CAVEMAN (1981)

Notes: UnitedArtists / Tuman-Foster Production. 91 minutes.
Atouk: Ringo Starr
Tala: Shelley Long
Lar: Dennis Quaid
Lana: Barbara Bach
Tonda: John Matuszak
Gog: Jack Gilford
Ock: Avery Schreiber
Abominable Snowman: Richard Moll

Written: Rudy DeLuca, Carl Gottlieb
Produced: Lawrence Turman, David Foster
Directed: Carl Gottlieb
Music: Lalo Schifrin.

Summary: “One Zillion B.C.” The film begins with Atouk’s searchfor “ool” (food) as he runs into a carnivorous plantand escapes. He sees a small lizard on a rock and reaches forit but is seen by a giant lizard behind him, who chases Atoukback to his tribe. The chief runs into a tree, clumsily knockingeveryone else out, and a few cavemen try throwing rocks whichthe lizard tries eating. Bleh.

The lizard carries off a caveman and has injuredLar. Atouk teaches him to hop —

[This isn’t working. I have to force myselfto type “Atouk”–so forget it. From now on I just haveto call him Ringo.]

Ringo teaches Lar to hop on one foot but theothers, especially Tonda the leader, declare Lar “pooka”and leave him to die. Back at the cave, Ock mimes the day’s events. Atouk gives Lana a piece of fruit he has stashed away, but shegives it to Tonda. A dinosaur howls at the moon.

The next day, to test berries, they make Ringoeats them. He stashes some away, eats one, and passes out. Thatnight he stuffs some in a piece of fruit, gives it to Lana whogives it to Tonda, and Tonda passes out. But Lana ate some too,so Ringo’s Bolero-accompanied attempts to have “zug-zug”with Lana fail. He wakes up between Lana and Tonda, and getskicked out of the tribe. He meets up with Lar and they accidentallydiscover upright walking. They bend over in mockery of Tonda. At night Ringo moons over Lana and smashes an enormous bug whichhas landed on Lar’s face.

The next day they meet up with old blind Gogand Tala at the bubbling tar pits. They teach them to straightenup too. Gog stumbles into a dinosaur who chases them, lickingits lips and rubbing its hands in anticipation of a meal. Ringoaccidentally spears it in the chest and decides he’s brave enoughto face Tonda. They return to the tribe’s cave, Lana wants “ool,”and when Tonda returns with an enormous drumstick, Ringo hides. Tala mocks him. A kidnapping attempt fails, and in running awaythey meet up with lots of other outcasts: an Asian who knows Englishwords, an African, a gay couple, a dwarf, a family. Ringo discoversfire–“araka”–when lightning hits a tree branch andthe accompanying music imitates “Thus Spake Zarathustra”(2001). When trying to pull apart a large bird in imitationof Tonda and his drumstick, two of the new tribe struggle withthe carcass over the fire, inventing roast chicken. The dwarfdiscovers a noise when he blows the jug; others join by clackingchicken bones, shaking gourds, and generally jamming into thenight.

In the morning, a dinosaur charges them. Ringolures it to step on the campfire and it runs away. During thesearch for food, the Asian’s pet lizard is used as a pointer andthey find a giant egg. Tonda’s group steals it, but is chasedby a pterodactyl. The egg falls into a volcanic crater, getspoached, and Ringo’s group enjoys a meal. Ringo also saves Talafrom a dinosaur by shoving those intoxicating berries in its mouth.

Tonda’s tribe fish by dunking women underwater. Lana accidentally gets swept away by the rapids, and Ringo savesher, but Lar gets carried away in the current to “A NearbyIce Age.” He pees ice cubes and we see an abominable snowmonster stalking him.

Lana seems attracted to Ringo finally, buthe joins the search for Lar. They find Lar and the abominablesnow beast frozen mid-chase and thaw him out. They escape thesimultaneously unfrozen beast who whimpers off.

A jealous Tala meanwhile has gone to Tondato have him carry off Lana. Tonda is choosing a new woman, buthe and his tribe raid Ringo’s tribe, carrying off Lana and others. Ringo’s men make slings, slingshots, catapults, and other weaponsand smoke out Tonda and tribe. They ambush, and Ringo rides intobattle on a tamed dinosaur. Ringo takes a beating from Tonda,and even Lana kicks him. Tala punches her. Ringo wins by slinginga rock at Tonda. He is cheered by the crowd and promenades withLana to “Pomp and Circumstance.” Finally though, hedrops Lana into a pile of dino-doo, and chooses Tala.

Commentary: The New Yorker says: “The picture doesn’t have thedirt or meanness or malice to make you explode with laughter,but it’s consistently enjoyable.” A distinct Gilligan’sIsland feel to the film is overcome by the very human qualitiesof Ringo and his outcast batch, who make discoveries but moreimportantly share them. While seeing and writing up dozens ofgrim dinosaur films, I had been saving this one as a joyous changeof pace. Now what will I do?

Still, many of the achievements involve makingslaughter easier and more efficient. The first scene of the filmestablishes plants as predatory and therefore dismissable as food,and the only other example of plant food is a powerful narcotic,so that the “ool” quest is always for meat and eggs.

The lizard scene, also at the beginning ofthe film, is a perfect, compact, filmic distillation of the “eator be eaten” dynamics so characteristic of dinosaur filmsin general and discussed in my Abstract. The film also supplies valuable material for the Dictionary of Cavespeak. In any case, the film is a delight.