Roar is a 1981 American adventure comedy film written and directed by Noel Marshall, produced by (and starring) Marshall and his wife Tippi Hedren, and co-starring Hedren's daughter Melanie Griffith and Marshall's sons John and Jerry. Roar's story follows a man who lives with lions, tigers, and other big cats in Africa. When his family attempts to visit him, they are accidentally left alone with a number of animals that they fear.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Noel Marshall|
|Music by||Terence P. Minogue|
|Cinematography||Jan de Bont|
Hedren and Marshall learned about endangered wildlife in Africa while Hedren was filming Satan's Harvest in Mozambique, and they decided to make a film in response. Hedren, Marshall, and their family lived with a number of big cats in their California homes. Filming began in California during the 1970s. Roar was notorious for the dangerous situations faced by cast and crew members; seventy people, including the film's stars, were seriously injured during filming as a result of animal attacks. Flooding from a dam destroyed much of the set and equipment after three years of production, and the film's budget increased drastically. Filming was completed in five years, after 11 years in production.
The film was not initially released in North America. Noel and John Marshall released the film internationally themselves on February 22, 1981. It was also acquired by Filmways Pictures and Alpha Films. Despite performing well in Germany and Japan, Roar was a box office bomb, with a worldwide gross of $2 million against a $17 million budget. It was released theatrically in the United States on April 17, 2015, by Drafthouse Films, 34 years after the film's original release. Reviews were mixed to negative when it was first released; modern reviews have a more mixed response. Although Roar's animal interactions and message (to protect African wildlife) were praised, its plot, story, inconsistent tone, dialogue, and editing were criticized.
Hedren founded the Roar Foundation and established the Shambala Preserve sanctuary in 1983 to house the animals used in the film after its completion, in addition to writing her 1985 book The Cats of Shambala, which described many of the film's events. The film has since been described as "the most dangerous film ever made" and "the most expensive home movie ever made", and gained a cult following.
American doctor and wildlife preservationist Hank (Noel Marshall) lives in Tanzania with big cats to study their behavior. Although he intends to pick up his wife Madeleine (Tippi Hedren) and their children John, Jerry, and Melanie (Melanie Griffith) from the airport to bring them to his ranch, he is late. Hank's friend Mativo (Kyalo Mativo) warns him that a committee will review his grant, and he shows Mativo around his ranch while they wait. He explains the nature of the lion pride to Mativo and their fear of Togar, a rogue lion who quarrels with pack leader Robbie. Hank asks Mativo to help keep the pride safe.
The grant committee arrives. One, Prentiss (Steve Miller), disapproves of the big cats and threatens to shoot them. A fight between two lions distracts Hank, who breaks it up after his hand is bitten. While Hank bandages his hand, the tigers attack the committee and injure them. Although Hank offers help, they leave in fear. Mativo is concerned about Hank bringing his family to the ranch. As they leave for the airport on Mativo's boat, two tigers jump aboard and it sinks from their weight; the two men swim to safety.
Madeleine, John, Jerry, and Melanie are advised by an airport attendant to board a bus. They arrive and enter the ranch house, realizing that it has been left unattended. When Madeleine and Jerry open the windows and doors, they are shocked to see the lions eating a zebra carcass. Frightened as animals enter the house, the family tries to escape. Togar enters and pursues them; Jerry finds a rifle and tries to shoot him, and Robbie fends off Togar. Melanie fears that Hank has been killed by the animals.
Hank and Mativo take bikes from a local village as the tigers follow them. Hank knows that they cannot take the tigers to the airport, so Mativo distracts them from a tree while Hank finds the airport attendant (who tells him that his family already took the bus to his ranch). Hank drives back in his friend's car and rescues Mativo from the tree. The car gets a flat tire on a rocky road, and he and Mativo begin running to the ranch.
The family uses Hank's boat to escape the following morning, but an elephant pulls them to shore and destroys it. John uses Hank's motorcycle to get help, is chased by the big cats, and drives into the lake. The family sleeps in another house. They are surrounded by the pack when they awaken and conclude that since they were not killed, the animals will not hurt them.
