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Clan of the Cave Bear (1986)

1 rating: 1.0
A movie

Every statuesque, beautiful blonde woman has spent more time in the company of Neanderthals than she cares to remember. Seems it's always been that way:Clan of the Cave Bear, a 1986 feature scripted by John Sayles and based on Jean Auel's bestsellingnovelset … see full wiki

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1 review about Clan of the Cave Bear (1986)

Con Cave

  • Apr 15, 2011
Rating:
+1
Reading the latest Jean M. Auel's Earth's Children's offering "The Land of Painted Caves: A Novel (Earth's Children)," has spurred on a nostalgic journey back into her nearly thirty-year-old classic Cave Bear territory. Most definitely, a re-look at the film directed by Michael Chapman and starring Daryl Hannah as Cro-Magnon Ayla rounds out the cave experience by adding some visual references that would further delineate the differences and similarities between the orphaned girl and her foster family of Neanderthals. Unfortunately, the film does little to enhance the anthropological story of Neanderthal decline and Cro-Magnun supremacy or underline the human drama so poignantly illustrated in the novel of the same name. If anything, cladding the stunningly statuesque Hannah in attractively draped furs and suede thongs as a Raquel Welsh (One Million Years B.C.) pin-up for the 80s might suppress any forward-thinking advancements for mankind in general by setting off `the Neanderthal' in most of the film's male viewers.

Nevertheless, it's all in fun. As the inimitable Ayla, Hannah wows the audience with her blonde beauty. The fact that she can accurately throw a bolo (the novel's Ayla uses a sling), comprehend the Mo-Gur's magical counting concept with ease and fearlessly and compassionately heal anything from a fever to a wolf bite while folding her sinewy body to resemble the more stocky physique of her bow-legged tribesmen smacks of a veritable Wonder Woman legend in the making.

"The Clan of the Cave Bear" is just that: a legend in the making. Narrated with great solemnity by Salome Jens, Ayla's story becomes universal while Ayla's wit, prowess and ingenuity matches that of any of the great heroes that enthralled men and women throughout the ages from the time of sitting around a campfire to parking on a comfortable couch, Kindle in hand.

However, while the intention of the director might be to present Ayla as an evolutionary heroine the likes of which rival Hercules or Odysseus, his attempts are so abbreviated that the underlying message heralding the supremacy of the Cro-Magnon brain in the battle for survival of the fittest becomes obscure amidst the more two-dimensional struggle between Ayla and the bullying leader-to-be, Broud. As moving as motives of anger, jealousy, and revenge can be, more scenes with the thoughtful Creb (played by James Remar -Dexter's father-in a full regalia of makeup that make him virtually unidentifiable) as the tribe shaman with his sad realizations of the eventual demise of the Clan along with more of Ayla's inner dialogue as she puzzles out new innovations that are not part of the Neanderthal memories would intensify the film's anthropological theme on a level richer in historical implication. Keeping within the bounds of a rigid storytelling, the narration prevents us from hearing individual voices that enrich the story's impact and emotional depth.

As the film came out in a more eco-conscious 1986, the set design focuses on the primordial beauty of the natural world with lush scenes of green forests, wondrous mountain vistas and other pristine examples of the earth before its children ravaged it through innovation and industry. The actual hardships that one would associate with life with little more than a cave for shelter and a well-earned fur wrap snatched from the back of the animal that grew it for protection against the elements seem a trivialized backdrop for the main theme of something new and more advanced entering a group dynamic where things have been done in the same way for centuries. Other than to present the "Clan" as a grunting bunch of mop tops from a Hair Metal band with extra-pronounced eyebrows, the Neanderthals depicted are just dirtier Cro-Magnons rather than the stronger, squattier and pelt-ier "flathead" animals described by novelist Auel in later books of her series. Ayla may be smarter--able to use her voice to speak, analyze, deduce and execute something never done before--but the sign-language using Clan members definitely possess greater apelike strength--so much so that one man could carry his share of a kill on his back. In this light, the climatic scene between Ayla and Broud seems far-fetched--brute force would definitely win out over the elegance of more refined thinking.

Bottom line? As a novel, Jean Auel's "The Clan of the Cave Bear (Earth's Children, Book One)" provides a rich experience for a reader fascinated by the challenge of early man to eke out a comfortable existence for himself in a prehistoric world requiring mental and physical prowess while adhering to inherent societal rules that integrate the community as a functioning organism. In addition, the interplay of human emotion shared by lesser advanced Neanderthals and Darwinian-survival-ready Cro-Magnons emphasizes that man is man no matter how he evolves or what technology he develops. His basic needs remain the same. Although it tries, the film version presents the novel's themes but not its nuance. The use of a narrator makes Ayla's story seem the stuff of legend, but the plodding pace of the film forces the motivation for her remarkable achievements into a narrower realm of rebellion against Clan male chauvinism rather than the dawning of a new age for quintessential man. Nevertheless, the film is fun and recommended for Ayla diehards. Keep in mind that most of the film is subtitled as the Clan speaks in grunts and signs.
Diana Faillace Von Behren
"reneofc"

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