After the absolute chaos of a film that sets loose over 150 safari animals on the poor cast and crew of “Roar,” one of the lead characters makes a bold claim: “Boy, are they friendly.”
“Roar” is a forgotten 1981 film that follows an enthusiastic zoologist in Africa who turns his land into a sort of safe haven for big cats, protecting them from poachers. Marketed today as a screwball passion project, Drafthouse Films is re-releasing the movie 34 years after it was a financial failure on its initial release.
“Roar” is a family affair with a cast led by director Noel Marshall as the zoologist, and starring his then-wife, “Birds” actress Tippi Hedren, as well as their children. Promotion for the film has been attention-grabbing, highlighting unbelievable behind-the-scenes stories from its tormented 11-year production. As the film’s tagline states: “No animals were harmed in the making of this film. 70 cast and crew members were.”
With so many reported grisly cast and crew injuries, some of which are visible in the movie, I was sceptical that
the film could live up to its clever marketing.
To my surprise and satisfaction, it absolutely did.
Before the movie started I asked my friends joining me what they hoped to see in “Roar.” I received responses like “blood,” “people getting killed,” and “people cuddling lions.” Miraculously, “Roar” did not disappoint any of my friends, making its PG-rating feel inappropriate, even by today’s standards.
Every character in “Roar” seems to be in a rush, and for good reason. Forget the script, the story takes a backseat, as these actors have more pressing matters at hand. Dialogue is spouted rapidly, and then abruptly cut off by pouncing lions. Bodies flinch in preparation for a sudden attack and steps are taken gingerly to avoid one. The big cats are difficult to read as they shift between being unsurprisingly aggressive and strangely affectionate (even cute).
Yes, the dialogue is laughable, and the story is goofy. The chase scenes between untamed animals and the cast are, however, filled with tension, as there is a real sense of terror in the eyes of the actors. In other movies, characters are choreographed to run for their lives. In “Roar” people are actually running for their lives.
After the unpredictable 103 minutes ended, I asked my friends for initial reactions and they agreed the movie surpassed their expectations. One of them summed up the movie as follows: “It was basically like they took the cast of ‘The Brady Brunch’, threw them in a house with a 100 lions and attempted to make a film out of it.”
“Roar” is a wholly unique viewing experience, complete with laughter and astonishment. For the amount of time and effort Director Noel Marshall and his family went through, I admire their resilience in bringing “Roar” into existence. It is surreal and oddly compelling to behold such intimate interactions between humans and some of the most feared predators on Earth.
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