Missing Link

March 16, 2011

Missing Link is one of the more ludicrously misguided movies of recent memory. It covers roughly the same territory that the first 20 minutes of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 did; all about the passing of ape-men into men. But what Kubrick did with such visionary economy, Missing Link does with uninterrupted simplemindedness. And it takes 100 minutes to do it.

It’s sort of like Quest for Fire without the sex. Set in Africa one million years ago, Missing Link documents the final journey of a fuzzy, red-haired Australopithecus robustus. His days are numbered, because he’s an ape-man surrounded by ever-increasing numbers of more highly evolved humans.

In fact, when his clan is slaughtered, he’s the very last of his kind. So he roams around, ponders the blunt object that killed his pals, and drifts across the savannah in search of sympathy. In the end, we are given a flower-child message about this thick-skulled creature’s gentleness, as opposed to the nastiness of man.

Throughout his journey, the Fuzzy One encounters nature. And here is where the credentials of writer-directors David and Carol Hughes come into play. They are veteran wildlife filmmakers, and they take every opportunity to display the oddities of the African landscape (they filmed entirely in Namibia).

So we get the “National Geographic” tour of the territory: lions attacking water buffalo, a python swallowing a duck, a lion toying with a turtle, who has, understandably, drawn himself up into his shell.

Sometimes the wonders of nature prompt Fuzzy to chuckle, in his primordial way; it’s pretty funny when a lizard zaps a beetle with its tongue and crunches the bug until the guts spew out. It’s so funny that our ape-man even imitates the behavior.

There’s nothing wrong, of course, with interesting wildlife footage, and some of the footage in Missing Link is interesting.

The undaunted actor playing the ape-man is Peter Elliott, who does exact physical work. (He’s encased in hair and mask designed by Oscar-winning makeup man Rick Baker.) Elliott’s good at this, but he’s getting into something of a rut, career-wise. He has appeared in Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Harry and the Hendersons, King Kong Lives, and Gorillas in the Mist. You guessed it, all ape roles. Nice to have a specialty, but if I were Elliott, I’d have a long talk with my agent.

First published in the Herald, November 1988

By gum, Peter Elliott is still at it, playing simians (and acting as “performance coordinator” on Where the Wild Things Are), and needing no career advice from me. Good for him. Rick Baker’s still at it, too, evidenced by his recent Oscar win for The Wolfman. As for the rest of this, I swear “a python swallowing a duck” is the middle of a Buddy Hackett routine, but for the life of me I can’t think of the punchline.