New Film Based on Otzi the Iceman

This is another film I’d like to see, but won’t get a chance because of my illness. The treatments for cancer severely lower, and in some cases destroy, your immunity to disease. Hence, while I was in hospitable, all my visitors had to wear facemasks and wash their hands in the vestibule outside before visiting me. I’m home now, and can receive visitors, but I’ve been told to avoid crowds. So going to the cinema is out for me, at least for the next few months.

Last Friday’s edition of the I, for the 27th July 2018, carried the news of a new, Swiss film, based on the presumed life of Otzi the Iceman. This was the frozen body of a Neolithic hunter preserved in the Otztal glacier in the Alps on the border of Switzerland and Italy over two decades ago now. The discovery of ‘Otzi’, as he was dubbed, massively increased our understanding of the Neolithic and its people. The man was found equipped with a bow and arrow, wearing neatly tailored leather clothes and knapsack, and carrying an impressive toolkit mend and repair his equipment. Because his clothing was leather, some of the articles in the press compared him with modern rock fans, even to the point of saying that he should have been called ‘the Icerocker’. Oh yes, and one German DJ, responsible for releasing a ’90’s version of the hit ‘Hey, Baby!’ even decided to name himself Otzi after him.

The documentaries also speculated about his life, and what had brought Otzi up into the Alps. The man had died after being shot with an arrow. In one dramatic reconstruction in one of the documentaries, it was suggested that Otzi had travelled to the Alps seeking revenge after his village in Switzerland had been attacked. And this seems to be the narrative adopted by the new film.

The review of it in the I runs

Iceman (15)
Felix Randau, 94 mins, starring Jurgen Vogel, Andre Hennicke, Susanne Wuest, Sabin Tambrea, Martin Augustin Schneider, Voilet6ta Schurawlow
is the only film you will see this year in an early version of the Rhaetic language. “Translation is not required to comprehend the story,” the opening credits inform us. This is an everyday tale of murder, pillage and rape among Neolithic village folk in the Otztal Alps thousands of years ago.

The movie was inspired by the discovery of a body in the region after a glacier melted in the early 1990s. At first everyone assumed the corpse was that of a hiker who had got lost in the snow. Then, the scientists discovered he had been dead for 5,300 years. Felix Randau’s movie imagines what might have been the story of his life and death.

Iceman plays like an X-rated version of the recent Aardman cartoon Early Man. the early scenes show that life is tough but the Neolithic inhabitants appear to be living at one with nature. Then comes catastrophe. The community’s leader, Kelab (Jurgen Vogel), is off hunting when another tribe attacks the village in shockingly brutal fashion.

As Kelab sets off in pursuit of the killers, the film turns into a typical revenge western. Kaleb is utterly ruthless. He wants to inflict suffering on the killers.

The film’s strength lies in its sense of mystery and in the primal nature of the story. The majestic landscapes add an epic quality to bloodthirsty, original movie.”

The Swiss have produced a couple of interesting movies in the past few years. One was Dark Star, a documentary about the Surrealist artist H.R. Giger. Giger was the creator of ‘biomechanics’ art, which mixed organic and technological forms to produce strange, disturbing creatures and landscapes. He was the concept artist behind Alien’s Xenomorph, and Sil, the sexually predatory alien in the film Species. Unfortunately, I’ve never seen it, despite combing through the foreign language section of H.M.V. and other music/DVD stores many times.

They also produced an interesting German-language horror film, Blood Glacier, or Blutgletscher in German. This is about a group of scientists and a visiting female politico, cut off in the Alps facing a horde of mutated creatures produced by some strange, organic substance spreading into the ecosystem from a melting glacier. This substance is blood red, of course, as hinted in the film’s title. It’s not a great film, but it also isn’t a bad one, and is interesting as an example of the kind of SF the Europeans are producing away from Hollywood.

