BluRay/DVD Reviews

ROAR

By • Apr 17th, 2016 •

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BluRay review by Roy Frumkes

Some might think a perfect double bill would be ROAR and HATARI. Or perhaps ROAR and BORN FREE. But after you listen to the commentary track, you will most likely agree with me that the ideal co-feature with ROAR would be Werner Herzog’s
GRIZZLY MAN.

I’ve never seen anything like this, and neither will you have. A film clearly conceived to be a warm-hearted family entertainment transforms before our eyes into a 90-minute nail-biter, one potential scene of horror followed by the next, and though we see few mishaps and only a pint or so of blood spilled on screen, we are somehow clearly and always aware that this was an incredibly dangerous endeavor, and that not everyone could have made it out in one piece. As it happens, few did, and many were seriously injured. The years went by, the production faltered and lurched forward, fortunes were lost, nature negatively intervened, the leading actor and actress lost their marriage by the time it all ended, and there never was more than a token theatrical release.

All this begins to describe ROAR, a passion project for Tippi (THE BIRDS) Hedren and her husband Noel Marshall. Marshall throws himself into the narrative, such as it is, with gusto, and he’s the first one to draw blood – his own, by one of the countless lions, tigers, and leopards roaming loose on the location set. As if working with Paul Verhoeven wasn’t chaos enough, DP Jan de Bont had half his scalp ripped off by one of the friendly felines, requiring over 200 stitches…and he came back to continue filming!

There’s no way we can suspend our disbelief and enjoy the (minimal) story when every actor is seen constantly taking defensive positions to keep from being maimed by the boisterous pride. Hedren’s daughter, future gifted comic actress Melanie Griffith, required reconstructive surgery when the big cats were done with her. After watching the film you’re compelled to immediately go back and re-watch it, this time listening to Noel Marshall’s son John being interviewed by Drafthouse’s Tim League on the commentary track, identifying when each mauling occurred.

In the supplemental 2004 documentary, talking of the strain of the endless production on their marriage, Tippi tears up and – not that she’s acting, it’s genuine – it’s the best moment of her career. Better than her work for Hitchcock. Very moving. As for her ex, Noel Marshall, 23 years later he appears to have morphed into Gary Busey. There’s also a videotaped reunion following a screening of the film in 2015, and the various crew members who take the stage seem more like combat veterans than film technicians. All of them admit in retrospect that it was an insane and wrong-headed project to have embarked upon. I’ll bet, seeing it again, that they felt not unlike the survivors of the Burma death march.

While I admire the daft commitment of everyone involved, technically I’m most stunned by the sound editing. This filming unfolded entirely at the mercy of the animals, their whims dictating the ebb and flow of the narrative. And if all this footage does not tell a solid story, then at least the sound team gave it a sense of continuity, inserting dialogue when actors’ backs were turned or when they were completely off screen, etc. It’s an educational joy to hear these flat-bed wizards perform their invisible magic.

ROAR is one of the most unique films in cinema’s history. Up there with NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, KISS ME DEADLY, FREAKS, THE PRISONER TV series, TWIN PEAKS…you know, the top twenty or so that feel like genuine genetic mutations of the
cinematic form. It may not be particularly fulfilling as a dramatic endeavor, but that’s light years beside the point. You must own it, and pull it down from the shelf every now and then to boggle the minds and souls of your friends and acquaintances. Think I’m hyperbolizing here? After you’ve seen it, you can imagine me asking you, just as Dennis
Hopper asked Christopher Walken after telling him the ‘Sicilians and the Moors’ story in TRUE ROMANCE: “Am I lying?”

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