Taglines: At the dawn of Mankind, A woman led the way.
At a time in prehistory when Neanderthals shared the Earth with early Homo sapiens, a band of cave-dwellers adopt blond and blue-eyed Ayla, a child of the “Others”. As Ayla matures into a young woman of spirit and courage (unlike other women of the clan), she must fight for survival against the jealous bigotry of Broud, who will one day be clan leader. Based on Jean M. Auel’s popular book, there is minimal narration; subtitles translate the Neanderthal gestures and primitive spoken language.
The Clan of the Cave Bear is a 1986 film based on the book of the same name by Jean M. Auel and was directed by Michael Chapman. The film stars Daryl Hannah, Pamela Reed, James Remar, and Thomas G. Waites. Dialogue is conducted mostly through a form of sign language which is translated for the audience with subtitles.
Review for The Clan of the Cave Bear
”THE CLAN OF THE CAVE BEAR,” a big, scenic adaptation of Jean M. Auel’s best-selling novel, travels eons backward in time in order to tell the audience things it already knows. It concerns a Cro-Magnon foundling named Ayla, who is raised by Neanderthals and inculcated with their sexist, oppressive ways, only to rise up as history’s first free-thinking woman warrior. The film chooses to lean heavily upon these stereotypes, at the expense of the behavioral and anthropological detail that has enlivened the best of the cinematic cavemen, most notably in ”2001: A Space Odyssey” and ”Quest for Fire.”
As directed by the noted cinematographer Michael Chapman, ”The Clan of the Cave Bear,” which opens today at Loews New York Twin, has a gentle approach to its characters and an occasionally striking visual style. What it doesn’t have is much momentum or originality. From the opening sequence, in which Ayla is separated from her mother and adopted by the Neaderthal tribe, to the ending that has her proclaiming her individuality and marching off toward a possible sequel, the film plods along evenly but uneventfully, so that very few individual scenes have a chance to stand out. One of the high points is the performance of a large brown bear, in a small but attention-getting role.
It is the film’s little joke that Ayla, played as an adult by Daryl Hannah (and as a tot by Emma Floria, a teenager by Nicole Eggert), is so disadvantaged by her long, tawny body and luxuriant blond hair that the darker, dumpier Neanderthals find her unattractive. But Miss Hannah, who scampers through the film gamely and looks terrific in skins and pelts, does what she can to give Ayla other resources.
One of the key developments in the film has her mastering the use of the slingshot, even though women of the tribe are strictly forbidden to use weapons of any kind; that privilege is reserved solely for men. Miss Hannah goes through much of the film with an injured, bewildered air, but at moments like this she at least manages to look suitably triumphant.
”Quest for Fire” had Anthony Burgess inventing an entire language of grunts and monosyllables for the prehistoric characters; ”The Clan of the Cave Bear” has John Sayles, writing things like: ”Broud has killed the great musk ox. He is hunter of the clan.” This dialogue is delivered by means of subtitles, as the actors make gestures and guttural noises, and it is by no means as interesting as the ”Quest for Fire” version; neither are any of the film’s other efforts to explain the mores and customs of cave society.
One of the attractions of this sort of story ought to be its sense of how primitive culture anticipated the modern world, but Miss Auel’s book has more of this than the film does. Much of what happens on screen seems all too current and familiar, as when the young Ayla clutches at a Neanderthal woman and the camera glimpses a nicely manicured adult hand.
There isn’t much that actors can do with material like this, gesticulating wildly and wearing mountains of matted hair. But Pamela Reed projects a maternal warmth as Iza, who becomes a mentor to Ayla. And Thomas G. Waites is suitably brutish as Broud, who repeatedly forces Ayla to submit to his sexual demands and even invents his own special hand signal to get the point across.
The Clan of the Cave Bear (1986)
Directed by: Michael Chapman
Starring: Daryl Hannah, Pamela Reed, James Remar, Thomas G. Waites, John Doolittle, Curtis Armstrong, Martin Doyle, Karen Elizabeth Austin
Screenplay by: John Sayles
Production Design by: Anthony Masters
Cinematography by: Jan de Bont
Film Editing by: Wendy Greene Bricmont
Costume Design by: Kelly Kimball
Set Decoration by: Kimberley Richardson
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Release Date: January 17, 1986