Roar, adventure thriller, rated PG, Jean Cocteau Cinema, 3 chiles

Pasatiempo - - HAPPENING IN MAY - — Michael Abatemarco

Though Roar is billed as a thriller, de­spite some gen­uinely hair-rais­ing mo­ments, most of the ex­cite­ment comes from the per­verse de­light one can take in watch­ing the cast mem­bers try to act their way around an army of un­tamed li­ons, chee­tahs, tigers, and leop­ards. The story be­gins with Hank (played by the film’s direc­tor, Noel Mar­shall), whose up­turned boat pre­vents him from be­ing home in time to meet his newly ar­rived wife and chil­dren at the an­i­mal sanc­tu­ary he runs in Africa. It turns out that the house is over­run with the big cats, and one of them, al­pha lion Togar, has com­menced a battle for dom­i­nance with the more peo­ple-friendly lion, Rob­bie. Hank’s un­sus­pect­ing fam­ily, played by Tippi He­dren, Mar­shall’s real-life wife at the time, and by some of the cou­ple’s real-life brood (Me­lanie Grif­fith and Jerry and John Mar­shall), is walk­ing into a life-or-death sit­u­a­tion. Mean­while, Hank is try­ing to get back to thwart some pelt poach­ers determined to kill the tigers.

This is a movie whose rep­u­ta­tion pre­cedes it. Eleven years in the mak­ing due to nu­mer­ous set­backs, in­clud­ing a flood that de­stroyed most of the set and footage (and that killed sev­eral of the an­i­mals) and forced cast and crew to reshoot, the un­der­tak­ing was plagued by dozens of such life-threat­en­ing ac­ci­dents as maul­ings and scalp­ings. That’s the price one pays for work­ing with un­trained, un­tamed an­i­mals — this was one of the most danger­ous pro­duc­tions in cinema his­tory. Mar­shall, who, along with He­dren, is an an­i­mal ad­vo­cate, wrote the script be­cause of his pas­sion for the big cats.

Film­ing took place in Cal­i­for­nia in­stead of Africa. Many of the an­i­mals were un­wanted, ob­tained from cir­cuses, zoos, and pri­vate own­ers. Dur­ing film­ing, cine­matog­ra­pher Jan de Bont had to have his scalp sewed back on af­ter an attack. Grif­fith, in an in­ci­dent cap­tured on film and in­cluded in the movie, was mauled so badly she re­quired re­con­struc­tive surgery. He­dren suf­fered a bro­ken leg, and Mar­shall suf­fered so many in­juries he even­tu­ally de­vel­oped gan­grene. It may come as a sur­prise that He­dren, af­ter be­ing ter­ror­ized while film­ing Al­fred Hitch­cock’s The Birds, would agree to this pro­duc­tion. She not only climbed aboard but sub­se­quently es­tab­lished two char­i­ties, the Roar Foun­da­tion and Sham­bala Pre­serve, to pro­tect the big cats af­ter the movie’s 1981 re­lease.

Roar is a wildly paced, schizoid film. The ac­tors’ ter­ror is real, but the ac­tion is com­i­cally fre­netic as they run from room to room while be­ing chased by li­ons and tigers. The big cats mostly don’t do what they’re sup­posed to, and that makes line de­liv­ery dif­fi­cult for the hu­mans. In­stead of im­pro­vis­ing, the cast strug­gles to stay with the script while un­der sud­den attack. The edit­ing is a mess, the dia­logue is cheesy, and the plot is weak at best. Its plea to pro­tect en­dan­gered species is al­most un­der­mined by the real dan­gers that were posed to cast (in­clud­ing an­i­mals) and crew. But you’ll have a great time any­way, watch­ing the beasts be their own bad selves.

Mane event: no hu­mans al­lowed

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