After an earthquake kills her mother a Cro-Magnon child, Ayla, is rescued by a clan of Neanderthals. While most accept her into the clan, she is tormented by the future leader, Broud, and struggles to abide by the strict customs of the clan so alien to her own. Can she overcome the evolutionary gap before it’s too late? Find out in… The Clan of the Cave Bear.
How?! We open on Ayla’s mother getting sucked into the earth due to an earthquake. Left to fend for herself she wanders about, eventually getting attacked by a lion and surviving only long enough to be found by a Neanderthal clan looking for a new cave. The leader of the clan wants to abandon the child, but eventually relents when Ayla leads them to a perfect new cave. She seems destined to be one of their own. Over the years Ayla is slowly accepted into the clan, except by the jealous future leader Broud who resents the freedom that Ayla seems to have. While she bucks the strict cultural dogma of the clan by secretly learning to use a sling, Broud takes pleasure in beating her and forcing himself upon her, eventually leading to her pregnancy. Soon thereafter she is caught using the sling when she saves a young boy from a wolf attack. Exiled for a month in the harsh winter there seems to be little chance of her survival, but through her adaptation skills and ingenuity she gives birth and survives the winter alone (seems unlikely, but whatever). After her return, her place in the clan only grows, much to the chagrin of Broud. In the end Broud is officially named leader of the tribe whereby Ayla is exiled and forced to forge her own way in the world. This injustice causes an irreparable rift in the clan meant to show how unwillingness to adapt is the eventual downfall of the Neanderthals. Science! I know that synopsis sounds uneventful, but I assure you it’s even less eventful than I described. The End.
Why?! Motivations in the film are few and far between. As in the book, the film spends most of its time speculating on the lives of Neanderthals. The day to day struggles of Ayla are rooted in her having a different sense of self and concept of gender roles due to differences in the brain of Neanderthals compared to Cro-Magnon humans. This is of course based on science… JK LOLZ. It’s not. The Neanderthals can see into the past and the future and shit with their crazy Neanderthal brains and are basically magic. If there is any motivation at all it’s for the clan to survive and Ayla to fit in. The clan cannot adapt to her feminist ways and her exile presages the decline of the Neanderthals as a dominant species on Earth. Boom roasted, Neanderthals. You might be magic, but Ayla can do math. You donzo.
What?! There is nothing more I would have loved than to see product placement in this film. Would have made up for a somewhat bizarre but mostly boring BMT film. But alas, no quick draughts of Coca-Cola before the big musk ox hunt and I’m unfamiliar with the brands of cocaine from the 80’s.
Who?! We get a true celebrity appearance in this film. During a large clan gathering there is a bear fight. The bear is played by none other than Bart the Bear, one of the most famous animal actors ever. We’ve seen him before in On Deadly Ground and we’ll see him again in Meet the Deedles. The funniest rumor is that he got enough votes to be nominated for an Oscar for the 1988 film The Bear, but rules precluded animals from receiving nominations, so it couldn’t go forward. I guess the Oscars figured out what the officials in Air Bud couldn’t.
Where?! The book is pretty clear exactly where this all takes place (Ukraine), but the film obviously doesn’t have a good way of talking about the setting. Doesn’t even really try. But ignorance is no excuse for the law. Jamie’s law of settings is ironclad. F.
When?! Likely takes place in the Late Pleistocene period when the Neanderthals were heading towards extinction. Impossible to get any more accurate than that. D-.
I could not resist the allure of reading the smash hit novel that this film was based on, even if it was a 500 page feminist novel from the 80’s. In the end it was a pretty slow go. I liked the characters and it was certainly interesting to read the speculation on the life and biology of Neanderthals (although a lot of the magic memory stuff she did was more than laughable). At the same time I don’t think the message and construction of the book aged very well. It’s primarily an allegory pertaining to the second-wave feminism of the 60’s and 70’s, which makes the life and culture of the Neanderthals oddly modern feeling and yet the message dated. This actually penetrated the film as well where a major complaint by reviewers was how modern everything seemed. Overall it was a pretty straight adaptation with some events merged together and small changes near the end… but largely faithful probably to its detriment. Patrick?
‘Ello everyone! Have you ever had a dream where things are happening around you but it is all kind of fuzzy and unfocused and when you wake up you can’t remember it? When you are awake and that happens to you it’s called a Clan of the Cave Bear. Let’s get into it!
The Good (Prequel, Sequel, Remake) – You can appreciate why the book exists and what the author was trying to do. She had researched the time period and decided to make a fictionalized version of this world she knew so well. The movie basically has some decent sets and settings. Other than that though … let’s remake it! So, the one good thing really was the setting. So we get back to Vancouver, start shooting those vistas! No sign language, as a matter of fact I want this to be action packed! Hunting, the empowerment of young women, a strong independent lead living in Clan of the Cave Bear. I’m going to go ahead and cut out the multiple rape scenes as well, and let’s go ahead and give the main villain his comeuppance and the lead a happy ending, and … What’s that? Yes, I said multiple rape scenes, it is … not fantastic. You know what? This is irredeemable, I don’t even want to watch my own remake!
The Bad (Sklognalogy) – First, this movie is stone cold boring. It is effectively an art piece showing in painful detail the machinations of caveman sign language. Second, there are, as I said, multiple uncomfortable rape scenes and in general the struggle of the lead is neither particularly fulfilling nor ultimately redemptive. They stayed a bit too close to home in creating a villain and then never bothering to punish him, and creating a hero and never bothering to save her. Dare I say the film comes across as somewhat nihilistic even. It takes place before any familiar religion so … alright, this is getting a bit heavy, but let’s say by the end I just kind of felt horrible for early human beings more than anything else. Finally, and maybe it is a matter of a brutal filming schedule or demanding make-up process, but some of the actors look a little zonked out. I don’t want to speculate about drugs or anything else, but I literally laughed out loud a few times as the actors looked around with unfocused deadpan looks on their faces. It was weird. I’m going to go with an old favorite of BMT for the Sklognalogy with God and Generals. This 4+ hour epic is basically just an exercise in filming accurate portrayals of Civil War troop maneuvers. And it is as exciting as it sounds. The one thing I thought it lacked was detailed sign language though.
The BMT (Legacy / StreetCreditReport.com) – Legacy will be the same as Gods and Generals in which I might remember it for being so boring. Unlike Gods and Generals though it didn’t have a comically long running time going for it, so it is more likely just remembered as a more-bad-than-BMT film of this year. I’m kind of stunned, but the film has almost no cred. No Razzies (an Oscar nod even) and nowhere really mentioned it as a particularly bad film. It just kind of got forgotten. Hey, look at that … we all agree.
You can read the review of Air Bud: Golden Receiver separately, but does it change our minds about Kids’ films? Actually … the more I reflect on it the more it kind of does. I liked watching Air Bud 2. I thought it was fascinating from two levels. First, the B story is kind of an interesting part of the kids’ film genre, and exploring that more could be very fun. Second, something like a nearly-direct-to-DVD sequel has its own kind of charm. Little Giants, The Big Green, The Mighty Ducks, all had that kind of charm. Perhaps sports movies are the key? Regardless it is definitely something to consider, especially in the new year when we are considering a modification to the cycle. Stay tuned.