Iceman also reminds me of that other film set in prehistory, The Quest For Fire. This was a Franco-Canadian co-production based on a short story set in the Palaeolithic by one of the great, early French SF writers. It stars Ron Perlman, now probably best known for his role as the title character in Hellboy, as a Neanderthal on a quest to obtain fire. On his travels, the Neanderthal encounters a number of other early human varieties, some more primitive, until he finally discovers a tribe of Cro Magnons. He finally steals fire from them, and winning the love of an Early Modern human woman, who follows him back into the wilderness.

Others will no doubt think of The Clan of the Cave Bear, based on the novels of Jean M. Auel, and starring Daryl Hannah as a Homo Sapiens woman growing up in a tribe of Neanderthals. The book, or its sequel, on which the movie was based was given a very bad review in the literary pages of Private Eye, and the critics weren’t terribly impressed with the film, either. But Auel’s fiction is respected and defended by some leading professional archaeologists, who were impressed by her knowledge of the Old Stone Age and her ability to bring it alive to her readers.

You could also compared it with 10,000 BC, which had ancient tribes battling a tyrannical civilisation, which looked a lot like Ancient Egypt, and One Million Years BC. 10,000 BC was wildly anachronistic, but not quite as bad as One Million Years BC. This starred Raquel Welch in a fur bikini as the matriarch of an early human tribe fighting off dinosaurs. I enjoyed watching it when I was school age, but it’s nowhere near a realistic depiction of prehistory.

But what makes Iceman similar to The Quest For Fire is that both films were deliberately made in archaic languages. In Iceman, as the review says, this is an early form of Romantsch, the Latin language spoken in Switzerland, and recognised as their fourth official language. This is slightly anachronistic, as like the other Romance languages like French, Italian and Spanish, Romantsch is based on the Latin introduced in these countries after they were conquered by the Romans. Before then, the language spoken in Iron Age Switzerland was the Celtic of the La Tene culture.

The dialogue in The Quest For Fire is all in proto-Indo-European, as reconstructed by Anthony Burgess. Burgess, who wrote A Clockwork Orange, amongst other things, was the first to produce a dictionary, which reconstructed the ancestral Indo-European language, which gave rise to those of much of Europe, Iran and India. Languages like English, French, German, Russian, Lithuanian and Irish in Europe, Farsi in Iran, and Sanskrit, Hindi, Urdu and Punjabi in India and Pakistan. The film’s producer’s called Burgess in as an advisor to translate the dialogue. The film’s also anachronistic, in that, for example, it shows Palaeolithic humans with pottery. This only came in with the Neolithic. Nevertheless, despite the anachronisms, it shows that the film’s producers and director were determined to make the film scientifically plausible to some degree.

I’d like to see Iceman, because I’ve felt for some time that it’s possible to make a good, scientifically accurate drama set in prehistory, in which the dialogue is in a genuinely ancient language. It could easily be done in Britain or Ireland, set in the Celtic Iron Age, and with dialogue in Old or Middle Irish or Welsh. Both of Irish and Welsh have literatures going right back to the Early Middle Ages, what used to be called the Dark Ages, and so would be suitable as the language spoken by Iron Age people in a British or Irish film.

Unfortunately, films are an expensive business, and I’m not sure how many film studios now would want to take the gamble on producing a film in a minority tongue for artistic and reasons of authenticity.

In the meantime, unable to see Otzi at the cinema, I shall have to wait until it comes out on DVD. Let’s hope it appears on the shelves, and doesn’t vanish like the Giger documentary apparently did.

2 Responses to “New Film Based on Otzi the Iceman”

  1. Ctesias62 Says:

    Threatened by strange mutated creatures, sounds like a description of GB’s situation under the loathsome crop of currentTories Beastie! J

    • beastrabban Says:

      Too right! Way back in the 1990s I can remember getting so bored, that I turned on the Tory Party Conference, and catching a glance at the front row. What a bunch of horrors! They all looked like grotesques drawn by Gerald Scarfe, or the alien Krool in the ‘Bad Company’ strip in ‘2000AD’ years ago.

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