The Clan of the Cave Bear ★★★

I'm in the middle right now of reading Yuval Harari's remarkable Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, which in 300 pages charts the entire history of the human race from the dawn of existence up to the 21st century. It's the first time I've ever realized that there was actually at one point at least a dozen different species of humans that roamed the Earth simultaneously, much like how in the dog kingdom you have labradors and boxers and poodles; and that our version, Cro-Magnon human (which would eventually be known as homo sapiens), outlived all the others because of some mysterious event around 70,000 years ago, in which they got a whole lot smarter than all the other human species in just a matter of a dozen generations, which among other developments led to a period when modern humans were competing for the same land and resources as their dumber cousins the Neanderthals, and handedly winning that competition because of their profoundly better ability to communicate, store information, and work as a group.

This has all had me thinking about a couple of movies that came out when I was in high school that concern this very subject, ones I've never watched before because I really wasn't interested in the topic until now, 1981's Quest for Fire and 1986's The Clan of the Cave Bear; so on a lark I thought I'd finally watch them both this week as I finish up Harari's book. Cave Bear was the second film I took on, but unfortunately turned out to not be nearly as good as Quest for Fire (but click here for more on that). An adaptation of the first of a series of novels by Jean M. Auel, although I've never read the books myself it's pretty clear that they're written to sound like high-fantasy stories (think Lord of the Rings), only set in the "real" world of prehistoric humans, or as "real" as tidy morality tales about romance and chivalry set among cavemen can get. And this isn't helped at all by the mediocre direction of Michael Chapman, who's way better known as a cinematographer than as a director (in fact, his only other feature is the obscure 1983 Tom Cruise football drama All the Right Moves), who fills his onscreen canvas with cheesy loincloth costumes and terrible wigs, which only exacerbates the Harlequin-Romance-meets-ooga-booga nature of the script itself.

Perhaps this wouldn't be so bad under other circumstances (and hey, if you're a person specifically looking for Lord of the Rings set among cavemen, more power to ya); but after watching it immediately after the documentary-style ultra-realistic Quest for Fire, Cave Bear's failings are just that much more noticeable, a movie that wants to elevate itself above the usual club-swinging nonsense that typically defines this genre, but that simply can't pull itself up that far. Interesting as a lark, I wouldn't necessarily recommend that anyone deliberately go out of their way to see it; but if you stumble across it on cable some lazy Sunday afternoon, certainly there are worse ways to kill two hours.

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