Jean-Jacques Annaud’s prehistoric fable is a self-conscious elaboration on Stanley Kubrick’s famous prologue from 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY/’68. In the earlier film, a prehistoric donnybrook between a couple of prehistoric tribes leads to a prehistoric intellectual leap: the first prehistoric mallet! Used not for good (like beating a tattoo on a hollow log), but for amplified power as a lethal weapon! Ah, progress. Here, a trio of our early before-fathers are sent off to bring back a fresh source of fire. It’s a dangerous journey, with a motley, not to say unfriendly!, assortment of homo-sapiens, Neanderthals, & missing link types they must battle along the way. And keep an eye out for all the hungry beasts, extant & extinct! Entertaining on its own terms, it’s over-extended compared to Kubrick’s two-reel quick-step; and Annaud’s filmmaking technique keeps coming up short, missing crucial shots to help link the action together. Worse, the story never makes good on its implied mission. Instead, the eureka moment shows one member of our intrepid band of three, along with the noisome female they rescued on the way, closely observing a prehistoric fire-maker who uses the spinning stick method. No actual discovery of anything. (Well, one lucky traveler does discover the missionary position.) Kind of anti-climatic. Fortunately, Annaud isn’t hopelessly serious about it all and lightens things up with various prehistoric laughs, usually involving someone else in pain or someone else having sex. Gags that haven’t aged a day . . . or a few thousand millennium.
DOUBLE-BILL: The first twenty minutes of 2001.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Claude Agostini’s lensing rarely captures the wonder Annuad is going for, but Philippe Sarde’s pseudo avant-garde score, heavily influenced by some of the wilder classical music in 2001, is often very effective in its attention-getting way.