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The Rim Worlds

... out on the Galactic Rim things are very iffy and if you fart really hard your're liable to blow yourself on to an Alternate Time Track.

A Bertram Chandler.






















The Mentor

Grimesish Grumberlings, The Quest for Fire

When I first read about this film in OMNI I decided that it was one that I must see. When it finally came to Sydney I lost no time in keeping this promise to myself, despite quite a few reviews that were less than enthusiastic. In my younger days, when I was one of the Astounding Science Fiction mob, it used to be said that the average magazine illustrator has a mental age of six and can’t read. Things have changed for the better. But today, all too often, I come to the conclusion that many film reviewers have a mental age of six and can’t think. This dictum seems to apply especially to the reviewers employed by the more prestigious periodicals. The higher the brow, the lower the standard of intelligence.

For many years I have been a Faithful Reader of The New Yorker. My wife is an even more Faithful Reader than myself. Once she said to me, “I regard Time as a necessity and The New Yorker as a luxury - but if I had to do without one or the other I’d do without Time.” She, unlike me, is still influenced by The New Yorker’s film reviews. Perhaps that statement is not quite true, as I, too, am influenced, but the wrong way. If a science fiction film is sneered at by The New Yorker I decide that it is almost certainly well worth seeing, If The New Yorker raves about any film at all I tend to stay away in droves.

The last time that I allowed myself to be influenced the way intended by a New Yorker review was with Last Tango In Paris. Ms Pauline Kael went into raptures over it. The same Ms Kael did not like Zardoz. One of her whinges was the absurdity of Sean Connery’s engaged in (simulated) coitus without taking his trousers down. But Marion Brando was doing just the same in Last Tango In Paris and Ms Kael did not mind a bit. Probably Ms Kael would have been able to say kind words about The Quest For Fire if Mr. Brando had appeared in it. Unluckily (luckily) there was no part sufficiently subhuman for him.

From the above, you may have gained the impression that Ms Kael did not care much for The Quest For Fire. I must confess that I was in complete agreement with her regarding those lions masquerading as sabre toothed tigers with obvious false teeth and a few half-hearted stripes of park paint on their tawny fur. They looked about as convincing as the ‘dinosaurs’ in that second, cheap and nasty version of The Lost World - some genius went out into the desert and caught a few lizards and then stuck obviously spurious opines all over their bodies, Getting back to The Quest For Fire, Ms Kael was not impressed by the elephants disguised as woolly mammoths with fur coats and false tusks and referred to them as refugees from The Muppet Show, Well, that’s what they did look like - but I think that it is highly probable that the original woolly mammoths would have conveyed the same impression. I found those on the screen quite convincing.

Ms Kael also spoke slightingly of the labours of Mr. Burgess and Mr. Morris regarding the spoken languages and the body language of the various tribes. But the proof of the pudding was in the eating. With all the jabbering and gesticulating subtitles were not required. I just knew what the various characters were saying. And that most certainly cannot be said for the vast majority of films with foreign language dialogue.

It is a great pity that the film carries an R classification, It should be compulsory viewing for schools, Oh, there is nudity - which in the context one just didn’t notice - and a spot of fairly explicit simulated sex, and large dollops of the brutality which, in those bad old days, was very much a way of life (and death). The Quest For Fire is an experience rather than mere entertainment. The afternoon that I saw it I gained the impression that the entire audience thought as I did. There was no laughter except during the one or two genuinely funny episodes.

But that R classification....

Quite some time ago in The Mentor, I said that there should be a new classification, this is to apply mainly to shorts - NRFHC. Not Recommended For Human Consumption. In The Good Old Days, I said, any competent cinema manager would endeavour to set before his patrons a balanced menu. He would select shorts that would complement the main feature. Today, I complained, there seems to be some sort of package deal and the shorts are almost invariably an insult to the intelligence of those who have come to see the Big Picture.

But, insofar as The Quest For Fire is concerned, somebody really tried and no doubt kidded himself that he had found shorts that must appeal to the intellectuals. Even the sort of cartoon rubbish in which unpleasant little animals can lay their paws on unlimited stocks of high explosives would have been preferable. (At least the occasional loud bang would have kept me awake.)

First was a CSIRO effort called The Living Earth. It was beautifully photographed but as boring as the pages of The National Geographic Magazine, a periodical that can make the most interesting story on Earth - or in the Solar System - deadly dull.

Following this was one of those Canadian Government arty and crafty efforts called Albert Gets His Wings. It was an exercise in the art of Mime. I am, I know all too well, a philistine insofar as most aspects of culture are concerned. Mime, as an art form, leaves me cold. If I were deaf I might see something in it but as my hearing is normal I’m just not interested. It was obvious that every other member of the audience thought as I did. The thing was supposed to be wildly funny but during its showing there was not so much as one feeble titter.

Making it worse, it wasn’t even pure Mime. The two actors involved were making noises with their mouths but in no recognisable language. These noises made far less sense than the noises being made by the actors in The Quest For Fire.

The First short, then, was just boring. The second short was an insult to the intelligence of the audience. The feature film could almost have been Time Travel - not necessarily pleasant, far from pretty, but - apart from those absurd lions with the obvious dentures - a most convincing look at the way we used to be.
Originally Published in The Mentor No: 39 - Aug 1982