Prentiss unsuccessfully tries to persuade the committee to have Hank's big cats poached. Prentiss and Rick (Rick Glassey), a committee member, poach many of the big cats until Togar attacks them. Hank sees the attack and tries to intervene, but Togar kills Prentiss and Rick before returning to the house to fight Robbie. Robbie stands up to Togar, and the lions stop fighting. Hank runs back to find that his family waiting for him. Mativo arrives, and Hank asks him not to mention Prentiss' death; he is introduced to Hank's family, who agree to stay with him and the animals for the week.
- Noel Marshall as Hank:
Hank is a wildlife preservationist who lives alongside numerous animals in Africa. Despite his lack of experience with writing and his lack of an acting career, Marshall, in addition to producing, directing, and financing the film, had lived with the big cats for years and understood their behavior, making him the best and only plausible choice as Hank. He had developed a relationship with the animals and displayed much-needed confidence and bravery when handling them, in Hedren's opinion.:123, 156
- Tippi Hedren as Madeleine:
Madeleine is Hank's wife. Hedren had previous experience as an actress, as she was the lead character in Alfred Hitchcock's films The Birds (1963), and Marnie (1964). She had also completed a few films in Africa.
- Melanie Griffith as Melanie:
Melanie is the daughter of Hank and Madeleine. Griffith had a promising career at the time, appearing in the films Night Moves, The Drowning Pool, and Smile (all made in 1975).:156, 157 She left the film after a fight between two lions, saying that she did not want to "come out of this with half a face." Although Griffith was replaced with actress and friend Patsy Nedd, she later expressed interest in the film and redid many scenes.:172, 175
- John Marshall as John:
John is the eldest son of Hank and Madeleine. Marshall (Noel's middle son) had previously acted in small television roles from the age of five.:29
- Jerry Marshall as Jerry:
Jerry is the youngest son of Hank and Madeleine. Marshall, like his brother, was cast in a small number of commercials but wasn't as involved in film and television like his siblings.:29, 156
- Kyalo Mativo as Mativo:
Mativo is Hank's friend and assistant zoologist. Mativo was born in Kenya, a native of the Kamba people, and was chosen over two men; one Senegalese and a Nigerian. He was majoring in film at UCLA, wrote and directed for Voice of Kenya, and had previously acted in two German short films before taking the role, under stipulation that he "only be with those animals while [we're] filming".:155:374
Expert and or experienced animal trainers such as Frank Tom, Rick Glassey and Steve Miller were given acting parts as committee members attacked by tigers.:253, 372 Zakes Mokae plays a committee member, while Will Hutchins portrays a man in a rowboat. The untrained lions Robbie, his son Gary, and Togar are all credited as actors.
Roar was conceived by Marshall and Hedren in 1969, after Hedren finished Satan's Harvest in Mozambique.:86 During filming, they came across an abandoned plantation house in Gorongosa National Park which had been overrun by a pride of lions, and were told by their bus guide and local residents that animal populations were becoming endangered due to poaching; this inspired them to consider making a film:20 or a series of films.
It was an amazing thing to see: The lions were sitting in the windows, they were going in and out of the doors, they were sitting on the verandas, they were on the top of the Portuguese house, and they were in the front of the house [...] It was such a unique thing to see and we thought, for a movie, let us use the great cats as our stars.
Marshall and Hedren discussed the film with their family Melanie Griffith, Joel, John and Jerry Marshall, who liked the idea and agreed to participate as actors (with the exception of Joel, who preferred to be the art director and set decorator). Marshall and Hedren visited animal preserves in their free time and talked to lion experts. They learned they would have to film in the United States, as domesticated lions were rare in Africa.:184–187 A number of lion tamers warned that it was impossible to bring a large number of big cats together on a film set. Other tamers, such as animal trainer Ron Oxley who brought a lion named Neil over to introduce the family to big cats, suggested that they obtain their own animals, give them basic training, and gradually introduce them to each other.:86:188–189, 202 The Marshalls conceived ideas regarding the use of money required for the project and came to a prediction that the film would be completed on a budget of $3 million.:159
Marshall wrote the first script for the project in the spring of 1970, which was given the working title Lions, later changed to Lions, Lions and More Lions.:185–187:30 Actor and voice artist Ted Cassidy who was a co-writer for The Harrad Experiment, a film that Marshall had produced, also provided work on the film's script. The film would require several trained lions to exemplify Africa's wildlife, as the original script involved thirty or forty.:86 Marshall was inspired by Mack Sennett's slapstick routines, and decided to incorporate a mixture of comedy, drama, and moments of "stark terror" between human and animal encounters, with an underlying message to preserve African animal life.:140, 186 Events in the story that involved the animals chasing after the characters required many of the actors to pretend to scream and be scared of them, which would invoke a reaction from the animals. Because of this reason the script was constantly changed and some of the lions were later credited as writers.
