The Ghost and the Darkness was the beast movie of the 1990s

The new Idris Elba film animal is a sleek, driving creature feature, the kind of efficient human-versus-nature horror story that draws on the horror and then ends before the imagination grows old or stretched. In the film, Elba plays a widower and father of two who must protect his children from a man-eating lion in South Africa. Rather a comparatively small, intimate film in scope and character Crawl or prey than like the Jurassic Park films that are openly referenced.

For those who prefer to see their lion villain tales (and their Steven Spielberg tributes) played out on a more majestic, ambitious scale, animal is an excellent reminder to revisit the 1996 adventure thriller The ghost and the darkness, another story in which the intellectual prowess of human prey struggles to match the physical prowess of a large steppe predator. As a horror story The ghost and the darkness is surprisingly tense and bloody. But as a character study that actually invests in its characters as people rather than leaving them as a tick on a “death by numbers” checklist, it’s particularly well fleshed out, in a way you’d expect from an entirely different Spielberg blockbuster.

The ghost and the darkness is nominally a historical epic based on actual events in Kenya in 1898, when two lions terrorized a British railway camp on the Tsavo River for almost a year, killing dozens of workers. British Lieutenant Colonel John Henry Patterson – played by Val Kilmer in the film version – eventually wrote a book about the events, The cannibals of Tsavo, in which he claimed the lions slaughtered more than 130 people, although this total was later hotly disputed. What was undisputed was that the lions were unusually bold, collaborating in the hunt and raiding the camp during the day – all unusual behavior for male lions, who normally leave the hunt to the females of their pride.

Val Kilmer, in a British Army uniform, loads his rifle in The Ghost and the Darkness

Image: Paramount Pictures

Screenwriter William Goldman (The Prince’s Bride) uses the anomalies in the lions’ behavior in dramatic fashion and takes a lot of historical liberty with the story, all in the interests of bigger and more colorful action. Patterson is sent to Kenya by Robert Beaumont, a ruthless aristocrat and colonialist (played by Tom Wilkinson with a mustache-twirling, wicked glee), who is determined to beat other countries in building railroad trade routes through East Africa. That means bridging the Tsavo, a task Patterson believes he can handle given his similar experience overseeing bridge construction in India. He confidently says goodbye to his pregnant wife Helena (Emily Mortimer, who gives her full energy to a small role), certain that he will be home in time to witness the birth of his child.

From the start, Patterson is a playful and engaging protagonist, willing to listen to and learn from his Kenyan camp supervisor, Samuel (John Kani, who later played Black Panther’s father T’Chaka in the Marvel Cinematic Universe), and becomes boyishly enthusiastic African wildlife. Upon reaching the camp, he is immediately beset by problems: tensions between the Hindu and Muslim laborers imported from India, tensions between his bright young evangelical aide Angus (Brian McCardie) and the cynical local doctor Hawthorne (Bernard Hill). And then the first lion attack happens, and the African and Indian workers all scowl at him as the white man in charge to solve it.

The ghost and the darkness is not a film about race, but it is far more open than most adventure films about the cost of British colonialism and the perfectly reasonable class and cultural resentments that underlie the railway project. And it’s not a film about masculinity and masculinity, but Goldman’s script finds familiar themes in these characters — the need to prove themselves and make their mark, the struggle for dominance that relaxes into unspoken trust or distrust, the kind and way how shared danger becomes a unifying experience. In that regard The ghost and the darkness is one of the best character pieces of its kind since Spielberg’s Jaw.

Goldman takes frankly Jaw as a structural model, with many of the story’s fundamental beats emulating Spielberg’s masterpiece: the series of escalating deaths committed by a barely-seen creature, the killing of an unrelated animal taken as a sign that the threat is over, the nightly drinking-and-bonding session, marked by a grim monologue and accompanied by equally grim humor. Where Jaw introduces Quint (Robert Shaw) as the shark expert hired to take over the situation when things get serious, The ghost and the darkness brings legendary hunter Charles Remington (Michael Douglas) into a similar role and with a similarly dramatic, memorable introduction.

Michael Douglas does his best rolling I'm a mad man who's gonna hurt you impression in The Ghost and the Darkness

Image: Paramount Pictures

Many films have imitated Jaw Over the years, they usually copied the animal attacks and left out the memorable character dynamics. The ghost and the darkness is one of the very few films that gets alchemy right. Remington is a tragic obsessive who dislikes killing but finds his services sought after because he is so good at it. Patterson is an idealist who genuinely believes in his work – “What better job on earth than to build a bridge?” he says at one point, watching the work in progress. Samuel is a pragmatist caught between the ambitions of white misfits and the camp he leads. Even Angus, Hawthorne and other supporting characters like proud Indian warden Abdullah (Om Puri) and his African counterpart Mahina (Henry Cele) are given prominent roles.

But all of that character work would feel dry and literary without the film’s pulp thriller energy, which takes a visceral, urgent feeling to the extreme Bridge on the River Kwai-Style literary ambitions. Director Stephen Hopkins uses real lions whenever possible, and apart from a few gimmicky shots with dummies, their physical interactions with fragile human bodies are realistic and graphic. They’re really intimidating, even if Hopkins and Goldman fall into the well-known man versus nature movie trap (also seen in, frankly). Jaw), infusing their animals with human-level cunning and malice, to the point where the railroad workers’ belief that the lions are actually demons begins to make sense.

John Kani sweats and gazes out into the night as other cast members examine a lion-mangled body in The Ghost and the Darkness

Image: Paramount Pictures

For all historical epic qualities in The ghost and the darknesss – Vilmos Zsigmond’s majestic shots of sky and field, the focus on a crowded camp full of teeming human endeavors, Jerry Goldsmith’s pounding soundtrack – the film also encompasses purely hackneyed horror movie tropes, from a ridiculously fake dream sequence to first-person POV footage of what it’s like to be killed by a lion.

And for the most part they are efficient and effective filmmaking. A degree of approval for the over-the-top aspects of the film is required from the outset: historians think that Patterson was a bit of a fabulist, exaggerating the lion menace to brush up on his own legacy, and this film goes further in into the realm of fantasy to tell his story. It plays up native superstitions about lions as a malevolent force, but it is above all a film about a 19th-century white man’s superstitions about Africa and a 20th-century audience’s idea of ​​what it’s like to be prey .

However, it’s also a smart and effective thriller, one that uses a huge cast, handy effects and Val Kilmer’s ’90s Boy Scout charm to ground another trashy if-animal-attack movie in the realm of shark night or Lake Placid. The ghost and the darkness has been overlooked and underappreciated over the years, but at a time when pulp cinema is valued for its own cheerfully cheesy values, this film represents a rather unique marriage between an unassuming creature flick and a sophisticated historical epic. It has a lot more texture than many modern beast-on-the-loose thrillers – and a lot more teeth, too.

The ghost and the darkness is available for digital loan Amazon, vudu, and other digital services. It is available for some on-demand services.

https://www.polygon.com/23313397/watch-ghost-and-the-darkness-lion-attack-movie-beast-val-kilmer-streaming The Ghost and the Darkness was the beast movie of the 1990s

Charles Jones

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