Roar (1981 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Noel Marshall|
|Written by||Noel Marshall|
|Music by||Terrence P. Minogue|
|Cinematography||Jan de Bont|
|Box office||$2 million|
Roar is a 1981 American adventure comedy film[N 1] written and directed by Noel Marshall, produced by and starring Marshall and his then-wife, Tippi Hedren, and co-starring Hedren's daughter, Melanie Griffith, and Marshall's sons, John and Jerry. The film follows a man living with lions and other big cats in Africa; when his family attempts to visit him, they are accidentally left alone with multiple animals that they fear.
The idea for the film was conceived when Hedren and Marshall learned about endangered wildlife while Hedren was filming Satan's Harvest in Mozambique. The two, alongside their family, lived alongside numerous big cats in their California homes as preparation. Filming began in California during the 1970s. After three years of production, a flood from a dam destroyed much of the set and equipment, and financial issues caused the budget for the film to increase drastically. Roar also gained notoriety for the dangerous situations that the cast and crew were placed in, which resulted in 70 people, including the main stars, being injured and sustaining many life-threatening injuries during filming from animals used in the film. It has been considered the most dangerous film shoot in history.
Roar failed to find release in North America, but was eventually released internationally after 11 years of production. It was a box office bomb, despite popularity in foreign territories, with a worldwide gross of $2 million. Reviews for the film were mixed, with praise directed towards the cinematography, soundtrack, and message to protect African wildlife, but criticism toward its plot, story, and editing. It was released theatrically in the United States for the first time on April 17, 2015 by Drafthouse Films, 34 years after its first release.
American doctor and wildlife preservationist, Hank (Noel Marshall), lives in Tanzania alongside multiple wide-ranging big cat species, mostly lions, tigers, cougars, and jaguars, to study their behavior. He intends to pick up his wife Madeleine (Tippi Hedren), their two sons John and Jerry (John and Jerry Marshall), and daughter Melanie (Melanie Griffith) from the airport after they arrive from Chicago to bring them to his ranch, though he ends up being late. His friend, Mativo (Kyalo Mativo), comes to warn Hank that a committee will arrive and review his grant. Hank shows Mativo around his ranch as they wait. He explains the nature of the lion pride to Mativo and their fear of a rogue lion named Togar, who quarrels with Robbie the pack leader. Hank asks Mativo to help maintain the pride's safety.
The committee arrives. One of them, a man named Prentiss (Steve Miller), shows disapproval of the big cats and threatens to shoot them. A fight between two lions distracts Hank who breaks it up, though his hand gets bitten. While bandaging his hand, the tigers attack the committee and injure them. Hank offers help, but they leave in fear. Mativo expresses concern in Hank bringing his family to the ranch. As they both leave for the airport on Mativo's boat, two tigers jump on, making it sink from the weight. Though they both swim to safety.
Meanwhile, Madeleine, John, Jerry, and Melanie are advised by the airport attendant to board a bus. They arrive and enter the ranch house, realizing it has been left unattended. Madeleine and Jerry open the windows and doors and are shocked to see the lions eating a zebra carcass. Frightened, as animals enter the house, the family tries running away. Togar enters and pursues them. Jerry finds a rifle and tries to shoot him, but fails. Robbie, however, fends off Togar. Melanie fears Hank has been killed by the animals.
Hank and Mativo take bikes from a local village as the tigers follow them. Hank knows they can't take the tigers to the airport, so Mativo distracts them from a tree while Hank locates the airport attendant, who tells him that his family already took the bus to his ranch. Hank uses his friend's car to drive back and get Mativo in the tree. While driving to the airport on a rocky road, the car's tire is flattened, leading him and Mativo to run instead.
The family uses Hank's boat in the morning to escape, but an elephant pulls them to shore and destroys it. John decides to use Hank's motorcycle and get help but is chased by the big cats, and accidentally drives into the lake. In a final effort to escape the lions, the family hides in another house to sleep. They are surrounded by the pack when they awaken and conclude that since they were not killed, the animals won't hurt them.