Marshall and Hedren began illegally housing young lions in Sherman Oaks that were acquired from zoos and circuses (this was before the Endangered Species Act of 1973 was passed).:52-54 This continued until public authorities discovered the animals in 1972.:221, 236-237 Marshall and Hendren purchased land in Soledad Canyon, and hired staff to construct the set along with an two-story, African-style house. The house was supported by fourteen telephone poles and sturdy enough for fifty big cats, or twenty thousand pounds.:239, 250–251:80, 152 The staff was composed of non-union workers; the Marshalls declined to use union workers as they were unable to afford them and were afraid of breaking union rules.:159 A flat roof was placed on the house, and the California desert was adapted to mimic Tanzania, planting thousands of cottonwoods and Mozambique bushes and damming a nearby creek to create a lake.:81 A crew of five men built and maintained fourteen feet high fences to prevent the animals from escaping the compound and would cordon off areas up to two thousand square feet. A miniature studio was constructed alongside numerous buildings, such as editing rooms and a kitchen commissary. An animal hospital, elephant barn, and a ten-thousand-pound freezer (to store meat for the big cats) were also on-location.:73, 153, 164 Hedren operated a backhoe on the set, and was in charge of clothing used for wardrobe, which she described as a plain "wash-and-wear look".:337
After Marshall took in two infant Siberian tigers and an African bull elephant named Timbo from the Okanagan Game Preserve, he decided to revise the film's script to include different animals, resulting in the final title Roar.:254–255, 287 Another addition to the script involved Timbo crushing the family's rowboat, after the elephant was observed destroying a metal camper shell.:190-191 The family accumulated 71 lions, 26 tigers, a tigon, nine black panthers, 10 cougars, two jaguars, four leopards, two elephants, six black swans, four Canada geese, four cranes, two peacocks, seven flamingos, and a marabou stork; the only animal they turned down was a hippopotamus. Marshall and Hedren had to hire animal trainers when they received more lions; one trainer, Frank Tom, brought his pet cougar that needed re-homing.:253, 372 The big cats by then had numbered about 100, and would eventually reach a total of 150.
Financial issues began to arise as the cost for crew and feed for the animals amounted to four thousand dollars a week.:145 The Marshall family sold their four houses and 600 acres near Magic Mountain to pay debts, and Marshall's commercial-production company went bankrupt. Marshall was an executive producer of The Exorcist, and the proceeds from that film partially funded production; the crew began speculating (and rumors spread) that the film had the "curse of The Exorcist". The Marshall family also sold items that included Hedren's fur coat, given to her by Alfred Hitchcock for her starring role in The Birds.:146 The lack of funds meant that the Marshall family had to do crew members' and other work. John Marshall was an animal wrangler, set mechanic, boom operator, and camera operator; he also did veterinary work, such as giving vaccines and drawing blood from the animals. In a 1977 interview, Marshall was asked why he took personal risk for the project:
You get into anything slowly. We have been on this project now for five years. Everything we own, everything we have achieved, is tied up in it. Today we're 55 percent complete. We're at a point where we just have to do it.
Principal photography began on October 1, 1976, and was initially scheduled to last for six months. Only five months could be used to record at a time, as the cottonwood trees in the background became brown from November until March, halting the filming process.:164 Filming took five years to complete and ended on October 16, 1979,:461 with the exception of pick-up shots.:258) The total production time was 11 years.
Filming the big cats was difficult and frustrating; cinematographer Jan de Bont spent hours setting up five cameras and waiting for the cats to do something that could be included in the film. This led Marshall and the crew to record footage with up to eight Panavision 35mm cameras in documentary style. One scene where Marshall and Mativo drive a 1937 Chevrolet containing two tigers took seven weeks to pull-off, as Glassey and Miller trained the cats to ride in a car.:179-181:389 Marshall often refused to stop filming because he did not want to lose a take and sometimes only one take was usable from a day's filming.
