Quest for Fire (film)

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Quest For Fire
Quest for Fire (movie poster).jpg
Theatrical release poster by Carl Ramsey
Directed byJean-Jacques Annaud
Produced byJacques Dorfmann
John Kemeny
Véra Belmont
Denis Héroux
Michael Gruskoff
Screenplay byGérard Brach
Based onThe Quest for Fire
by J.-H. Rosny
StarringEverett McGill
Rae Dawn Chong
Ron Perlman
Nameer El-Kadi
Music byPhilippe Sarde
CinematographyClaude Agostini
Edited byYves Langlois
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
December 16, 1981 (1981-12-16)
Running time
100 minutes
LanguageInvented language
Budget$12 million[1]
Box office€40,602,910

Quest for Fire (French: La Guerre du feu) is a 1981 French-Canadian adventure film directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud, written by Gérard Brach and starring Everett McGill, Ron Perlman, Nameer El-Kadi and Rae Dawn Chong. It is a film adaptation of the 1911 Belgian novel The Quest for Fire by J.-H. Rosny. The story is set in Paleolithic Europe (80,000 years ago), with its plot surrounding the struggle for control of fire by early humans. It won the Academy Award for Makeup.


The Ulam are a tribe of cavemen who possess fire in the form of a carefully guarded small flame which they use to start larger bonfires. Driven out of their home after a bloody battle with the ape-like Wagabu, the Ulam are horrified when their fire is accidentally extinguished in a marsh. Because the tribe does not know how to create fire themselves, the tribal elder decides to send three men, Naoh, Amoukar, and Gaw, on a quest to find fire.

The trio encounter several dangers on their trek, including an encounter with the Kzamm, a tribe of more primitive-looking cannibals. The Kzamm have fire, and Naoh, Amoukar and Gaw determine to steal it. Gaw and Amoukar lure most of the Kzamm away from their encampment. Naoh kills the remaining warriors, but not before being bitten on the genitals by one, which causes him agony. The three Ulam take the Kzamm fire and prepare to head home.

A young woman named Ika, who had been a captive of the Kzamm, follows them, seeking protection. She makes a primitive poultice to help Naoh recover from his injury. Later, Amoukar attempts to have sex with Ika. She hides near Naoh, who then demonstrates his claim on her by mounting her in front of the other two males.

Ika soon recognizes that she is near her home and tries to persuade the Ulam trio to go with her. When they refuse, she leaves. At first Naoh continues without her, but finds he cannot stop thinking about her. He turns around, followed by the reluctant Gaw and Amoukar. After Naoh leaves the others to scout a village, he is trapped in quicksand, nearly sinking to his death, but is discovered and captured by the Ivaka — Ika's tribe. At first, Naoh is subjected to several forms of humiliation by the Ivaka. He is forced to mate with the high-status women of the tribe, who are large and big-breasted. The petite Ika is excluded by her tribe, and when she attempts to lie near him later that night, she is chased away. The Ivaka soon demonstrate to Naoh their advanced culture: the ability to make fire.

Gaw and Amoukar find Naoh among the Ivaka. They try to rescue him but Naoh has come to identify as an Ivaka. At night, Ika helps them knock Naoh unconscious and escape the camp. The next day, Naoh washes off the Ivaka body paint. He tries to mount Ika again, but she teaches him the more intimate missionary position. Before they can reach their home, the three are beset by rivals from the Ulam tribe, but are able to defeat them using a superior weapon technology in the form of atlatls which they had taken from the Ivaka.

Finally rejoining the Ulam tribe, the group present the fire to the delight of all. But during the ensuing celebration, the fire is again accidentally extinguished. Naoh tries to create a new fire as he'd seen in the Ivaka camp, but after several failed attempts, Ika takes over. Once the spark is lit, the tribe is overjoyed.

Months later, Naoh and Ika prepare to have a child.


The main actors are Everett McGill as Naoh, Ron Perlman as Amoukar, Nameer El-Kadi as Gaw and Rae Dawn Chong as Ika.


The movie was filmed on location in the Scottish Highlands and Tsavo National Park and Lake Magadi in Kenya. The opening sequence was filmed at Cathedral Grove on Vancouver Island, BC (forest scenery) whereas the cave home was filmed at Greig's Caves on the Bruce Peninsula along the Niagara Escarpment near Lion's Head, Ontario.

Michael D. Moore was the associate producer in charge of action and animal scenes.


As of October 2018, Quest for Fire holds an 84% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 19 reviews.[2]

The film was nominated for six César Awards in 1981, including Best Original Screenplay or Adaptation for Gérard Brach, Best Music Written for a Movie for Philippe Sarde, Best Cinematography for Claude Agostini, and Best Sets for Brian Morris, winning those for Best Film and Best Director.[3] In 1983 it won the Academy Award for Best Makeup. Also in 1983, it won in five categories in the Genie Awards.


The Ulam are portrayed as stereotypical cavemen, in an intermediate stage of development compared to the ape-like Wagabu, on one hand, and the culturally more advanced Ivaka on the other. The Ulam and Ivaka are depicted as light pigmented, the Kzamm as red-haired.

The Ivaka are depicted as using body ornamentation (jewellery, body paint, masks, headgear), fully developed language and simple technology such as gourds as vessels and the atlatl. The Ivaka woman, Ika, is depicted as wearing full body paint and is cast with a multiracial actress, leaving her racially indistinct. These are features that, in combination, amount to full behavioral modernity characteristic of the Upper Paleolithic.

No actual modern language nor subtitles were used. The language spoken by the Ulam was created by Anthony Burgess. The more advanced language of the Ivaka was largely that of the Cree/Inuit native people of northern Canada, which caused some amusement among those in this group who saw the film, since the words have little to do with the plot.[4] The gestural and body language was overseen by Desmond Morris, author of The Naked Ape.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Aubrey Solomon, Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History, Scarecrow Press, 1989 p259
  2. ^ "Quest for Fire (1981) - Rotten Tomatoes". Retrieved July 31, 2017.
  3. ^ AlloCine, Prix et nominations pour La guerre du feu, retrieved 2018-03-15
  4. ^ This is according to Annaud's commentary on the DVD. Annaud also comments that his film was popular in Greenland where Inuit is also spoken.

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