Prentiss tries persuading members of the committee (including Zakes Mokae and Will Hutchins) to have Hank's big cats poached, but they forbid this. Prentiss and a member named Rick (Rick Glassey) poach many of the big cats anyway until Togar attacks them. Hank sees them getting attacked and tries to stop him, but Togar kills them both and returns to the house to fight Robbie. As Robbie stands up to Togar, the two lions end their fight. Hank also runs back to find his family waiting for him. Mativo arrives and is asked by Hank not to mention Prentiss' death. Mativo is introduced to Hank's family, who agree to stay with him and his animals for the week.
The idea was conceived by Noel Marshall and Tippi Hedren in 1969 after Hedren had finished Satan's Harvest in Mozambique. The two came across an abandoned plantation house in Zimbabwe that had been overrun by a pride of lions, and were told by the locals of the animal populations that were becoming endangered due to poaching, which inspired them to make a potential film as a response.
|“||It was an amazing thing to see: The lions were sitting in the windows, they were going in and out of the doors, they were sitting on the verandas, they were on the top of the Portuguese house, and they were in the front of the house. [...] It was such a unique thing to see and we thought, for a movie, let us use the great cats as our stars.||”|
|— Tippi Hedren, Parade|
Marshall and Hedren wrote the script for the project and a working title, which was Lions, Lions and More Lions. The film would require several trained big cat species to portray Africa's wildlife. They had trouble finding enough trained animals in Hollywood for the film, with the lion tamers telling them both that it was impossible to bring a large number of big cats together on a movie set. The tamers suggested that the pair get their own animals and gradually introduce them to each other. Marshall and Hedren began illegally housing lions they acquired from zoos and circuses, first in Sherman Oaks, until the public authorities discovered the animals. They ended up moving to Acton, California.
In Acton, Hedren and Marshall purchased a ranch north of Los Angeles, which was later converted to a flat-roof. They also transformed the California desert to mimic Tanzania, planting thousands of cottonwoods, Mozambique bushes, and damming a creek to create a lake. The family, by then, had accumulated 71 lions, 26 tigers, a tigon, nine black panthers, ten pumas, two jaguars, four leopards, two elephants, four cranes, and seven flamingos, of which the only animal they turned down was a hippo. The total number of big cats were numbered around 100, and eventually reached a total of 150. John Marshall, Noel's oldest son, lived at the ranch with two friends for six months and shared rooms with a group of 15 lions.
Roar began principal photography in Santa Clarita on October 1, 1976. Initially, filming was scheduled to last 6 months, but was delayed numerous times over the course of 3 years. The total amount of time to complete the film was 11 years. Filming alone took 5 years to complete. Melanie Griffith quit her role in the film after a fight happened between two lions, stating that she didn't want to "come out of this with half a face." She was replaced with a friend named Patsy, but later expressed interested in the film again, and redid many of Patsy's scenes.
The Tanzania scenes were filmed at the Acton ranch, where many of the animals were being raised. Footage of Marshall racing a giraffe on a motorcycle was later filmed in Africa for the opening establishing shots. Some of the cast appearing as committee members were the main animal handlers. Most of the scenes involving the lions were improvised by actors, due to the animal's unpredictable nature. A scene where poachers shoot and kill big cats was achieved by having the animals tranquilized for their annual blood draw. Filming the big cats was incredibly difficult and proved to be frustrating. Cinematographer Jan De Bont would spend hours setting up 5 different cameras, of which the footage largely depended on waiting for the cats to do anything that could be included in the film's scenes. Marshall often refused to stop the filming process, as he didn't want to lose a take.
Financial issues and set damages
By the time filming had already began, numerous financial issues already began to arise, as financiers pulled out their investments two years into production. This led the Marshall family to sell their four houses, along with 600 acres located near Magic Mountain, in order to pay back the debt. Marshall's commercial production company became bankrupt as a result. Tippi Hedren also sold the coat she kept from her starring role in The Birds, given to her by director Alfred Hitchcock. Marshall was asked in an interview why he had gone through with the personal risk for the project:
|“||You get into anything slowly. We have been on this project now for five years. Everything we own, everything we have achieved, is tied up in it. Today we're 55 per cent complete. We're at a point where we just have to do it.||”|
|— Noel Marshall, The Montreal Gazette|
Marshall was an executive producer on The Exorcist, so the proceeds from the film partially funded production. Because of this the crew began to speculate and rumors spread that the film was under the "curse of The Exorcist".
