Friday, October 30, 2015

ROAR (1981) (Blu-ray Review)

ROAR (1981) 
Label: Olive Films
Release Date: November 3, 2015
Region Code: A 

Rated: PG
Duration: 102 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen ( 2.35:1)
Director: Noel Marshall
Cast: Tippi Hedren, Melanie Griffith, Noel Marshall

Synopsis: Writer/director Noel Marshall stars as Hank, a doctor and outspoken naturalist in Africa who allows lions, tigers, cheetahs, and other big cats to roam freely around his remote estate. While away protecting animals from poachers, Hank’s family—including Marshall’s real-life wife and daughter, Tippi Hedren (The Birds) and Melanie Griffith (Working Girl)—arrive at his home and are stalked by the massive lions that have overrun the house. 

Sometimes you finish a movie and you're just dumbfounded, completely bowled over by what you have just watched, there are no words that will adequately express what you're feeling, so you just sit there slack-jawed... and you watch it again, because you cannot believe what you just watched could be true. 

Director Noel Marshall's Roar (1981) is just such a movie, in fact this is one of the most WTF! viewing experiences of my entire movie-watching life, trust me, this is a whopper of a movie. The story itself is pretty threadbare as described by the brief synopsis, there's just much to it on paper or on screen, and once you realize what you're actually watching you won't care about the story anyway, you won't care about the many storytelling shortcomings of the movie because you're watching what could have potentially tuned out to be a gruesome when animals attack movie, you're watching one of the most ill-conceived movie ideas and execution in all of cinema history. 

Noel Marshall and his real-life wife Tippi Hedren (The Birds) along with Tippi's daughter Melanie Griffith (Joe vs the Volcano)  and Noel's sons John and Jerry Marshall raised dozens of wild cats in their Beverly Hills home from cute cubs to fearsome adulthood. When the cats outgrew their Beverly Hills home they moved to a ranch outside of the city, which is where they would eventually shoot this movie. You can clearly see the insanity of this film as Marshall and the family improvise scenes with untrained African lions who do not take direction very well, there are so many scenes of the cast being overpowered and clawed by these fearsome cats that I find it difficult to believe no one was killed during the production. You can see the terror in some of their eyes of the cast as the camera rolls. In an early scene you see one of the cats take a bite out of Marshall's hand, blood trickling from the wound on screen, his clothes shredded by claws. In another a very youthful Melanie Griffith is mauled by a big cat who sits on her back and claws her face, the wound required over a hundred stitches and reconstructive surgery. There's no acting in this movie in the traditional sense, just improvised scenes of human surviving from one scene to the next, it's just crazy stuff. 

Tippi Hedren was thrown from a elephant's back fracturing her leg in one scene, which is of course captured on film. It is stupefying just how uch insanity and danger this family endured to make this nutty movie. I laugh when I think about Hedren speaking of the horrible tortures she endured while akin The Birds with Alfred Hitchcock. with Hitch hurling birds at her during the bird attack scenes, but watching this I have slightly less compassion about her grievances with Hitchcock. At least he didn't throw her in with into a scene with dozens of untrained lions, tiger, jaguars and cheetahs, nope, she did that to herself. I am serious when I say you can see the fear and terror in their eyes throughout the movie, there could not have been a day on set where the cast and crew did not firmly believe that someone would die, I was scared for them thirty-years after the fact watching it on my TV screen. 

On the surface the movie seems to have a kiddie-friendly family adventure quality about it, it sounds almost Disney in it's conception, except that the actors are appearing alongside clawed big cats who could at any moment chew their face off or shred them, and while that didn't exactly happen it should be noted that there were over 70 documented cases of animal attack during the making of the movie. Cinematographer Jan de Bont (Speed) was severely mauled and scalped during one of the attacks, and he was crazy enough to come back and finish the movie after that! Not sure what kind of drugs they were on while making this one, but whatever they were, they must have been worth dying for. 

Audio/Video: Roar arrives on Blu-ray from Olive Films in the original scope (2.35:1) aspect ratio, and as crazy as the movie is in conception and execution cinematographer Jan de Bont camerawork looks pretty good, considering each and every frame was shot under threat of constant mauling by lions. The print used for the HD transfer looks pretty good with minimal issues, just the occasional white speckling. The English DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio sounds good. 
Cinematographer Jan de Bont
Onto the bonus features we have a great commentary with actor John Marshall and Tim League of Drafthouse Films. What looks to be a vintage making of doc with the participation of the cast and crew, with Tippi breaking down at one point when she begins to discuss what she had to give up to raise money for the project. The meat of the extras are a fantastic Q/A with Cast and Crew at The Cinefamily in L.A. on May 17th 2014 with star John Marshall,  sound mixer Courtney Goodin, editors Ted Nicolaou and Larry Carroll moderated by Harian Belove of Cinefamily and Christian Parkes of Drafthouse Films. There's so much great stuff is brought up during it. Marshall recalls what it was like raising the big cats from cubs in their Beverly Hills home, while the crew speak about just how weird and dangerous a shoot it was, what a character Noel Marshall was, some great stories from on set about the dangerous cats and the flood that nearly scrapped the movie. There's also a gallery of photographs and the essay that Tim League drafted about the movie and what a strange one it is. 

Special Features:
- The Making of Roar (33 Mins) HD
- Q/A with Cast and Crew at The Cinefamily, Los Angeles,  CA May 17th 2014with star John Marshall,  sound mixer Courney Goodin, editors Ted Nicolaou and Larry Carroll moderated by Harian Belove of Cinefamily and Christian Parkes of Drafthouse Films. (40 Mins) HD 
- Photo Gallery (6 Mins) HD 
- Audio Commentary with John Marshall and Tim League 

I could never truly describe how weird and absurd this movie is, how dangerous this looks, and how the cast and crew made it through the shoot without the loss of life or limb. There needs to be a movie about the making of this movie, but you know it would be made with loads of digital effects and animated lions, because no one is crazy enough to do what Noel Marshall and his family were willing to at the time, that would just be crazy, and that's why it's such a fascinating watch, because it's true. Half way through my viewing I the Werner Herzog doc Grizzly Man came to mind, I could imagine a young Timothy Treadwell, the doomed nature enthusiast who is the subject of that movie. I imagined him as a young boy maybe watching this movie and loving the idea of being one with nature, to live among the ferocity of nature and survive it. If you've seen Grizzly Man you know it didn't turn out so well for Treadwell or his girlfriend, watching this you realize how close this crazy family came to being maybe starring in their own family snuff film. WTF.