Sunday, January 26, 2014

Bad Simbas!

The Ghost and The Darkness
Director: Stephen Hopkins
Cast: Val Kilmer, Michael Douglas, John Kani, Bernard Hill, Emily Mortimer, Tom Wilkinson
Released: October 11, 1996

Oscar nominations:
Best Sound Effects Editing - won

I recently listened to a podcast of Stuff You Missed in History Class and they did an episode on the man-eating lions of Tsavo, Kenya who were feasting on the railroad workers back in 1898. Because the lions were like apparitions, they were known as The Ghost and The Darkness. The hosts mentioned that many film adaptations have been made about this story, but this movie is the only one I am familiar with. I had never heard of this story until I saw this movie for the first time back when it was released on video. I hadn't seen it since and after listening to that particular podcast, decided to revisit it.

John Patterson (Kilmer) is a British engineer who is sent to Tsavo to be in charge of working on a railroad that is behind schedule. There have been reports of lion attacks so Patterson stays awake in a tree all night and kills a lion that approaches the camp. Everyone is happy and celebrates and they get back to work. The only problem is, the lion Patterson killed wasn't one of the two man-eating lions known as The Ghost and The Darkness that wreck havoc on the camp, killing several people in a short amount of time. Being a true story, Patterson was a real person and claimed that 135 people were killed by the lions, but it seems the number might have been more accurate to 35....perhaps that "1" was an ink blot in his journal?

These lions prove to be quite difficult to kill as they are very sneaky and crafty and work together. After one of the lions has mauled a worker in the middle of the day, Patterson and a few other men follow it where it has dragged the body to start feasting on it. Patterson has his gun aimed at it, but the lion seems unfazed. This was before anyone realized there were two lions so they were not expecting the second lion that has snuck up on them on a roof of a shelter they're nearby and leap onto one of the men and kill him, causing distraction and for the two lions to trot away.

Charles Remington (Douglas), the expert hunter who comes to help hunt the lions is totally fictional. In real life, Patterson was the one who killed both lions. Remington kills the first lion. He does it by using a poor baboon chained to a wooden post as bait. He appears securely safe in a tree, but Patterson, on the other hand, is sitting atop a wooden structure that isn't the most secure and everytime he turns around (which was whenever he heard a sound, which was quite often), it wobbles. Not long after the first lion is killed, the other lion, apparently out for revenge, kills Remington. So one lion and one man are left and now it's Patterson's turn for revenge and with the help of native Samuel (Kani) who has been a trusted ally since Patterson arrived in Tsavo, manages to kill the lion and end the killing and chaos.

When I first saw this movie back in 1997, Val Kilmer and Michael Douglas were the only actors I was familiar with, but watching it again, I couldn't help but think how familiar the local doctor looked and I knew I had seen him in something and was thinking, "That's not the guy from Lord of the Rings, it it?" (Yes, I realize that doesn't really narrow it down). But after confirming with IMDB, yes, it was "that guy" from LotR, Theoden, played by Bernard Hill, who I also know quite well as the captain in Titanic. I also found out Tom Wilkerson plays Patterson's a-hole boss who tells Patterson that he doesn't care about those who have died and wants his bridge to be built in a timely manner. I didn't really become familiar with Wilkerson until 2000/01 when he was in The Patriot and In the Bedroom. And Emily Mortimer, only in a couple scenes, plays Mrs. Patterson. She's since gone on to be someone I recognize in stuff from a guest spot in 30 Rock to Hugo.

The real Ghost and Darkness.
The most fascinating things about The Ghost and The Darkness (which are on display at the Field Museum in Chicago - I really want to go there one day!) was that they were maneless lions. Seeing as these particular kinds of lions are rare (and probably not the most trainable), the movie uses lions with manes. (And really bad fake lions for whenever one leaps onto a person to attack).

The cinematography of the African landscape is breathtaking and makes you want to go on a safari when you see all the different animals, that is, until the lions start attacking and eating people!

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