A broken dam and numerous floods three years into the shooting process caused the surrounding lake to be filled with sediment, adding six feet to its height. Most of the editing equipment, film, and the set was destroyed as well. The Acton ranch was destroyed in the process, which caused over $3 million worth in damages. As a result of the massive flood, 3 lions were killed, and the production and property took an entire year to recover. 15 lions and tigers also escaped the set, leading the Sheriff and local law enforcement to shoot and kill 3 lions, including the lead lion Robbie. All of this caused filming to be delayed for 8 weeks. Some of the lions also suffered from feline-related illnesses that reduced the population.
Cast and crew injuries
Due to the large number of untrained animals brought on-set, over 70 people are believed to have been injured during the production of Roar. Because of this, the attacks from the big cats used in the film resulted in real blood appearing in the final cut. It has been described as "the most dangerous film ever made".
Marshall was bitten through the hand on the first day when he interacted with male lions during a fight scene, and doctors feared he might lose his arm. He came within twelve hours of a coma after he was diagnosed with blood poisoning. Marshall was also attacked so many times that he was also eventually diagnosed with gangrene. In another incident, Marshall was clawed by a cheetah. It took several years for him to recover from his injuries. Griffith had to receive 50 stitches and undergo facial reconstruction. It was feared she would lose an eye, though she recovered and was not disfigured. Hedren received scalp wounds and required 38 stitches. Hedren also received a fractured leg and a broken hand after a five-ton elephant named Tembo bucked her off its back, which happened a few days after the elephant also tossed its trainer, Patricia Barbeau, into a tree, breaking her shoulder. John Marshall was jumped on and bitten on the back of his head by one of the lions, and required 56 stitches. In a 2015 interview, he believed the number of people injured to be much larger and proposed it was over 100. Jerry Marshall's foot was bitten by a lion while he was in a cage on-set, and had to spend a month in the hospital.
The crew was also injured, including de Bont, who had his head scalped by a lion while filming under a tarp. The attack resulted in him receiving 220 stitches to sew his scalp back on. Assistant Director Doron Kauper had his throat and jaw bitten, and one of the lions attempted to rip an ear off. He was also injured in the head, chest, and thigh. Although it has been reported that the attack nearly proved fatal, a July 9, 1978 edition of the Santa Cruz Sentinel printed a quote from a nurse describing his injuries as acute, meaning simply that they were sudden and traumatic. He was also reported as being conscious and in a fair condition. Due to the injuries, turnover was high as many did not want to return to the set. Twenty crew members left the set en masse.
In the original 1981 press notes, Marshall did not express regret with his decision to allow his family to work alongside the animals, and Hedren called it "the toughest movie of my life." But also said it was worth it.
Terrence P. Minogue composed the film's score. He used a piano that he shipped to the family's ranch to help write the music. Robert Florczak, credited in the film as Robert Hawk, provided vocals in songs. Dominic Frontiere was also credited as composer on the film's soundtrack. The soundtrack was originally released in 1981. It was later available online in 2005.
