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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Caveman (Blu-ray)
Caveman (Blu-ray)
Olive Films // PG // February 17, 2015 // Region A
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted February 17, 2015 | E-mail the Author
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When Caveman, a spoof of prehistoric action melodramas, was released in April 1981, audiences were pleasantly surprised. The movie, if memory serves, opened with virtually no advance publicity; it just sort of turned up. With the big summer movies (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Superman II, For Your Eyes Only, Arthur, and Escape to New York) still months away, the competition was notably tepid. Except for The Howling, a sleeper hit, the top movies that spring were dreck like The Devil and Max Devlin and Omen III: The Final Conflict. With little else to watch, audiences took a chance on Caveman, and were rewarded and charmed by its amusing little story and particularly lively and funny stop-motion dinosaurs. Without giving anything away, the audience I saw the film with actually cheered at the end, when one character gets a well-deserved comeuppance.

As a comedy, Caveman is only so-so. Most of its gags are obvious and predictable, though usually mildly amusing. It was Shelley Long's second movie role, yet her sweet characterization, one that really won movie audiences over, was a sign that she was destined for bigger and better things.

But the movie's one outstanding achievement is its delightful stop-motion dinosaurs, animated chiefly by Jim Danforth and David Allen. Though comical critters, they're nonetheless among the most expressive and technically flawless ever done, especially in terms of integrating the stop-motion with the live action components.

Olive Films' Blu-ray of Caveman looks solid. The image is bright and sharp with good color and contrast.

Prehistoric comedies go back to the silent era (Gertie the Dinosaur, Buster Keaton's Three Ages), though Caveman directly spoofs the genre's ‘60s and early ‘70s films. One Million Years, B.C. (1966), starring Raquel Welch and featuring stop-motion dinosaurs by Ray Harryhausen, had been a huge hit for Hammer and the film's distributor, 20th Century-Fox (the $1.2 million production earned eight times its cost), prompting two semi-sequels, When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1970), featuring Oscar-winning effects by Danforth and Allen, and Creatures the World Forgot (1971), which had no dinosaurs at all.

Caveman follows the basic story of One Million Years, B.C., itself a remake of One Million B.C., a Hal Roach production that, rather than stop-motion, had used magnified lizards and other reptiles. As in One Million Years, B.C. the story is about a solitary caveman, Atouk (Ringo Starr), banished from a brutal and primitive tribe after lusting after beautiful but manipulative Lana (Barbara Bach, who resembles One Million Years' Martine Beswick), the mate of Tonda (Oakland Raiders defensive end John Matuszak), the hulking bullying leader of the tribe. Atouk, accompanied by brave, callow youth Lar (Dennis Quaid), eventually join a group of misfit cave-folk: sweet-natured, comely Tala (Shelley Long) and her blind grandfather (?), Gog (Jack Gilford, under-utilized), and others.

Misfits they may be, but like the Shell People in One Million Years, B.C., they also prove more socially advanced, and later they stumble upon various evolutionary advancements. Bumping into one another, Atouk and Lar accidentally learn how to walk erect. A lightning storm triggers the discovery of fire, cooking and, after a hot meal, the joys of music.

The generally aimless plot services various sight gags, such as an enormous fried Pterodactyl egg, dinosaurs that bay at the moon like coyotes (or crow like roosters), a colossal insect that lands on Lar's nose (Atouk smashes it, with its disgusting, gooey innards covering Lar's face), and a Tyrannosaur subdued with sedative fruit. A long third act sequence where everyone tries to rescue Lar from an Abominable Snowman (Richard Moll) feels tacked on, as if to pad the feature up to an acceptable running time.

Lalo Schifrin's score dates the film badly in some respects. A would-be sex scene is accompanied by Bolero, a reference to the then-popular Blake Edwards comedy 10 (1979). More classical bits are used elsewhere, though Also sprach Zarathustra (for references to 2001: A Space Odyssey) is instead imitated by Schifrin several times. As that piece appears to be in the public domain, why he didn't just use the original is, well, odd.

Carl Gottlieb, who directed and co-wrote the script, was primarily a comedy writer for television though most famous for co-writing the screenplay to Jaws (1975), as well as an unusually good making-of book about that film's troubled production, The Jaws Log. With Steve Martin he co-wrote Martin's starring debut, the anarchic The Jerk. Co-writer Rudy De Luca had a similar comedy background, and is mostly associated with the films of Mel Brooks, from Silent Movie (1976) forward.

Contractually, Jim Danforth was supposed to have received co-director credit with Gottlieb, but this was nixed by the Directors Guild of America (DGA), leading to Danforth's departure two-thirds of the way through postproduction; he receives no onscreen credit. Danforth had clashed with the industry before, resigning from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and its Visuals Effects committee when the notorious Dino De Laurentiis King Kong (1976) was award the Oscar in that category, even though the nominating committee hadn't recommended it.

On the heels of the more steadily productive Ray Harryhausen, both Danforth and Allen had long but probably eternally frustrating careers. Each tried to develop feature films built around their stop-motion animation: Danforth was to write, direct, and co-produce an eventually shelved project called Timegate, while for more than 20 years Allen worked to complete The Primevals, a science fantasy feature unfinished at the time of his death, in 1999.

In the tradition of its forebears, there's virtually no English in Caveman. All of the dialogue is in Cave-tongue: "alunda" for love, "macha" for dinosaur, "ool" for food, etc. The audience quickly picks up the language, though apparently for some screenings a caveman glossary pamphlet was provided.

One final note: Ringo Starr and former Bond girl Barbara Bach were in real life married soon after Caveman wrapped.

Video & Audio

Olive's HD master of Caveman, provided by MGM, looks terrific throughout. The 1.85:1 widescreen image is impressively sharp, including for the composites with the stop-motion, and the color is good. The DTS-HD Master Audio mono (with no other language options or subtitles) is likewise strong.

Extra Features

The lone supplement is a trailer in poor condition, possibly converted from a standard-def PAL source.

Parting Thoughts

It doesn't hold up to multiple viewings, but Caveman is definitely worth seeing once. It's sweet and mildly funny, with some of the best stop-motion dinosaurs ever done. Recommended.

Stuart Galbraith IV is the Kyoto-based film historian and publisher-editor of World Cinema Paradise. His credits include film history books, DVD and Blu-ray audio commentaries and special features.

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