Thursday, October 6, 2016
Oh my GOD Watch: Roar (1981)
Let's not screw around.
Why I wanted to watch this movie: it really, honestly features dozens of live big cats with minimal training, just sort of being big cats. And by big cats, I mean lions, tigers, panthers, jaguars, pumas... all in one film, all intermingled with actors trying to perform scenes both engaging with the animals and around the animals. The animals even get a screen-writing credit because, hey, animals gonna do what animals are gonna do - and that clearly drove the story.
It's not a freakshow, but it is absolutely nerve wracking to watch as every bit of your well-honed DNA of thousands of generations of ancestors starts screaming out at you that this is a very, very bad scene, even as the movie is insisting "we should learn to love the big cats and live in harmony with them."
Thanks to, I think, a Hollywood lifestyle bit I was watching about Tippi Hedren back around 2001, I'd been aware of the movie, but good luck finding it back then. Or much information about it. Just the casual mention of "oh, she has a lion sanctuary and this one time she made a feature film with dozens of wild big cats called 'Roar', so, anyway, she's Melanie Griffith's mom..."
It also features Speed director Jan de Bont as a cinematographer, and, apparently he was one of the 70 people injured working on the movie. And, in fact, de Bont was gravely injured when a lion took his scalp clean off his head.
I won't lie - the movie itself is barely watchable, has a moral lesson that defies nearly everything you see on screen and certainly what you read about the making of the movie (Melanie Griffith had her face kinda raked off by a lion, but the surgery must have gone well if looking at Melanie Griffith is any indication). The only decent acting comes courtesy Tippi Hedren, which, oddly, has the impact of making her kind of disappear into the background of stilted line delivery and goddamned gigantic lions everywhere.
They spend quite a while setting up the story, which is basically - scientist is doing some sort of research in Africa where he's trying to study big cats, and somehow that means he needs to live in an island house with lions, tigers and panthers constantly coming and going. His semi-estranged family comes to see him, but they miss each other between the house and the "airport", so the family enters the house and decides to open all these barred windows and doors to let some air in, and... whoops. Here come the lions for which they are in no way prepared.
Cue 30 minutes of people being chased and manhandled by an endless sea of lions looking at them a bit how your housecat looks at a bug crawling across the floor and you don't know if he'll catch it and kill it, play with it for a while - taking it apart, or just ignore it.
I don't know if I've ever seen a movie that both did a worse job of making its point and made it so obvious that this movie was impossible to make but they did it, anyway. Not too many movies have line delivery cut short by a random heard of lions running by and knocking over the actors, or make it feel like you may well see an actor killed for being next-level foolhardy.
I've done some minimal reading about the movie, but it seems everyone agrees "maybe we shouldn't have done that". Especially as the movie tanked, likely as oddly juvenile for adults and absolutely terrifying at the same time. It took years to make, it's got all the cast and crew injuries to account for, and it proved that people can make absolutely terrible decisions toegther.
It's a scene, man. In some ways, you absolutely have to see it.
The good news is - if you have Time Warner Cable of TCM on Demand, it was a TCM Underground selection, and it's available on demand at the moment. You have no excuses. Watch this horror show unfold.
My understanding is that Tippi Hedren now disavows keeping big cats as pets while also running/ owning a big cat sanctuary in California. If it's anything like our own Austin Zoo, a lot of people get big cats and then can't keep them and they wind up somewhere with chainlink fencing. So, good for her doing her bit for our furry, terrifying friends.