In 1981 two films were released that were set during the dawn of mankind, with humanity struggling to survive in a hostile world where cavemen faced untold dangers at every turn, now, one of these films was a Canadian-French co-production called Quest for Fire, which told the story of a tribe of cavemen in search of a new source of fire and it also won several motion picture awards including the Academy Award for Best Makeup, the other film featured Ringo Star, Barbara Bach and Shelly Long in a somewhat prehistoric love story called Caveman, it did not win any awards.
The history of cavemen movies is not what one could call all that well regarded, with most of the entries ranging from poor to terrible and consisting of scripts that would leave most audiences wondering if the screenwriters did their research by watching episodes of The Flintstones where man and dinosaur were shown living together despite the 65 million years that separated them, which brings us to writer/director Carl Gottlieb’s slapstick comedy Caveman, a film that was intended to be spoof such silly Hollywood offerings as One Million Years B.C. but it’s safe to say that good ole Carl missed the mark a tad with this entry. Like most films of this kind, there really isn’t much of a plot as it was more a travelogue of misadventures for our heroes and heroines to travail than it was anything else, and in the case of Caveman, we have a cave-dwelling misfit named Atouk (Ringo Starr) lusting after fellow cave-dweller Lana (Barbara Bach), the shallow and beautiful mate of Tonda (John Matuszak) who is the tribe’s physically imposing leader and primary bully of the scrawny Atouk. Things take a turn for the worst when Atouk’s job as a taste-tester for the tribe leads to the discovery of a narcotic plant and his offering a drug-laced fruit to the cavewoman of his dreams.
To say that the scene with Atouk trying to have sex with a drugged and unconscious Lana is a less than a heroic moment for our film’s hero would be a pretty big understatement, and I’d like to think that even back in the 80s rape jokes weren’t considered funny, but I guess the fact that Atouk actually fails in his attempt at sexual assault we are supposed to forgive him, I don’t and neither does Tonda who quickly kicks his ass out of the cave. After being banished from the tribe Atouk meets up with his friend Lar (Dennis Quaid), a fellow exile who got kicked out after being injured during a dinosaur attack, and the two of them soon run into Tala (Shelley Long) and the elderly blind man Gog (Jack Gilford), two cave people who are trying to make their way in a world, which takes everything you got, and the idea that Tala will eventually become Atouk’s love interest is quickly apparent while Jack Gifford’s blind caveman will literally stumble into one predicament after another.
Note: This movie features some truly great dinosaurs that were provided by stop-motion animator Jim Danforth who had previously worked on When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth.
As mentioned, there really isn’t much of a plot to Cavemen as it’s more of a series of comedic set-ups and executed gags that often surrounded Atouk and his band of misfits as they discover fire, music and the surprising discovery that manly hugs have chiropractic advantages and transform them from hunched over semi- simians to fully upright homo sapiens. We also must suffer through several fart and dick jokes because when the script consists mostly of grunt-filled dialogue you’re not going to find Monty Python level of humour, which is probably one of the film’s biggest missteps because going the route of films like One Million Years B.C. and When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth and have your cast speak a cave people language that consists mostly of people shouting “macha” and “zug zug” it gets kind of tedious. It’s just odd that co-writer Carl Gottlieb, who penned the screenplay for Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, didn’t understand that a goofy parody didn’t need to try for “realism” when it came to their prehistoric languages and with its 90 minutes running time many a viewer may find themselves becoming annoyed and bored by the constant gibberish. It should be noted that one of the misfits that join Atouk and his band is an Asian caveman who inexplicably speaks English and if he’d been revealed to be a time traveller sent back to research early man this movie could have gone in a more interesting direction, sadly, that was not the case. And it’s not like the film was striving for any kind of historical authenticity as not only did they thrust dinosaurs and man together but our characters stumble across a “Nearby Ice Age” and encounter an abominable snowman.
Another key problem with Cavemen is that it was trying to satirize a genre that had never quite achieved the popularity of its own and thus there were no classic tropes to make fun of like Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams had to work with when they made the Airplane! and Naked Gun films, and so Caveman had no real firm basis from which to properly parody. Ringo Star does his best to create a lovable goofball, and at times he does come across as a Buster Keatonesque type hero with some of that required charm such a character needs, and sure, seeing a Tyrannosaurus Rex getting high and falling off a cliff does have some intrinsic comedic value, but that’s not really enough to hang an entire feature film on.
Note: Jim Danforth’s goof comedy dinosaurs pretty much steal this movie and their very existence demands that someone make a Gary Larson Far Side movie.
That all said, there is a certain charm to Caveman and watching Ringo Starr and a young Dennis Quaid romp through a prehistoric setting certainly had its moments, as was watching future Mrs. Starr Barbara Bach traipse around in a fur bikini and a Vidal Sassoon hairdos, but aside from Jim Danforth’s stop motion creations, there isn’t a whole lot to be found here to make this film an easy one recommend, it’s more an interesting oddity than a feature film.
Movie Rank - 6/10
As a parody, Carl Gottlieb’s slapstick comedy Caveman is more slapstick than comedy and some of the humour has dated rather poorly, but Jim Danforth’s fantastic dinosaurs do provide some great moments and they almost make this film worth sitting through.