There were cave paintings made by the prehistoric people. We’ve got a selection of films to choose from. The following are some of our favorite prehistoric stories.
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It’s safe to argue that movies aren’t the best place to get historically accurate portrayals of prehistoric life. The comedy genre has long been used to depict our distant ancestors, whose more simple manners and values serve as a comic counterpoint to our own modern sophistication.
That doesn’t mean that the jokes are always directed at the bearskin-clad, club-wielding prehistoric guys. Early Man is a stop-motion epic that uses the Bronze Age high-jinks to reflect on the English national football team’s history of underachievement, which is reflected in The Flintstones’ witty insight into the consumerist drives of aspirational 1960’s America, or Nick Park’s stop-motion epic Early Man.
Few directors have attempted to capture the primitive communication skills of early tribes in a film in a more accurate way. It’s little surprise that the likes of Hammer’s legendary One Million Years B.C. (1966) ignored the science and wheeled on a few rampaging dinosaurs to liven things up—no matter that man and tyrannosaurus never truly trod this earth together.
Therefore, only a few of the following choices may truly be considered ‘excellent,’ in my opinion. Even if you don’t take them all too seriously, these films serve to remind us that we’ve come a long way, baby.
1. His Prehistoric Past (1914)
Chaplin’s tiny tramp has the moustache and hat and cane, but in the final Keystone short he also sports a bearskin, having been transported back a few thousand years in a dream by the corporation. To begin with, audiences may have figured out that this two-title reeler’s refers to D.W. Griffith’s Man’s Genesis: A Psychological Comedy Based on Darwin’s Theory of the Genesis of Men, which was released just a few months prior (1912).
Everything else being equal to business as usual for Charlie the mischief-maker, there are fair maidens to fling himself at and burly regular foil Mack Swain as the boorish King Low-Brow to defeat. It’s the 36th short film Chaplin had made that year, and the stone-age twist proves to be a refreshing change of pace for the prolific director-star.
2. Three Ages (1923)
When compared to Chaplin’s frantic screen persona, Keaton’s deadpan calm is what allows him to play the same plucky underdog character in this comic triptych over three unique time periods. Prehistoric frolics, ancient Rome and 1920s Los Angeles all feature Buster’s pursuit of Margaret Leahy against Wallace Beery’s he-man rivalry, with each scene labeled “The Present Age of Need, Greed, and Speed,” a reference to the era’s title.
Intolerance (1916) is clearly in the sights, but the opening sequence appears more like a predecessor to The Flintstones’ joyous eye for anachronism, as Buster invents golf, carries a stone-carved business card, and rides a stop-motion brontosaurus with a charming primitiveness. If you’re looking for an auspicious beginning, this is the film to start with for Keaton as director.
3. Daffy Duck and the Dinosaur (1939)
This Merrie Melodies offering is a pioneering illustration of how animation’s elasticity of form could be put to good use in depicting prehistory. There are several cute animated dinos who take their cues from Fido, notably the cast of Don Bluth’s The Land Before Time (1988) and Disney’s sequel Dinosaur (2000), but the humor here is based on taking comic anachronism to absurd lengths.
With a delightfully long succession of painted and even neon signs advertising the world’s best duck breakfast, Daffy outwits Casper the caveman, who is desperate to find his next meal. The punchline is appropriately eye-watering, as it is with many old Warner Bros. animated shorts…
4. One Million Years B.C. (1966)
It was Hammer’s most ambitious effort to date, a recreation of Hal Roach’s legendary prehistoric adventure from 1939, which pitted lusty primitive Victor Mature against a rival tribe and a slew of over-sizedlizards.
After around 10 minutes or so, the Bone People and Shell People storylines run out of steam, and Ray Harryhausen’s brilliant stop motion dinosaurs (along with a frisky gigantic turtle) enter the picture. All of this is about as historically accurate as the poster’s iconic depiction of star Raquel Welch in a fur bikini from the 1960s. You may have noticed that the garment in question was only trimmed with fur along its outer perimeters, which meant that the British studio that made it saved a few extra pounds in the process.
5. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
A cinematic depiction of prehistory that looked at the span of human existence rather than the contrast between then and now took Stanley Kubrick and his co-writer Arthur C. Clarke a long time to come up with. Even if it’s as simple as an early primate taking up a bone and slamming a few headsin, they get the message out that you have to walk before you can run.
