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To Walk With Lions

review by Anthony D.

 

 

Running Time: 110 Minutes

Starring: Richard Harris, John Michie, Kerry Fox, Honor Blackman, Geraldine Chaplin

Written by: Sharon Buckingham and Keith Ross Leckie

Directed by: Carl Schulz

 

Studio: Fox

Retail Price: $9.98

Features: Home Video Trailer, Director & Cast Biographies, Fox Flix Trailers, George Adamson Profile

Specs: 1.33:1 Full Screen, English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono, English Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selection (16 Scenes)

Released: September 3rd, 2001

 

 

Viewing "To Walk with Lions" certainly takes one back in time. Somewhere in those misty-memory laced nights of the 1960s, I caught "Born Free" (a wonderful tale about Joy and George Adamson's encounter with lions in Africa) on a drive in screen. Ah, nostalgia for those evenings when you'd load up the car with food, beverage and blankies and head out to the Harmar, the Gateway or the Sunset View Drive-In Theatres and catch a star-studded double (or triple) feature beneath the dusk to midnight skies. Where was I? Oh, yes. "Born Free" with its unforgettable main title theme by John Barry and recorded winningly by Matt Monroe, was the story of the Adamsons building a nature refuge for lions in Kenya, and especially their relationship with foundling cub, Elsa. I don't recall what the second, or third, features on that night at the drive-in were, but, I will say that "Born Free" remains a fond memory still. A few years later, a sequel, "Living Free" appeared, but was not quite the cultural touchstone of its predecessor.

While the films mentioned told the story of a husband and wife team of lion preservationists, Joy and George Adamson, "To Walk with Lions" focuses exclusively on the later years of George Adamson. This film is more a docudrama than the previous lion movies, and is much more a series of compelling incidents than a story-driven piece of filmmaking. The film's point-of-view is from that of an itenerant worker, Tony Fitzjohn, who comes to work for the estranged from Joy, George. Fitzjohn's narration provides the structure for the film, and though, normally a voice-over narration means trouble, the dulcet tones delivered by Fitzjohn's portrayer - John Michie - are economically and dramatically sound. Fitzjohn's narrative brings George deservedly to the forefront of the story, for this venture is a story of man versus man. Kenya is in a severely heated political climate, and George's conservation activities are threatened as the government promises to put an end to his programs. Add to that the added influx of poachers, and you have a finely crafted film that wears its heavy heart on its sleeve.

The glue that keeps the heart from falling off into the territory of cheap sentiment, is the nuanced performance of veteran actor Richard Harris. Though "To Walk with Lions" was obviously released to cash in on Harris' supporting turn in the blockbuster "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," his George Adamson gives Harris a rare starring turn that demonstrates just what a brilliant cinematic actor Harris really is. Adamson is a far continent away from Dumbledore; the man called horse, or even King Arthur; and at Harris' age (72) leading roles are few and far between. Adamson's love for the land, the lions and all of nature is evident in every line of Harris' face. In little more than cameo appearances, a fine supporting cast of British actors each make the most of their own limited screen time: Ian Bannen as a fey comrade, the ever-youthful Geraldine Chaplin, and in a heart-wrenching scene, "Goldfinger's" very own Pussy Galore, Honor Blackman as Adamson's estranged wife, Joy.

Be prepared, however, for quite a few tear-inducing segments, the least of which are of man's inhumanity to animals as exemplified by the poachers' plight. This is definitely not the feel-good-movie of the year, or any year; but it is a story that needs to be told, and one that will linger with the viewer after the dvd player goes dark for the night.

 

Fox's full-frame presentation of "To Walk with Lions" looks mighty fine. Nothing seems to be cramped by the film's limited aspect ratio, though this is the type of film that practically demands to be shot in Panavision. There's no grain to speak of; though I did find the picture a little too soft, possibly because of the cropping of the picture. The film's cinematography, retains a dusty, gritty though soft-focused appearance lending quite a tactile quality - one can nearly feel the sweat beading on forheards, and taste the road dust as the wind whips it around. Not once was I aware of any sharp pans indicative of a heavy-handed pan-and-scan job.

 

A farily standard, but vibrant, mono soundtrack accompanies the feature. The frontal soundstage seems quite expansive, still a full-fledged surround track would have been welcomed. There is also some noticeable bleeding of the musical score, which raises the question of whether or not the disc happens to be mislabeled.

 

A mixed bag of Bonus Features accompanies the disc, with only one being a true special feature. "Ping!" a slapstick comedy with a Chihuahua appearing opposity Shirley Jones as well as "Mom's Outta Sight" a slapstick invisibility comedy are represented by their trailers. While the three page text guide to the life of George Adamson, is not only informative, but nearly a necessity for viewers unfamiliar with Adamson's life-work. The textual Director and Cast Biographies are for stars Richard Harris, John Michle, Ian Bannen, Kerry Fox, Geraldine Chaplin and director Carl Schultz. All of this as well as the "To Walk with Lions" trailer heralding its video availability.

 

A better than average docudrama, with a brilliant star turn from Richard Harris, at a very affordable price, and a high re-watchability quotient, "To Walk with Lions" is well worth seeking out.