Let’s see, how can I get you all to check out a movie about lions and tigers and…other big cats roaming free and interacting with humans? The delicate bit is there’s practically no plot. Ok, how about tons of cast and crew members got horrifically injured during filming? How does that sound? Or maybe that the human and cat interactions (like mauling, tackling, scraping) are all real with no trickery? Well if any of that sounds appealing keep on reading.
This was a passion project from husband and wife team Noel Marshall (producer: The Exorcist) and Tippi Hedren (The Birds) who wanted to spread awareness of lions by making this weird piece that doesn’t directly educate you on the subject. Instead it’s done indirectly through observing how these animals interrelate with humans in this very specific multi-acre compound environment (which was Noel and Tippi’s real life cat sanctuary).
The terrifically loose narrative involves Noel trying to pick up his visiting family (which includes Tippi, real life sons John and Jerry and real life step-daughter Melanie Griffith (Another Day in Paradise)) at an airport somewhere in Africa. Along the way he runs into obstacle after obstacle that relentlessly delays him. So after a while the fam decides not wait any longer and takes the bus. When they get to the house they find it overrun with dozens and dozens of huge fucking lions ‘n shit. Nearly the entire movie has the family doing their best to try to escape from the creatures. However, what they don’t know is that these guys are Noel’s friends and they don’t actually mean any harm. If they would only give the furry fellas a chance they would find out that they’re not so bad and there’s nothing to fear. I supposed this is the message of the picture? Along with: stop hunting down and murdering these magnificent animals please.
All of the footage is some of the most unbelievable animal stuff I’ve ever seen. It’s breathtaking and nerve-racking as hell to see the lions fight with each other, play (very hard) with humans and run around freely. It’s all due to the extremely brave crew that stuck their necks out, literally, to get the footage. There was a plethora of injuries over the multi-year shoot and many got hurt very badly. One of the unlucky ones was incredible cinematographer Jan de Bont (Die Hard, Basic Instinct, Black Rain) who shot this very early in his American career. He risked his life for this shit and got scalped by a lion at one point who nearly took his whole fucking head off.
Roar is a fascinating film and the story behind it is equally enthralling. I won’t go into it too much but Marshall and family actually adopted these animals who lived in their house for years before filming. When they finally got around to making the damn movie it took another five years to shoot (the picture is supposed to take place in one day by the way) and they were ravaged by constant animal problems, injuries and even a huge flood.
Boy is this one strange bird, er, cat. But it’s definitely worth seeing not only from a crazy filmmaking perspective but also if you’re interested in animals and their behaviors. It’s a miracle this thing exists at all.