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