Missing Link

Director: David & Carol Hughes  
Peter Elliott

They say that man is the most intelligent animal on Earth. Certainly, there is a lot of evidence to support that statement, with such things as scientists making new discoveries every year, fabulous movies made by studios such as the kind PM Entertainment made, and the ability that practically all humans have to think and reason to incredible lengths, unlike any other animal on the planet. But at the same time, there is a significant amount of evidence that makes me pause, to really think that mankind to some degree has flaws, flaws that an outsider who was perfect in every way would make him question if man is as intelligent as we humans think we are. Some of these things are obvious, like the fact that man seems to like to make war with others of its kind, a trait can also be found in some lower forms of life on this planet. Then there is the fact that humans, in their quest for knowledge, go so far in this pursuit that it can be labeled as an unhealthy obsession. One such thing that immediately come to mind include religion, where for some people common sense is pushed away. Another such thing that I have personally observed countless times over the years are human's attitudes towards animals. I think I have mentioned before about my experience with humans and dinosaurs. When I was a child, it seemed that every child I encountered in my school was obsessed with dinosaurs. It didn't make much sense to me - dinosaurs are long dead, why be fascinated with them? Why not be obsessed with the blue whale, which is alive today and much bigger than any dinosaur?

The silliness that many human beings have towards animals doesn't stop with dinosaurs - most of it is directed towards animals that are alive and kicking today. Take dogs, for instance. While dogs have enough intelligence that I can understand why some people would consider them part of the family, there are an incredible number of people who go beyond this and treat the dogs they own as miniature people. There are those Beverly Hills types who own Chihuahuas, dragging them around as they do their shopping, sometimes carrying their dogs in their purses. (I have personally observed at the store where I work customers doing the same thing with their similarly miniature dogs.) There are also some cat owners who also fuss over their pets in an incredible way. But when it comes to human perspective on animals, what has been even sillier, and going on for hundreds of years, is the idea of a creature that has the mix of human and animal traits. For example, there has been the minotaur, a a creature that was half man and half bull that was supposedly created when a Crete woman decided to have relations with a bull. Imagined in the same era was the centaur, which had a human head and arms, but the body and legs of a horse. Centuries later, from the imagination of man came the legend of the mermaid, which had a female human top half and a fish tail bottom half. I guess I can understand how that last one came around, with the fact that horny sailors on long sea voyages had no women around - just about anything would look good in those circumstances.

But I think the man/animal cross that has produced the most fascination, at least in the past one hundred years, has been the idea of a creature that is part man and part ape. I think I can understand why. For one thing, I once read that chimpanzees have 99% of the same DNA as a human. We are close in many ways to these kind of animals. So I can understand why legends of the Yeti and Sasquatch have popped up, though I don't believe these creatures exist - I think we would have found solid evidence by now if they did. I do however believe in the possibility of a missing link, however. There are fossils of more primitive types of apes that have been unearthed, and there is a space in the evolution chart for a creature. My (cautionary) interest in this possibility was one of the main reasons why I picked up Missing Link, a "what if" movie about this possibility. Here's the description from the back of the video box: "He had no knowledge of fire. He had no need for weapons. He was the first man on Earth. He was the last of his kind. Breathtaking cinematography highlights this tale of man's loss of innocence as the last of a primitive species is pushed to extinction by the violent world of planet Earth, one million years B.C. After his family is slaughtered by a tribe who has introduced man-made weapons to an unsuspecting world, the last man-ape roams the land in search of solitude. Along the way, he encounters the many wonders and horrors of an explosive, uncivilized planet. It's a fascinating journey that sheds light on what might have become of man's earliest ancestors."

Unlike just about every movie that has been made concerning the subject of man-apes, Missing Link is a major Hollywood studio (Universal) production. It did get a theatrical release, but after doing some research Missing Linkon the movie, it seems that this theatrical release was nothing close to what would be considered a wide release. On the surface, there seems to be obvious clues as to why Universal didn't have much faith in the movie. There are no familiar stars in the cast, for one thing. There is no dialogue by the characters, at least in English - just sporadic narration. There's nothing really exploitive in the movie that might easily titillate certain undemanding audience members. All this could understandably make studio executives nervous, but there are certain (and more real) problems with the movie that probably also explain why it got its limited release. But first, I will start by listing some of the stuff I found positive about the movie. To begin with, there is the visual look of the movie. Although I was watching the movie via a worn ex-rental tape, I could still see that this movie must have looked gorgeous on the big screen. The cinematography is bright and clear, and it photographs some stunning backdrops of deserts, grasslands, and other beautiful parts of this corner of Africa (the movie was filmed in Namibia.) As the man-ape travels through this colorful backdrop, we also get some compelling footage of the wildlife he observes. We see stuff such as lions going after baby animals as their mothers try to protect them, toads being flung high in the air by other toads during fights, and a flock of hundreds of birds all trying to drink after they all descend on a small puddle.

The character of the man-ape is also interesting in several aspects. For one thing, the makeup covering the actor playing him (Elliott, who has made a career of playing apes in movies) was done by makeup great Rick Baker. Baker's makeup here is pretty well done, coming up with a creation that definitely looks both like man and ape. It must have been a very long and painful makeup process for Elliott, since the make-up covers all over his body. It must have also been embarrassing, since the makeup doesn't quite cover his genitals, which are in full view in many parts of the movie. (Despite this and other things in the movie like violence, Missing Link got a PG rating.) Despite this embarrassment, Elliot manages to make the audience believe that this creature has characteristics of both man and ape. At times he seems to be thinking, and other times he can do nothing but scream an animal cry of rage. At one point he picks up a human axe, and he manages to make clear this man-ape knows the tool is something special, but doesn't know how to use it. Elliott also has to do some risky stunt work like jumping out of trees, getting close to a ornery elephant or a poisonous snake, none of which is faked. Elliott clearly gave one hundred percent to what he was given, but a problem still remains that isn't his fault. The man-ape is simply not interesting enough. Although there are some interesting scenes like with the axe, most of the movie has him either simply watching the animal life around him or walking to a new location. There's simply little room for Elliott to make this man-ape a real fleshed-out character.

Another problem concerning the character of the man-ape is that we don't get caught up in his plight. At the beginning of the movie, he finds his family slaughtered by humans and is the last of his kind. He then begins his long hike to anywhere that is free of humans, but almost immediately the movie forgets to show his struggle and pain, keeping the humans a safe distance away for the rest of the movie. About the biggest threat he has on his journey is when he unknowingly ingests a peyote-like plant that subsequently gives him hallucinations. Had the movie shown him constantly struggling to get away from this real threat (even if it had ended up ripping off The Naked Prey), I suspect more sympathy would have been built for the man-ape. The movie does try a few times to get into the head of this creature with its sporadic narration, but it usually tells us nothing we know, giving us such awkward speeches like, "The man-ape has become a solitary wanderer among the herds and families that live on the plains. He has the gentle nature of a race that had no defense against the violence of man. Now he's more alone than he knows." As a result of all this, we simply don't care whether this man-ape lives or dies. It seems that directors David & Carol Hughes (who also wrote the screenplay) also didn't care much about the man-ape, because (among other things) they come up with an ending that seems to suggest that the man-ape's long journey was for nothing. This movie is proof that making a good-looking production will only carry you so far.

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See also: Demonwarp, King Kung Fu, Oddball Hall