Since nearly every movie set in prehistoric times before Quest for Fire was either a special effects-driven action film (One Million B.C.), a dopey comedy (Caveman, released the same year as Quest), or a small segment in a larger story (2001: A Space Odyssey), this movie can claim the high ground pretty much to itself. Eschewing subtitles and narration; employing heavy hitters Anthony Burgess and Desmond Morris to come up with special languages, body language, and gestures; casting virtual unknowns; and throwing in R-rated violence and sex, Quest for Fire still manages to be pretty entertaining and very easy to follow. Not that we're talking about a sophisticated story line: the Ulam tribe loses their fire source, sends three of its men out to find some more, and they come back not only with a flame but with a companion who can help them create more just by rubbing two sticks together. The script, adapted from a novel by J. H. Rosny Sr., depicts a world of tribes that basically mistrust one another, only some are more aggressive about that mistrust than others. There are a number of arresting images, none more touching than watching one of the Ulam desperately blowing on the tribe's last ember, only to have it die out. Watching this film on widescreen DVD allows you to luxuriate in the scenic locations, although shooting in Scotland, Iceland, Canada, and then Kenya makes for some slightly disconcerting terrain and vegetation changes by the filmmakers.
by Tom Wiener review