|REAL LIONS. REAL PEOPLE. REAL MAULING. REAL CRAZY.|
Dir. Noel Marshall
Starring: Noel Marshall, Tippi Hedren, Melanie Griffith, Kyalo Mativo
Review By Greg Klymkiw
Roar is clearly one of the most insane movies ever made. Oh hell, let's shoot the works and just declare that it is the most insane movie ever made. It stars 150 lions, tigers and other big cats. No animals were harmed during the making of the movie, but 70 people were.
It all began when actress Tippi Hedren (The Birds, Marnie) was in Africa shooting a movie in the mid-60s when she discovered on safari that an entire abandoned mission had been taken over completely by lions.
Ding! Light bulb flashes over Tippi's head! There's a movie in this, she thinks.
Her hubby, producer Noel Marshall agrees. In fact, for a few years, the two of them become wildlife preservation activists and eventually started to rescue lions, tigers and all other manner of big cats and raised them on the grounds of their Beverly Hills mansion. When the menagerie started to get a trifle large, they moved out to Acton, California where they bought up huge tracts of land and set up a wildlife reserve. They kept buying more and more big cats and even elephants - giving them all a safe harbour to live out the rest of their lives peacefully. This is, to my mind, a damn wonderful thing for them to have done, especially given how unscrupulous the wildlife trade has always been (as well as poor animals being exploited in circuses and private zoos).
Maybe not so wonderful is the film they eventually made; not that it's awful - well, actually, it kind of is - but as you're watching the movie, you just keep wondering, "What in the hell am I watching here?" And you know what? That's probably a good thing. So many movies during the past 40-or-so years are such dull, by-the-numbers bore-fests, machine-tooled within an inch of their lives, that anything that forces you to scratch your noggin so hard it starts to bleed has got to have something going for it.
The movie tells the rather insane tale of a guy who runs a huge wild animal preserve. Most of the recipients of his largesse are lions - a ridiculous number of lions (plus tigers, panthers, leopards, cheetahs and the aforementioned elephants). Played by director, co-writer and co-producer Marshall, our hero spends a good deal of screen time wrasslin' his beasts. They are such ornery critters and. BONUS, super cute and loveable. The only problem is, they're lions and tigers for Christ's sake! Marshall's Man Friday and sidekick Mativo, while no Stepin Fetchit, is definitely in Mantan Moreland territory as he goes mega-bug-eyed when the lions and tigers act up - which, during the first half hour of the film is pretty much all the time. (There's even a ludicrous running gag involving Mativo fending off tigers with an umbrella.)
|MELANIE GRIFFITH AND LION CAVORT|
In the meantime, the family has indeed landed and with nobody to greet them, they hope a bus for the wildlife compound. When they arrive, we are treated to one of the most insane, surreal extended sequences ever put on film. The lions and tigers get mighty ornery in Marshall's absence and chase the entire family around the compound, destroying much of the interior of the big house. This feels like it's going to go on forever. Not that it's boring, though. These are real lions and real people.
|TIPPI HEDREN IS MAULED BY A CHEETAH,|
JAN DE BONT IS MISSING HALF OF HIS SCALP,
A HAPPY-GO-LUCKY WILDERNESS FAMILY REJOICES!!!
This is like The Adventures of Wilderness Family as snuff film. During the course of shooting, Marshall got so repeatedly mauled that he almost died from gangrene. Tippi was bitten in the head. The boys were both bitten and Melanie Griffith was so horrifically mauled, that she required major reconstructive surgery.
Cinematographer Jan De Bont (he'd shot many of Paul Verhoeven's Dutch films and directed Speed, Speed 2 and Twister) had pretty much half of his scalp torn right off.
The plot, such as it is, eventually allows the family to get back together in an utterly harrowing climactic sequence. There's also a subplot involving some wildlife committee members who decide they're going to shoot all of Marshall's lions in retaliation for the mauling they received earlier. After shooting a few helpless beasts, the alpha lion attacks them and tears their throats out. Marshall tells Mantan Mativo not to say anything to the wife and kids so as not to ruin their reunification. We're then treated to a ten-or-so-minute-long montage sequence of the happy family and lions with a gentle folk song on the soundtrack.
Roar, from conception to finished product took 11 years. The principal photography alone took 4 years. The budget soared to a reported $17 million, the vast chunk of the money coming from Hedren and Marshall's combined savings, earnings and real estate. (Marshall actually made a small fortune from his royalties on such hit films that he executive-produced like The Exorcist and The Harrad Experiment.) But, really, $17 million??? Look, 17-mill is nothing to sneeze at, even though in today's bucks, it's considered a pittance for most pictures, but by 1981, when Roar was finally completed and released (to zippo boxoffice) this was a HUMUNGOUS amount of money.
Frankly, I don't even know where the film is supposed to take place. There's some odd thank you to the Massai nation at the beginning of the movie and many African actors populate supporting roles. Sometimes it looks like we're in Africa, but most of the time, it looks like we're in Acton, California surrounded by wild beasts from Africa. And guess what? It really doesn't matter. This movie could only be set in the never-never land it appears to take place in.
The film has barely been seen since 1981, but now, thanks to Drafthouse Films, Roar has been restored to its former glory for a theatrical release followed by a huge Blu-Ray/DVD run.
And here's the rub, I can't actually say the picture is awful, nor can I say it's good. I really have no idea what to say other than the fact that it's unlike anything you'll ever see. It's gorgeously shot, some of the suspense and action scenes are definitely hair-raising and most of the acting (when it is acting and not real terror) is pretty good. Tippi Hedren, in particular, makes quite a terrific Perils of Pauline figure as she seems to get into the most ludicrously dangerous animal-dodging gymnastics and little Melanie is just plain mouth-wateringly gorgeous. Director Marshall, however, is a dreadful actor. He's so overwrought you just want to punch him in the face. It won't be necessary, though. He got gangrene for his troubles and egregious ham-boning.
A year after the film flopped, Marshall and Hedren divorced. Wilderness Families only live happily ever after in the movies.
THE FILM CORNER RATING: *** 3 Stars (though it's really impossible to rate this at all)
Roar is playing in a variety of special engagements. In Toronto, it can be seen in repertory all through the month of May at the Royal Cinema. You really want to see this on a big screen. The bigger the better.