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"Primal" Genndy Tartakovsky

by Steven Daniszewski - Staff Writer
Fri, Dec 13th 2019 10:00 am

Opening shot. A quiet stream. Spear slays a fish. Fish bleeds while being held out of the water by Spear — the character, not the weapon. It stops breathing, then is strung on a root with multiple other fish.

It’s not even a minute in and the quiet atmosphere of a primitive jungle has enveloped the viewer. The landscape is lush, the colors vibrant, yet there is death — this is what life was before suburban strip malls or technological marvels. And for much of life, minus the unending primeval landscape, it continues to be a brutal existence sustained by deriving life from life. Even if your meat comes wrapped in plastic on a styrofoam tray in a grocery store, at one point something sharp hurt something living.

“Primal” doesn’t wrap it in plastic, it doesn’t serve it to you on a styrofoam tray, it presents this brutality to you straight and reminds you there’s more than just choreographed action, or Instagram-worthy sunsets in these fantasial recreations of primitive life; there’s emotion behind almost every creature, and that is where life exists — in the emotional states that form a response to challenges.

 It’s art may be nostalgic to some, especially those who saw the last action-filled, toned-down-dialogue animated series on Adult Swim; this take on the classic “Caveman and Dinosaur” tale of early fiction is created by Genndy Tartakovsky, the creator of “Samurai Jack,” and in a sense you can see the liberty granted to him by the final conclusion of “Samurai Jack.” His audience has grown up; now he can present what he truly wants to create — not sensitized children’s content, but action, drama, suspense and emotion. But no talking. Possibly because, besides all the sophistication attached by this review — it’s source is still an animated show about a caveman and his dinosaur. Both aren’t generalized as engaging conversationalists so the show is devoid of dialogue. 

Is Spear a homo sapien, or neanderthal? Is Spear his name, or one given to him by the viewers? You do not know. Just how realistic is this setting, if we can imagine an alternate world where hominids and dinosaurs developed alongside one another? That is implied by how long you watch the series. 

The artwork is stunning, the soundscape envelopes. For many viewers, this may be the first adult animated series they watch that uses the medium for things other than kid’s shows, “Family Guy” or anime. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It just provides context for why this show is more than just a caveman; it’s an entry of art into a market mostly dominated by humor. And I feel that is why it makes the impact it does. 

Hopefully the impact is significant enough to allow Genndy to continue this experimental work; after a career dominated by series such as “Dexter’s Laboratory,” a series about brutal primal existence featuring the bond between two victims of severe tragedy is seemingly a rapid departure, but Genndy himself states it’s a return to the work he originally wanted to start, but couldn’t quite get off the ground. 

For what it’s worth, it is balanced. Art and action, violence and serene beauty. It is a tale of adventure dialed back to the primal essence of Survival. 

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Taken by Vincent Croce:
Staff Photographer

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