This Bonkers/Legitimately Dangerous Nature Movie Is Like Boyhood But With Lions
Move over, Linklater.
Before Boyhood took twelve years for Richard Linklater to film, Roar was in production for eleven years because its creators were waiting for their very own family—of lions—to grow up.
The above is a rerelease trailer for Roar, which originally premiered in 1981. If you watched that trailer, you might be thinking, “I need to go find out what the heck this movie is so that I can make sense of it.” You would be wrong. Everything you learn about Roar only makes it sound more bonkers.
Drafthouse Films’ CEO, Tim League, explained on the company’s site,
Roar began while Tippi Hedren and her husband/manager Noel Marshall were shooting in Africa. After wrapping production they toured several safari wildlife preserves and were struck by the scene of an abandoned plantation house overrun by a large pride of lions. The image took root and inspired the epic eleven-year journey to create Roar.
Hedren and Marshall quickly became devoted to raising awareness about the overhunting of wild lions, tigers and jaguars, as well as the inhumane treatment of big cats in captivity. They were convinced Roar would raise awareness about what was fast becoming their purpose in life.
OK, great. Wildlife conservation. That’s a noble goal. But as it turns out, their idea for a movie was literally throwing themselves in with “improvising” lions. Spoiler: with lions, “Yes, and,” always ends in, “now I eat you.” Wildlife experts told them what a terrible idea that was and that lions are hugely territorial, so they raised their own lions in their house to make sure they’d all get along as a family—with their kids, including a young Melanie Griffith.
As their big cat collection rose to over 100 animals, the shadow of Beverly Hills became too restrictive: The entire Hedren-Marshall family created Shambala, a nature preserve 40 miles north of Los Angeles, and began shooting.
Yeah, there were just over 100 big cats just chilling in Beverly Hills and other parts of California in the 70s. No big deal. …What.
And this approach to family togetherness still had a frighteningly low level of effectiveness:
When the movie finally debuted in 1981, Roar was deemed by Variety as the “most disaster-plagued film in the history of Hollywood.” It was also a financial disaster. Fortunately, the passage of time affords us the perspective to view Roar for what it truly is: the most epic and amazing animal thriller ever made. It plays out like a fever-dream Disney movie. The lighthearted slapstick of the surface masks one of the most intense, white-knuckle, nail-biting thrillers ever seen. The cast is in constant mortal danger as dozens of adult lions “improvise” around them. At numerous times Marshall drips blood as he fends off ferocious advances from jaguars and tigers alike. Melanie Griffith’s real-life mauling is on display in the final cut. A jaguar licking honey off Tippi Hedren’s face was an untested idea that could have easily ended very, very badly. Knowing the backstory of the production, you can see perpetual terror in the eyes of the cast as an army of lethal predators close in around them.
Noel Marshall and Tippi Hedren pulled off the impossible: For 11 years they crafted a movie that everybody said couldn’t be made.
See, Linklater? Try to make a movie for 12 years while in constant danger of getting eaten by lions next time, and maybe you won’t lose Best Picture.
Roar will be in select theaters this April.
Now, please, if someone can just direct me back to my own timeline, I’d very much appreciate it. I sincerely do not think this was a thing that had happened in real life back where I came from. I’m pretty sure I would’ve known about it.