The ‘Dawn of Man’ sequence, shot in the Borehamwood Studios, has held up nicely over time, despite the fact that it was a bunch of mime artists in fur and latex sweating under the spotlights. To keep them from collapsing, medical staff were standing by, pouring compressed air into their suits. Kubrick was inspired by a broomstick while strolling to theset and came up with the most famous cinematic cut of all time: the bone-to-spaceship matchup, which cuts millions of years off of the film’s timeline.
6. Caveman (1981)
With its slogan “They don’t call it “the stone age” for nothing!” this unabashedly ridiculous prehistoric knockabout was clearly made for an audience under the influence of marijuana, similar to Cheech and Chong’s Up in Smoke (1978) from the same period. Even if the film’s critics weren’t kind at the time, it’s hard to resist Ringo Starr’s irresistibly adorable performance as the eponymous character, who is pining after the cavegirl Barbara Bach, who has already been claimed by a brutishrival in the film’s merry caveman patois of ‘zug-zug.’
It’s a shame that some of the jokes don’t work, but the sequence when Ringo and buddies try to compose music certainly has the power to put a grin on your face. Ringo didn’t get much of a boost from the film, although he did get married to Ms Bach just 10 days after it was released.
7. Quest for Fire (1981)
When it came to the tribal languages for Caveman, the producers went with the work of Anthony Burgess, a polymath and author of Clockwork Orange, who had a lot more experience creating prehistoric languages. In this story about a Neanderthal community that has been keeping their campfire going but is unable to do so after it is extinguished by rivals during an attack, the producers went with a more ambitious approach.
As a result, the movie is still the best-known film about early man, thanks to convincing prosthetics, stunning locales, and a screenplay by regular Roman Polanski collaborator Gérard Brach that accurately depicts the human relevance of the Neanderthals’ eventual findings. On top of all that, Rae Dawn Chong’s sensitive femininity urges him to switch from doggy-style congress to a missionary position, which he gladly accepts.
8. Clan of the Cave Bear (1986)
Finnish-American An adaptation of Jean M. Auel’s bestseller about the Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon peoples, directed by the same cameraman that shot Martin Scorsese films Taxi Driver (1976) and Raging Bull (1980), was quickly greenlit by Hollywood.
In contrast to Quest for Fire, the topic here is more ambitious, focusing on primal spiritual beliefs that the film fails to define. As a female protagonist in a male-dominated world, Daryl Hannah shines. However, the film was originally released with subtitles translating the characters’ guttural language, but is now available in a version where an intrusive voiceover keeps explaining the plot. This indicates a storytelling conundrum that is never satisfactorily resolved.
9. Voyage of Time: Life’s Journey (2016)
Maverick director Terrence Malick has proven to be the very essence of Marmite cinema in his more recent work, decades after his 1970s landmarks Badlands (1973) and Days of Heaven (1978). With no UK cinema release forthcoming for this ruminative potted history of the planet, devotees have been seeking out French Blu. Everything Malick tackles is based on cutting-edge scientific visualizations, including the Big Bang and the preservation of ancient landscapes and species that serve as living windows into our distant past.
There is little doubt that Cate Blanchett, who sings the voiceover, will not please everyone, despite the fact that she does so with aplomb. In spite of this, the stunning photography of the natural world has an air of majesty and mysticism to it, which is amplified by musical cues from the likes of Bach, Haydn, and ArvoPärt.
10. Early Man (2018)
Stop-frame animation by Aardman Animation looks rudimentary compared to the most recent CGI graphics, but that is precisely the idea in Nick Park’s long-awaited new film, Aardman Animation. Neo-Pleistocene Age: The dinosaurs are killed off by a meteor strike. Bronze Age: Franglais-speaking invaders attempt to colonise a community of harmless but backward woodland inhabitants.
Most commentators will focus on how the amiably daft humor plays against some very contemporary concerns, such as Brexit anxiety and much typically English musing on why we’re bad at football despite inventing the game. This is a Nick Park offering so much of the delight is in the details, including a loveable ginger warthog and the naughtiest of bunny rabbits. Prehistoric celluloid may appear out of place, but it was always there.