|Roar: The Soundtrack (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)|
|Soundtrack album by |
Terrence P. Minogue
|1.||"Overture From "Roar" / Masai Chant / Theme For The Man Who Loves Lions"||4:59|
|3.||"Time For Gary"||1:58|
|4.||"Mativo And The Lions"||2:01|
|6.||"Gun-Shattered Silence / The Reckoning"||3:37|
|7.||"Nobody For Breakfast"||1:16|
|9.||"A Clash of Kings"||1:19|
|10.||"Isn't It Time?" (vocals by Robert Hawk)||3:07|
|11.||"Nchi Ya Nani? (Whose Land Is This)" (vocals by Robert Hawk)||3:15|
|12.||"Too Late For Tears" (vocals by Robert Hawk)||3:49|
|14.||"Farewell To Africa"||3:43|
|15.||"More Than Meets The Eye"||3:41|
|16.||"Me And My Dinosaur"||3:15|
|17.||"The Light Of Love"||4:12|
Roar failed to find theatrical release in North America, as American distributors were not interested in the film. It was ultimately not released theatrically in the United States by the time it was completed. Crewmember Terry Albright, who worked on the film throughout production, claims that a reason why it was not distributed domestically was because non-union crew were used aside from Bont. It was, however, eventually picked up by Alpha/Filmways Pictures and released in 1981 internationally, but was screened for only one week. Though, the film became popular in foreign territories, and was the top-grossing film in Japan and Germany, according to John Marshall.
In 2015, the film's rights were bought and picked up for distribution by Drafthouse Films, 34 years after its initial release, as founder Tim League expressed excitement about the film. The film received a limited theatrical run on April 17, 2015. It was also screened across the United States at six theaters and expanded in May to 50 cities. The Drafthouse re-release used taglines such as "No animals were harmed during the making of 'Roar.' But 70 members of the cast and crew were", and a press quote calling it the "snuff version of Swiss Family Robinson", in its promotional material. Hedren canceled an interview with The Associated Press after the Roar Foundation and the Board of Directors of Shambala Preserve asked her not to speak publicly about the film. Though she stated through a spokesman that the film's promotion was filled with "inaccuracies".
Roar's worldwide release (excluding the U.S.) received less than $2 million in worldwide ticket sales against a $17 million budget, making it a box-office bomb. Hedren had said that Roar would be a hit, and had originally predicted a projected gross of $125-150 million. John Marshall would later claim in an interview with Grantland that "$2 million is a long way off", due to its success in Germany and Japan, of which the latter's distributor paid $1 million. He also said Noel Marshall told him the film made $10 million. The film's lack of profits hindered the intended plan to fund the animal's retirement. Yet Hedren was later able to establish the Shambala Preserve sanctuary near the set in 1983, which was originally settled 64 kilometers outside of Los Angeles to house them after filming was completed.
For the re-release, the film had an opening weekend gross of $15,064, and ended with a domestic gross of $110,048.
A non-anamorphic DVD of the film was released. Following its 2015 theatrical release in the United States, it was subsequently released in November 2015 by Olive Films for Blu-ray in anamorphic format. Bonus features for Blu-ray included audio commentary from John Marshall and Tim League, "The Making of ROAR" featurette, and a Q&A with the cast and crew at Cinefamily, Los Angeles.
Upon its initial release, Variety complimented the intentions of the film's message, "a passionate plea" to preserve African wildlife, also noting how it was "a kind of Jaws of the jungle", and that it seemed "at times more like Born Free gone berserk". Though criticism was directed toward its "thin" plot. Time Out said the film represented a portrait of the Marshall family as "mega-eccentrics and misguided animal lovers" and called its narrative and plot "a farcical melange of pseudo David Attenborough and Disneyspeak", while also describing the editing as "fickle camerawork."
After the film's 2015 re-release, Amy Nicholson of L.A. Weekly said the film was a "thrilling bore", and that the premise was "simply "Big cats destroy a house"". Simon Abrams from RogerEbert.com gave the film a 2 and a half star rating, and said Roar was "worth seeing once", but that it was hard to watch because "while it is a cat lover's delight, it's also pretty dumb." Hubert Vigilla of Flixist.com was critical of the film, and said its production was dangerous, irresponsible, and made a "compellingly idiotic" home movie that happens "when naive rich people get a bunch of wild animals together in a remote Los Angeles-area mansion". Andrew McArthur from The People's Movies called it "a cinematic experience like no other", and labeled it a "cult masterpiece", while also praising the soundtrack and Bont's cinematography.
On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, Roar has an approval rating of 74% based on 23 reviews with an average rating of 5.82/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Roar may not satisfy in terms of acting, storytelling, or overall production, but the real-life danger onscreen makes it difficult to turn away." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 65 out of 100, based on 9 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
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