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Roar (1981)
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by Jay Seaver

"A truly insane curiosity."
4 stars

That "Roar" never got much of a theatrical release when it was new may be for the best. It means that very few have ever approached it expecting something conventional and been disappointed on that count. Instead, just about everyone who buys a ticket or sends it to their television knows that they're getting the insane movie made with semi-cooperative big cats, and will basically accept it for what it is.

After all, the behind-the-scenes story of this thing is far more interesting than the movie's plot. In some ways, though, they're kind of the same: An animal-loving American (writer/director/star Noel Marshall) goes to Africa and spends a lot of time at a an animal preserve, eventually bringing his family (wife Tippi Hedren, stepdaughter Melanie Griffith, sons John & Jerry Marshall), and having chaos ensue as they arrive at a house where the local animals have more or less free reign. In reality, Marshall's family also got to know the animal cast, while in the film there's some business with poachers that keeps "Hank" from meeting "Madelaine" and the kids on time. How much the alpha lion of the local pack was actually having issues with a nearby rogue in real life is unclear.

I like to imagine that the phrase "you insane American dilettante" was cut from the end of every line Kyalo Mativo spoke; he spends most of his screen time paired with Noel Marshall and that's what the incredulous look on his face seems to be saying. Everything about this movie seems to be barely controlled madness, and the distributor is certainly using that as a selling point, highlighting how seventy members of the cast and crew are injured in some way while the animals were completely unharmed. Perhaps a more telling (and less vicious) way of pointing out how chaotic this project was is that the animals are described as co-writers, because they just did what they wanted, no matter what the script says.

By conventional measures, this often makes for a terrible, amateurish movie. The acting is terrible more often than not, what little attempt there is at a story is thin and a abandoned readily. The movie is over-stuffed at every scale otherwise, with more characters than it has any use for being chased by the lions, and the path through/around the house (and surrounding moat) seems to go on forever, doubling back and just going on and on until the urgency is sapped because it's running in place as opposed to toward a goal. Single frames will often feel gluttonous, as shots which would seem alarming with one or two lions will feature six or seven.

Come into Roar expecting an oddity rather than the typical movie experience, though, and all of those things can become pluses as one sits, mouth agape, at people doing really dangerous things with animals who can not give one single damn whether the human beings are hurt or not. The action seems like an endless string of potential maulings, a ridiculously tight circle of "aw, big kitty... hey, an animal that large may not know how fragile humans are... holy crap his arm's in the lion's mouth somebody do something!", and while it doesn't exactly manage to surprise each time, the human instinct to not be eaten by large wild animals is pretty powerful, and the movie doesn't quite go on long enough to override it. That roller coaster rise of adrenaline means that Marshall's movie draws a real emotional reaction that few films with much more well-executed acting, direction, and the like can manage.

I feel like a jerk for praising "Roar" on those merits, though - I'm not really comfortable writing copy for a "come watch people almost get killed!" ad campaign, and that's what recommending it based upon it being a crazy experience feels like. And I suspect that runs counter to Marshall's intentions, which seem to be along the lines of showing that people and animals can coexist. It's easier to do with some distance, knowing that what's done is done, because despite myself, my reaction is the same as most who see it: Stunned amazement, and the urge to show someone else. You really do have to see it, even if the idea of someone trying to make another is rather alarming.

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originally posted: 05/26/15 11:57:10
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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  17-Apr-2015 (PG)


  12-Nov-1981 (PG)

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