Fierce Creatures

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This article is about the comedy film. For the episode of the television series Zoboomafoo, see List of Zoboomafoo episodes#Season 1 (1999-2000).
Fierce Creatures
Fierce creatures.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Robert Young
Fred Schepisi
Produced by Michael Shamberg
John Cleese
Written by John Cleese
Iain Johnstone
Starring John Cleese
Jamie Lee Curtis
Kevin Kline
Michael Palin
Ronnie Corbett
Carey Lowell
Robert Lindsay
Music by Jerry Goldsmith
Cinematography Ian Baker
Adrian Biddle
Edited by Robert Gibson
Production
company
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release dates January 24, 1997 (US)
February 14, 1997 (UK)
Running time 93 min.
Country United Kingdom
United States
Language English
Budget $25 million[1]
Box office $9,381,260[2]

Fierce Creatures is a 1997 farcical comedy film. While not a direct sequel, Fierce Creatures is something of a spiritual successor to the 1988 film A Fish Called Wanda. Both films star John Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline and Michael Palin. Fierce Creatures was written by John Cleese, and directed by Robert Young and Fred Schepisi.

The film was dedicated to Gerald Durrell and Peter Cook. Some scenes were filmed at Jersey Zoo, a zoological park founded by Durrell.

Plot[edit]

The film opens with Willa Weston (Jamie Lee Curtis) arriving in Atlanta to take a high ranking position in a company recently acquired by Octopus Inc.'s owner, Rod McCain (Kevin Kline). After meeting his son, vice president of marketing Vince McCain (also played by Kline), and Rod's assistant Neville, Willa is told by McCain that he has already sold the company where she was to work. Now without a job, Willa agrees to run another recent acquisition, Marwood Zoo, in an attempt to create a business model that can be used for multiple zoos in the future.

The newly appointed director of the zoo is a retired Hong Kong Police Force officer and former Octopus Television employee, Rollo Lee (John Cleese). In order to meet Octopus's revenue target of 20% from all assets, Lee institutes a "fierce creatures" theme, assuming that exhibits of dangerous animals and emphasis on violence will attract more visitors. All animals not meeting those requirements must go. All the animal keepers, including spider-handler Bugsy (Michael Palin), make various attempts to get Rollo to change his mind. One sees them place five cute animals in front of Rollo and tell him that they have to be exterminated. They go on to say that, as they are very fond of the animals, Rollo must shoot them himself. Unfortunately, they are horrified when they hear five shots, and find Rollo leaving five recently dug graves. It soon transpires that Rollo has staged the killings and hidden the animals in his bedroom, where they cause chaos. When the animals interrupt a phone-call from Vince and Willa, the two Americans become convinced Rollo is having orgies with female members of staff.

When Vince attempts to sleep with Willa, she rebuffs his advances while pretending she would like to spend more time with him. To her horror, Vince reveals that he is going to run the zoo, a decision of which Neville and Rod are wary; Vince spent time in prison for forgery. The two new executives arrive as the conflict between Rollo and the zoo-keepers comes to a head; Rollo discovers that several have faked horrific injuries, claiming they're the result of animal attacks. Rollo proceeds to fire several warning shots at those responsible, and another keeper becomes convinced that he has just shot one of them. Rollo then finds a visitor who has had a genuine accident but, not believing it is real, tastes the blood of the visitor whilst loudly proclaiming that it is fake. This fiasco sees Rollo demoted to middle management, although Vince threatens to fire him if his apparent activities with female staff do not cease.

The new arrangement at the zoo does not please any of the keepers; Vince covers zoo and animals alike with advertisements after secretly garnering sponsorships, dresses the staff in ridiculous outfits and installs an artificial Panda in one the enclosures. His continued attempts to seduce Willa fail, while she comes to enjoy working at the zoo, after having a close encounter with a silverback gorilla. She finds herself attracted to Rollo after becoming fascinated by his apparent ability to attract multiple women. When Rollo attempts to have a discussion about Vince's marketing plan, she suggests they have dinner, although she is forced to delay when she remembers Rod is coming from Atlanta to discuss the running of the zoo.

Worried that the visit may be part of a plan to close the zoo, Rollo and the zookeepers quickly bug Rod's hotel room to find out. Although the plan goes awry, they learn that Rod wants to turn over the zoo to the Japanese to make a golf-course and is not intending to die, instead being cryogenically frozen when he becomes ill until a cure can be found. Rollo is further embarressed when Willa discovers him in the room later.

The next day, Willa discovers Vince has stolen from the sponsorship money he had raised, preventing the zoo hitting the required profit margin. Willa warns Vince that if he doesn't return the money she will tell Rod. When Rollo attempts to work out how the theft can be traced to buy them time from Rod and Neville, he and Willa finally kiss, just as Vince arrives to return the money. A confrontation takes place first at the zoo office, and then outside as Willa, Rollo, Bugsy and several others attempt to stop Vince from running off with the money in a bag. Bugsy refuses to shut up, so Vince loses his temper and grabs a pistol from the management office. Rod arrives just as Vince is being subdued and announces the police are on their way to arrest Vince for stealing. Vince tries and fails to shoot his father, but when Bugsy takes the pistol it accidentally goes off, shooting Rod between the eyes.

