Hey everyone, I have a great idea! Let’s make a movie involving the use of over a hundred untrained big cats like lions, tigers, leopards, cougars, and cheetahs! Oh, and throw some elephants in for good measure. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, if you follow Roar production, the short answer would be many, many things. Directed and written by Noel Marshal and the animals (Yes, the film does give them credit for those roles.), the story centers on a man who lives with lions, tigers, and other big cats in Africa. When his family attempts to visit him, they instead have to fear for their lives as they found his house inhabited by several animals.
It is an injustice of me to discuss Roar without bringing up its notorious production. Promoted as the most dangerous movie ever made, Roar’s11-year production saw its cast and crew (Most of the stars were Marshal family) faced many dangerous situations, with many of them being severely injured. For instance, cinematographer Jan de Bont was scalped by a lion, an injury requiring 220 stitches. Tippi Hedren, who plays the wife (And was married to Marshal during filming), in separate incidents, had her head bitten by a lion and ankle fractured by one of the two elephants on set while the camera was filming. Noel Marshall, of course, had his fair share of injuries that eventually lead to him being diagnosed with gangrene.
So why was this hazardous endeavor taken? In this case, it was out of good intentions. Hedren and Marshal learned about endangered wildlife in Africa while working on another project and decided to make a film based on that knowledge. After the film was completed, Hedren founded the Roar Foundation and established the Shambala Preserve sanctuary in 1983 to house the animals.
And the animals are the real stars of the movie. Even if it did take some real risk involved, there is a real novelty to watching so many of these big felines populating the film and interacting with the actors. With how CG-heavy most big movies are nowadays, it’s hard to argue that the events that happen in Roar don’t at least feel authentic. And the movie’s message in of itself is well intentional. It’s certainly not obvious about the importance of saving African wildlife, but it doesn’t feel overbearing and works enough in the context of the film.
Unfortunately for Roar, the very loose approach everyone had to take to finish the film does lead to some serious drawbacks in impacting the film as a film. What will stand out almost imminently when starting the film is that the tone is very jumbled. Technically speaking, Roar is an adventure comedy. To its credit, there is certainly plenty of the former for both what happens on and off-screen, but the comedy is noticeably absent for most of the features. It’s pretty hard to laugh when watching people in real life and death situations when you know those people were in such situations. There’s some banter with the characters, but it’s sparse in all of the chaos.
The ending, in particular, feels rather tone-deaf. We spent most of the movie fearing that these people could get killed, but then the source for their fear is suddenly treated as if they were nonthreatening. The film’s major development for the characters is that they understand that they and the animals can live together in harmony. This sounds all nice and wholesome but doesn’t work when we see how those animals almost kill these people multiple times. The main big bad lion called Togar (Who is acted by Togar) acts throughout the film as the central threat among the lion but comes to an abrupt change at the climax just because. There’s no reason we’re led to expect him to change his way, but the film acts that he has. He very much represents how scattered Roar is in its execution.
What makes this all the more clear is in the film’s editing. With most movies with much less chaotic production, the editor will choose to make the right cuts to ensure the director’s vision is carried out as intended. It shows that the editing crew was working on limited time and resources and had to work with how little they had. This leads to many quick cuts during the film that really interfere with the flow of the scene, which makes the final product feel unpolished and lacking in a strong central vision. Though knowing how Roar came to be, it’s obvious that the animals maybe weren’t the best choice to lend most of the direction and script.
It feels almost rude of me to criticize the performances knowing behind-the-scenes trivia, but in truth, I will also say that it’s not too terrible on the whole. Marshall and Hedren’s children weren’t the most experienced actors around. Still, they do find enough and admirably translate the inanity of their real turmoil to the context of their film counterparts. An actress of Hedren’s status definitely deserves stronger material, but she does hold her ground all the same. The two really bright spots for this film are Noel Marshall and Kyalo Mativo. Sharing the most realized dynamic throughout the film, they provide the most genuine comedy in their back and forth as Marshall’s goofy, energetic wildlife-loving self complements Mativo’s more straight-man approach (Which is very much true of their working relationship during the production).
The only exception is Steve Miller’s turn as the main human antagonist. It’s not so much how obvious of a villain is his, but more of his mannerisms. The accent he employs for his character makes him sound more incomprehensible than threatening, and his consistently stoic demeanor undermines the potential harm you could get with this character. He’s not someone you love to hate but is rather just there so the film can have its baddie. Though he meets his obvious conclusion, you expect this type of villain to decently fit all the same.
I have seen plenty of bad movies over the years, and while it’s hard for me to call Roar a well-made, worthwhile experience, I’ll be lying if I said that I didn’t get some entertainment out of the film. Knowing its production history, the film oddly sorts of work as a thriller watching most of these characters fleeing around the house and trying to avoid the jaws of these cats. It’s almost akin to watching Jackass of all things. You know that what is about to happen isn’t going to end well, but you respect their dedication to their craft. If for that alone, this movie earns at least one viewing if done with the right mindset.
It’s here that I want to mention that if you are very interested in learning more about the movie’s production, I strongly watching this video by Oki’s Weird Stories that covers the film’s history and the struggles it brought for everyone on-bound. It’s a good watch.