Sir Robert Beaumont is behind schedule on a railroad in Africa. Enlisting noted engineer John Henry Patterson to right the ship, Beaumont expects results. Everything seems great until the crew discovers the mutilated corpse of the project's foreman, seemingly killed by a lion. After several more attacks, Patterson calls in famed hunter Charles Remington, who has finally met his match in the bloodthirsty lions.Written by
It is 1898 and charming, cretinous Captain of Industry Beaumont has hired Col. John Patterson,eminent engineer/bridge builder to complete a bridge spanning the river by Tsavo, Africa.
Arriving in the continent he has dreamed of forever, Patterson meets his project. There are problems with it: Competing French and German rivals, Ethnic hatred among the crews and, on Patterson's first day there, a worker is attacked by a lion. He goes to "sort it out" by shooting the beast with one shot; gaining the admiration of his crews, lifting spirits, adding motivation to complete the bridge, and unleashing a nightmare
Only weeks after the shooting the camp is suddenly besieged by a pair of giant man-eating lions. Their first "kill" is Mahina (Henry Cele), considered the strongest man in the camp. This serves to unnerve every man on the project, including Indian rabble-rouser Abdullah, who doesn't like Patterson from the start. Nerves jangle and fray as the lions repeatedly and relentlessly attack and attack and attack! They strike under the cover of night AND during the heat of day; They kill not for hunger, not for sport, but simply because they like it. Men are dragged from their beds and mauled to death in the tall grasses; the hospital becomes a blood-bathe; Laborers aren't safe as the beasts leap out and snatch them from their work. Everything is falling apart and Patterson is at his wit's end as Beaumont arrives to make matters worse. And still the lions attack and attack and attack.
Enter Big Game Hunter Charles Remington who is as determined to destroy the lions as the lions seem determined to eat every man in camp.
This is an under-appreciated, well made, well scripted nail biting adventure. It boasts solid artists on both sides of the lens: William Goldman penned the script, Gail Anne Hurd and H. Kitman Ho are two of the producers who know how to spend the budget wisely, the great Vilmos Zigmond is responsible for the mesmerizing African cinematography. Stephen Hopkins directs with great vision and skill and the actors are uniformly solid and believable in their roles. Val Kilmer plays Patterson with an understated, simple and elegant performance; Tom Wilkerson is the charming snake of a boss Beaumont, Brian McCardie gains the viewers sympathy as a youthful, innocent, and doomed Angus Starling, John Jani is the stalwart Project Manager Samuel, Bernard Hill the irritable/irritating Dr. Hawthorne, Om Puri is the creepy, sarcastic Abdullah ("You are white. You can do anything.") and Michael Douglas, also an Executive Producer he got the money plays hunter Charles Remington, removing the sweet edges of his Romancing the Stone role to create our renown hunter.
Hopkins not only knows how to build tension, suspense, and terror, but when to let us relax and how to fill that time. The quiet moments are never dull. They let us empathize with these men, their characters get to develop and we bond with them and their nightmare. Zigmond (Close Encounter of the Third Kind) uses deep oranges and blacks for the African locale, except during a daylight lion hunt and cave exploration when he switches to bright sunlight, vibrant greens and sharp browns as if to show us that even a travelogue holds a nightmare. It is near Hitchcockian.
Rolling underneath the film like summer thunder (or the breathy growl and snarling of our killer lions) is Jerry Goldsmith's pounding, tribal driven score, which accents the mood and gives further dimension to the narrative. Listen closely, you can hear him using tonal motifs he developed for Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
As the hysteria builds and the men frenzy, many explanations are offered for the appearance of these animals: Are they the spirits of medicine men come to exact revenge; Or demons sent by the devil to keep Africa unsoiled; Or have they come to claim John Patterson? Is it to helplessly watch as they strip away the layers of security around him until he is exposed and defenseless against their teeth and claws? It is no coincidence that Kilmer is photographed at times slack- faced and full on and LOOKS like a lion himself.
Once this film starts, I can guarantee you that you won't be able to take a snack break, bathroom break, or even think about dozing off. It is that good. And remember this: You can see the preserved bodies of these two giant man-eaters at the Field Museum in Chicago, Illinois because this incredible story is TRUE.
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