at first on her own with her sense of humour, but as the journey continues accidental slapstick starts to bring her and the three strangers together.imageShot with more than one eye for vistas and winning compositions, Quest for Fire owes a great deal to the likes of 2001's opening sequence. It does though develop a uniqueness, and a winning warm approach overcomes the more ridiculous elements of the action. Without words, character depth is pleasingly complex and narrative is clear and rather moving as superstition gives way to self-reliance.

A real curiosity made to rediscover the origins of man, and a film well worth searching out.

The Disc

Second Sight release the film on an all-region single layer disc using some 21.5GB. The main feature is accompanied by two commentaries and standard definition extras, one by the director, and one by the acting leads and producer. Annaud talks about the film being made during an actor's strike and being relocated to Canada to shoot it, the commentary having been recorded for a previous DVD release which he references throughout. It's not a buccaneering commentary full of exciting anecdotes, more a studious set of observations and quite sufficient as that.The other commentary is a real group effort with Perlman as a real pussycat, Chong being very sweet, and Gruskoff sensibly allowing the others to talk (although he does talk over one of Chong's best moments in the film).

In the interview, the director talks about his life as a jobbing director from his late teens with commercials and how he started making features and got this job. He moves on to the studios concerns about releasing the film at which point the name of Sinatra is dropped from a great height. There's a very funny anecdote about why you should never show an Elephant made up as a Mammoth a vision of itself.

Burgess, Morris and Annaud all pop up in the making of film which has the cast at chimp school and is a proper old fashioned documentary of real quality that's a valuable extra rather than a set of publicity spouting talking heads. The final extra is 48 minutes of photo galleries narrated by the director himself featuring images of cast, crew, storyboards, archival drawings and drawings of prehistoric times.imageThe main feature comes as an AVC/MPEG 4 encoded file of some 17.4GB and is presented at 2.35:1 in 1080P at a rate of 24 frames per second. Grain is medium heavy and there seems to have been a degree of edge enhancement and contrast boosting in the look. The image is on the sharp side of soft and detail is pretty strong. It doesn't look as film-like as I would prefer but visually I would describe it as an above average transfer.

Two lossless audio options are provided, a stereo LPCM track and 5.1 master audio mix(advertised as 5.0). The latter gives decent coverage with plenty of bass. Clarity of effects, voices and music is assured and this is a decent approximation of a surround experience.


Decent transfer, good sound and good extras. A one-off movie given good treatment for those who want to look again.

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