After seeing this movie, you’ll think twice about going to one of those drive-through animal parks like Lion Country Safari in Florida or the San Diego Wildlife Park. Word of advice, if you see a 400lb lion walking towards your car, stay inside!!
Rule number one with lions: do NOT piss them off!! Deep in Africa, some poachers attempt to slaughter a pride of lions but leave one male behind. Oooo! Bad idea! At the same time, we meet Dr. Nate Samuels (Idris Elba), and his two teenage daughters: strong-willed Meredith “Mare” (Iyana Halley) and younger, excitable Norah (Leah Sava Jeffries). They’re in Africa because Nate wants to reconnect with his estranged kids, but mostly it’s due to his guilt over his late wife’s passing, something Mare likes to remind him of.
But there’s no time for guilt trips, it’s time to head off into the jungle with their likable Uncle Martin (Sharlto Copley), who’s not only their expert guide on this private reserve, but is also hiding a secret. Gee, look at all the cool animals, like the giraffes, the antelopes, and the lions! However, things start going wrong on their sightseeing tour, and quicker than you can say, “You’re gonna need a bigger car”, they get attacked by a ferocious rogue lion that is killing for the sport of it. Just like the vicious attacks in either Cujo or Jurassic Park, this blood-thirsty pussycat won’t take ‘no’ for an answer.
Pretty soon, it’s every man (and teenage girl) for themselves as this fearsome jungle beast is constantly stalking them as they are caught in the perfect storm: a crashed car, injured, no cellphone, no weapons, and no help anywhere in sight! And just when you think things can’t get any worse, they do! Although this movie is fictional and based on an original idea by Jaime Primak-Sullivan (who writes reality-based TV shows like Jersey Belle), the screenplay is by Ryan Engle (Rampage, The Commuter), which is shocking, as this script does not succumb to the usual tropes that many of his films do.
Example: Dr. Nate is not an ex-Navy Seal or special forces Op, nor is he a superhero or unkillable. He’s just a regular, ordinary Joe who’s trying to remain calm in extraordinary circumstances, which is refreshing and unexpected. In fact, all the characters are played very real, making you wonder if this was a true story being told, given the believable way it’s presented. Engle writes like this actually happened with authentic dialogue and real-time, dramatic, and nail-biting pacing. And Elba sells it with his genuine performance of a man who just wants to make his girls safe & happy, even at his own expense.
South African actor Copley is always a welcome addition to any film as he excels in any role you put him in, and he doesn’t disappoint here either. Both girls (Halley and Jeffries) are very good with Halley really shining as the troubled older teen with a chip on her shoulder. But the real star is director Baltasar Kormákur (The Deep, Two Guns) and his unique style of filming. The man loves two things: long, uninterrupted tracking shots and Steadicam, hand-held camera work, of which this movie is 90% comprised of, so get ready to feel a little woozy at times as the camera is constantly following the actors around like a shadow. It may get a little tedious, but it makes you feel like you are right there!
At a lean 93 minutes, the movie doesn’t overstay its welcome and has a nice pace to it with some surprises along the way. Shot on location, it’s gorgeous to look at. The only thing you’re gonna have to get past are all the CGI lions. Sometimes they look real, like the ones in Disney’s The Lion King “live-action” remake, other times it was iffy at best. At least the humans were acting up a storm all around, so that was a compromise, I suppose.
**Now showing only in theaters
The Ghost and The Darkness (1996)
Based upon the true story/book, The Man-Eaters of Tsavo, by Lt. Col. John Henry Patterson, the man who actually killed the vicious lions that terrorized African villagers, screenwriter William Goldman (Princess Bride) took up the screenwriting adaptation.
It’s 1898 in Tsavo, Kenya and bi-polar Sir Robert Beaumont (Tom Wilkinson) is the primary financier of a bridge-building railway project in Africa. He seeks out the expertise of a British military engineer, Lt. Col. John Henry Patterson (Val Kilmer with a floating accent), to get the project back on schedule. But shortly after his arrival, he meets British supervisor Angus Starling (Brian McArdie), Kenyan foreman Samuel (John Kani), and odd Dr. David Hawthorne (Bernard Hill) who inform Patterson of a recent lion attack.
After Patterson kills an approaching lion, he earns the respect of the African, Hindu, and Muslim laborers, but it’s short-lived as only a few weeks later there’s another attack. But after this lion kills Angus, Patterson realizes there are two of these beasts and they’re extremely vicious, attacking at will with no pattern. No matter what Patterson tries, these lions continue to use the camp as their personal smorgasbord as the body count continues to rise. He even builds a wild “contraption” to catch one of the lions, which works, but the cat miraculously escapes.
With the workers close to leaving en masse, who should show up out of the blue and with no prior announcement, but the Great White Hunter himself, Charles Remington (Michael Douglas, looking like a shaggy Buffalo Bill Cody), plus his own personal entourage of Maasai warriors! This cock-sure famous hunter takes charge in killing the lions, even though Patterson thinks he can still handle things himself. Remington’s plan? Lure the lions in with a sure-fire trap. Then, spring the trap! Unfortunately, the lions didn’t get the memo and slaughter a bunch of workers, causing the inevitable and expected mass walk-out.
Now it’s up to Remington, Patterson, and Samuel to take the fight to the lions and track them in the bush. Will they be successful or will those big kitty cats have a late-night snack? As far as adaptations go, Goldman admits he stretched the truth a bit. Okay, a lot. First, there was no Remington in the book; he was a fictional character made up to make Patterson look braver. Second, the lions depicted in the movie (yeah, they used real lions, not CGI) wore large manes, but Tsavo lions are mane-less. Then producer Douglas, who wanted to play Remington, cut 45 minutes from this already ponderous 2hour movie, leaving gaps in the movie, plot holes, and more.
Director Stephen Hopkins (Predator 2, Lost in Space) had a miserable time and hated making this movie, having never seen it. “We had snake bites, scorpion bites, tick bite fever, people getting hit by lightning, floods, torrential rains, lightning storms, hippos chasing people through the water, cars getting swept into the water, and several deaths of crew members, including two drownings”. Yeah, I can see why he hated making this movie. Douglas and Kilmer are wonderful though, as is Kani, but it boils down to a long-winded, chatty, character study that needed more action and less jibber-jabber.