This week is Nature Gone Wild! week. The Ghost and the Darkness is currently available on instant Netflix.
WATCH: The Ghost and the Darkness (1996) – Rated R for some violence and gore involving animal attacks.
“While working for a railroad baron (Tom Wilkinson) in colonial Uganda, engineer John Patterson (Val Kilmer) finds his construction efforts stymied by a series of lion attacks. After more than 100 workers die, grizzled hunter Charles Remington (Michael Douglas) is called in to head the increasingly desperate effort to kill the animals. Based on a true story, director Stephen Hopkins’s thriller recounts an archetypal case of man vs. beast.”
“Lions don’t do this. Lions never had a lair like this. They’re doing it for the pleasure.”
“Of course you will. You’re white. You can do anything.”
The movie starts with a voice-over indicating that “even the most impossible parts of the story really happened.” This is funny because while it is based on a true story and comes closer to the truth than the previous version, Bwana Devil (1952 – in 3D!), the character of Remington is complete fiction.
This movie is based on Lt. Colonel John Henry Patterson’s memoirs, The Man-Eaters of Tsavo. Unfortunately the only accounts of the killings were those written by Patterson and of course he is quite the hero in his story.
The topic of the Great White Hunter is not very politically correct of course. The thought of the smart white man coming to save the defenseless natives makes me wince. Thankfully the movie plays with this stereotype as Patterson quickly kills a lion and struts through the camp. The very next scene has a nice lion discussion with a native.
Tom Wilkinson is an absolute delight as Robert Beaumont, Patterson’s boss. His attitude towards Patterson and problems in general seem to be spot on for a British master of the world. Bernard Hill is stately as the somewhat anachronistic Dr. Hawthorne.
As must be expected, there are many absolutely marvelous shots of Africa. There is a wonderful shot of a lion reflected in Angus’ glasses. I thought it was a nice directorial touch to show that there were Indian laborers used by the British as well as the natives.
I really enjoyed this picture even though it is hard for me to figure out its target audience. This is not an examination of British imperialism, though this is touched upon. Neither is it a celebration of British imperialism. It doesn’t fit squarely into horror or action either.
With the addition of a major character that didn’t exist, the authenticity of the true story is somewhat marred. Michael Douglas is wonderful as Remington and makes a good counterpoint to Val Kilmer’s stiff upper lip performance as Patterson.
I do like to recommend films where you won’t find another similar film. That is the case here and I do recommend this film. It is good but far from perfect. There are a number of lines that may make you groan but overall a good story.
People Watch: Henry Cele (Shaka from Shaka Zulu) appears all too briefly here as Mahina.