Movie Review: “Iceman” — More “Conan” than “Quest for Fire”

“Iceman” is an attempt to create a back story for the frozen, mummified caveman found in the Ötztal Alps, on the Italian-Austrian border, in 1991.

He was nicknamed “Ötzi the Iceman” by researchers, and was found with a full complement of kit — all the gear one needed to survive as a Neolithic European — furs and flints, bow and a copper axe blade. He was 45 when he died.

We know what he ate for his last meals — Ibex and chamois, grains and beans.

What we don’t know is who killed him.  An arrowhead was embedded in his shoulder and he bled out in the alpine cold.

Felix Randau’s version of how he met that end is mostly plausible, and movie-genre conventional. “Ötzi,” named Kelab (Jürgen Vogel ) here, was a hunter from a mountainside hamlet who came off to see that barbarians have slaughtered his family and everyone he knows, and torched the place.

The raiding party (André Hennicke, Axel Stein et al) hear his howls of grief, but don’t go back to kill him, too.

This feels odd, as their raid left pelts and livestock, and seemed mostly aimed at rape, murder and destruction. There is one object they got their hands on, which when it is revealed, later, is the second instance worth a “Come on, that’s preposterous.”

Kelab — no, we don’t actually hear his name and everybody here speaks an untranslated Rhaetic dialect, remnants of which survived into later history — finds the baby that his little boy was able to spirit from their lodge before the boy caught an arrow himself. Kelab grabs a goat, and with mewling infant in hand, sets out to stalk the murderers and have his revenge.

There are encounters on his quest, his first tastes of revenge. A little convenient “let’s hand the child off so I can continue my hunt” business aids the relentless pursuit.

I like the untranslated period-correct dialect choice by writer-director Felix Randau (“Northern Star”). But while there’s lots of stunning scenery, there’s too little detail added to the life science has reconstructed out of the forensic evidence.

We see a little hunting, a little eating. Still, you’ll be relieved to know that sex hadn’t yet gone out of fashion.

But much of what happens from the pitiless and under-motivated murder-raid onward is too conventional to be of much interest.

Think of the “characters” that developed in “Quest for Fire,” the far more tactile sense of that world, the far more interesting encounters and struggles of the principals. Granted, the phrase “story arc” hadn’t been invented, but come on.

For a moment — and just a moment — I thought maybe there’ll be something truly clever done with all this. If we’re making a point about the eternal violence of man with this story, maybe it’ll turn out that the guy stuffed into a museum in the Italian Tyrol is...the bad guy!

Think of it. We’ve followed this victim’s quest, seen him dispatch murderers and get distracted by others via tracking that is taken for granted, not even implied much less displayed. And then he kills the last guy and…it’s ÖTZI!

Yes, the first critic was Neolithic, and she also declared “This is how I would have done it!”

Still, that struck as a more interesting way to go than the drab Barbarian pre-Conan saga we’re treated to here.


MPA Rating: unrated, graphic violence, sex

Cast: Jürgen Vogel, André Hennicke, Susanne Wuest, Sabin Tambrea, Axel Stein and Violetta Schurawlow

Credits: Scripted and directed by Felix Randau. A Film Movement release on Tubi, Amazon and other streaming platforms.

Running time: 1:36

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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