In the panic that follows, a plan emerges to fool Neville and the arriving police. The keepers work together to dress Vince up as Rod, since he can imitate his father's accent fairly well. When the police and Neville arrive, Vince (as Rod) tells them that he has re-written Rod's will, specifying that the zoo will become a trust of the caretakers while Vince will inherit everything else, and he wants all of them to be witnesses. After signing the new will, Vince locks himself in a caretaker hut where he feigns Rod's suicide. Although Neville becomes suspicious, he is left dumbstruck when he discovers the dead body of his boss in the hut (and Vince promptly fires him before he can recover).

Now free, the zookeepers destroy the evidence of McCain's ownership. Vince becomes the new CEO of Octopus, while Willa and Rollo happily begin a new life together continuing to run the zoo.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Cleese began writing the script in 1992 and shooting began on 15 May 1995. It completed in August and the film was previewed in November of that year. Preview audiences expressed dissatisfaction with the ending, and in February 1996 the decision was made to reshoot the ending and some other sequences. These additional scenes could not be shot until August 1996 because of the availability of the cast, in particular Michael Palin who was making Full Circle. In the meantime, Cleese and Johnstone worked on a new ending with William Goldman. The delay meant that director Robert Young was busy on pre production for Jane Eyre so Cleese hired Fred Schepisi, with whom he had been discussing making a version of Don Quixote. The reshoots took five weeks and cost $7 million.[1]

Schepisi claims he tried to get the producers take out the opening 15 minutes, which was done for a test screening, but then some of this footage was put back in, which Schepisi thought killed the movie.[3]

Reception[edit]

Roger Ebert awarded the film two-and-a-half out of four stars, and compared it unfavourably to A Fish Called Wanda, writing: "It lacks the hair-trigger timing, the headlong rush into comic illogic, that made “Wanda” so special."[4]

Concordance with A Fish Called Wanda[edit]

The novelization of the film, written by Iain Johnstone, begins with a letter, written by Archie Leach (Cleese's character in Wanda) to Rollo, revealing that they are actually brothers; Rollo changed his surname from "Leach" to "Lee" in order to improve his chances of advancement within the Hong Kong police.

The main four actors have roles here that display similar dynamics to their roles in A Fish Called Wanda: John Cleese's character is the nice-guy straight man, Jamie Lee Curtis's character starts out morally challenged but ends up romantically linked to John Cleese's character, Kevin Kline is the doltish antagonist of the film's plot, and Michael Palin's character provides a comic relief supporting role to the main events. Michael Palin's character in Fierce Creatures, however, is a chatterbox that is difficult to keep quiet, the opposite of his personality in A Fish Called Wanda, where he was a stutterer unable to say anything easily.

Various small gestures throughout the film recall Wanda. In one scene, a keeper tells Rollo that Willa liked him. When Rollo reacts in surprise, Bugsy explains to him that the pheromones he releases into the air attract her. Rollo sniffs his armpit as if to check on how he smelt, a gesture performed by Kevin Kline as Otto in "Wanda". Also in a throwback gesture, in A Fish Called Wanda there was a fish named after Jamie Lee Curtis' character; in Fierce Creatures there is a Ring-tailed Lemur named after Cleese's character. In the final scene John Cleese also "accidentally" calls Jamie Lee Curtis' character "Wanda" instead of Willa.

Supporting actors from A Fish Called Wanda returning for Fierce Creatures include Maria Aitken (wife of Cleese's character in A Fish Called Wanda), his assistant in Fierce Creatures, Cynthia Cleese (daughter of Cleese's character in A Fish Called Wanda and Pip Small Mammals in Fierce Creatures), and Michael Percival (a barrister in A Fish Called Wanda and an antkeeper in Fierce Creatures). Tom Georgeson, who played George Thomason in "Wanda", also made a brief cameo as a zoo visitor watching the sealion display.

John Cleese explained in a David Letterman appearance he didn't want to make a sequel to A Fish Called Wanda because of the expectations and how often sequels are inferior to the original. He points out Aliens and The Godfather, Part II as rare examples of sequels surpassing the originals.

For a time the working title of Fierce Creatures was Death Fish II.[5] In Poland the film was released under the title “Lemur zwany Rollo” which literally means “A Lemur Called Rollo”, directly referencing A Fish Called Wanda.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "FIERCE CREATURES RESHOOT DELAYS FILM'S PREMIERE BY NINE MONTHS" by Hans ten Cate Daily Illama 20 August 1997 accessed 19 April 2014
  2. ^ http://boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=fiercecreatures.htm
  3. ^ "Interview with Fred Schepisi", Signis, 22 December 1998 access 20 November 2012
  4. ^ Ebert, Roger (January 24, 1997). "Fierce Creatures". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved December 21, 2014. 
  5. ^ Craddock, Jim, ed. VideoHound's Golden Movie Retriever 2007 (Detroit: Thompson Gale, 2006), p.310, Fierce Creatures review.

External links[edit]