Watch Saul Bass’s Trippy, Kitschy Short Film The Quest (1983), Based on a Ray Bradbury Short Story

Saul Bass was one of the great­est graph­ic design­ers who ever lived. He cre­at­ed the logos for such ubiq­ui­tous orga­ni­za­tions as AT&T, Unit­ed Air­lines and the Girl Scouts of Amer­i­ca. He rev­o­lu­tion­ized the art of movie titles in such films as The Man with the Gold­en Arm, Ver­ti­go and West Side Sto­ry. He may or may not have designed the famous show­er sequence in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psy­cho. His design work was always marked by a clean, high­ly graph­ic style that you can pick out a mile away.

Yet when Bass got a chance to actu­al­ly direct, he didn’t make slick movies with sim­ple plots and great visu­als, as you might expect. Instead, he made pro­found­ly trip­py movies with great visu­als. His one and only fea­ture film, Phase IV (1974), is a deeply weird movie about evo­lu­tion. Think of it as a low-bud­get 2001: A Space Odyssey. With ants. The movie was butchered by scared dis­trib­u­tors and con­se­quent­ly, it bombed at the box office. Almost a decade lat­er, Bass, along with his sec­ond wife Elaine, made a short film called Quest, based on Ray Bradbury’s sto­ry “Frost and Fire.” You can watch it above.

The film cen­ters on a tribe of robe-sport­ing peo­ple who live for only a mere eight days. If you’re an infant on a Mon­day, you will be elder­ly by the time the next Mon­day rolls around. At the open­ing, a name­less child is born as his elders ask in hushed tones, “Is this the one?” Of course he is. The rea­son he and his tribe have a short­er shelf life than gro­cery store sushi has some­thing to do with a gate that blocks life sus­tain­ing light. “Beyond the great gate,” intones one elder, “peo­ple live 20,000 days or more.” The prob­lem is that gate is five or so days away by foot.

So after a very brief train­ing mon­tage, the youth sets off across strange and fan­ci­ful land­scapes that recall Yes album cov­ers. Along the way, he faces down a beast that looks like a bear crossed with a lam­prey, plays a video game with a Yeti on top of a zig­gu­rat, and stum­bles across a wiz­ened old man who only the pre­vi­ous week was the tribe’s gold­en boy.

The movie is incred­i­bly, hilar­i­ous­ly dat­ed, so much so that it goes right past kitsch into some­thing close to sub­lime. If you remem­ber watch­ing, and lov­ing, The Dark Crys­tal, Beast Mas­ter, Krull and Tron in your youth, you must check this out.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Saul Bass’ Vivid Sto­ry­boards for Kubrick’s Spar­ta­cus (1960)

Who Cre­at­ed the Famous Show­er Scene in Psy­cho? Alfred Hitch­cock or the Leg­endary Design­er Saul Bass?

A Brief Visu­al Intro­duc­tion to Saul Bass’ Cel­e­brat­ed Title Designs

Saul Bass’ Oscar-Win­ning Ani­mat­ed Short Pon­ders Why Man Cre­ates

4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More

Jonathan Crow is a Los Ange­les-based writer and film­mak­er whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hol­ly­wood Reporter, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veep­to­pus, fea­tur­ing lots of pic­tures of bad­gers and even more pic­tures of vice pres­i­dents with octo­pus­es on their heads.  The Veep­to­pus store is here.

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  • Gern B says:

    “So after a very brief train­ing mon­tage, the youth sets off across strange and fan­ci­ful land­scapes that recall Yes album cov­ers”

    Very fun­ny. I enjoyed this film. The first beast looks sim­i­lar to the Ran­cor mon­ster from Return of the Jedi, also released in 1983.

  • Kimberly Hatch Harrison says:

    I will watch any­thing, any­where, any­time by Ray Brad­bury. Did you notice the boy (Atreyu) from the Nev­erEnd­ing Sto­ry?

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