The opening footage of Marshall racing a bull giraffe on a motorcycle was filmed in Kenya, with the area being acknowledged in the film's credits.:451 One session involving a leopard licking Hedren's face, after she was coated in honey, was considered by her to be one of the most dangerous scenes she agreed to film; handlers were eight feet away, but would not have been able to stop the cat from biting her.:397–399 The part where the film's poachers shoot and kill big cats was achieved by tranquilizing the animals for their annual blood draw.
Injuries and set damagesEdit
Due to the large number of untrained animals on set, there were a reported 48 injuries within the two years since filming started. Attacks by the big cats used in the film resulted in real blood appearing in the final cut, and it is believed that more than 70 members of the 140-person crew are believed to have been injured during the production of Roar. Though, in a 2015 interview, John Marshall said that he believed the number of people injured was over 100.
Noel Marshall was bitten through the hand when he interacted with male lions during a fight scene; doctors feared that he might lose his entire arm. He received eight puncture wounds after being bitten in the leg by a lion, who was curious about his makeup-covered legs, intended to avoid a white reflection. By then Marshall had been bitten around eleven times.:205-207 His face and chest were later injured as well, and he was hospitalized before shooting could continue. Marshall was twelve hours from lapsing into a coma after he was diagnosed with blood poisoning, and because he was attacked so many times, he was diagnosed with gangrene. It took Marshall several years to recover from his injuries. During a promo shoot in 1973, Hedren was bitten in the head by Cherries, a lion, whose teeth scraped against Hedren's skull. She was taken to Sherman Oaks Hospital, where her wounds were secured and she was given a tetanus shot.:341–345 She was admitted to Antelope Valley Hospital after the five-ton elephant Tembo picked her up by and fractured her ankle with his trunk before bucking her off his back, though she said that Tembo was trying to keep her from falling and was not at fault. She was left with phlebitis and gangrene, in addition to a fractured hand and abrasions on her leg. The incident happened several days after Tembo bucked his trainer, Patricia Barbeau, into a tree and broke her shoulder. Hedren was also scratched on the arm by a leopard and bitten on the chest by a cougar. Griffith received 50 stitches and underwent facial reconstruction after being attacked by a lioness. Although it was feared that she would lose an eye, she recovered without being disfigured. A lion jumped on John Marshall and bit the back of his head, an injury requiring 56 stitches. Jerry Marshall was bitten in the thigh by a lion while he was in a cage on set, and he was placed alongside Hedren in the same hospital for a month.:195
Most of the crew was injured as well, including de Bont, who was scalped by Cherries while he was filming under a tarp;:384–385 de Bont received 220 stitches, but continued his duties after recovering. Togar, one of the lead lions, bit assistant director Doron Kauper's throat and jaw and tried to pull off one of his ears after Kauper unintentionally cued an attack; Kauper's scalp, chest and thigh were injured, and he was admitted to Palmdale General Hospital to undergo four and a half hours of surgery. Although the attack was reported as nearly fatal, a nurse told a Santa Cruz Sentinel reporter that Kauper's injuries were acute (sudden and traumatic) and he was conscious in fair condition. Twenty crew members left the set en masse; turnover was high, and many did not want to return.
Pipes from Aliso Canyon became flooded with water and burst after heavy rain, along with berms built that were pointed towards the Marshall property to redirect water from the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks. The property was destroyed by a ten-foot flood, which four sound-crew members had to be rescued from. Marshall, who left the hospital before he could have knee surgery, helped to rescue many of the animals.:423-424, 430–432 Fifteen lions and tigers escaped from the set after fences and cages collapsed; the sheriff and local law enforcement killed three lions, including Robbie the lead lion, who was replaced with another lion, Zuru.:232 A broken dam and several floods also caused the surrounding lake to fill with sediment, adding six feet to its height. Most of the editing equipment, film, the set and the ranch were destroyed, with over $3 million in damages, though the negative had already been sent to Hollywood.:223 Many friends and strangers to the Marshalls and their crew offered help, including the Southern Pacific Railroad office who offered to send a train to temporarily board their animals.:434 As a result of the flooding, the production and property took an entire year to recover. Filming was delayed for eight weeks. The set took eight months to be rebuilt, and seven hundred replacement trees were purchased. After rebuilding the set and addressing most of the issues regarding the flood, a wildfire measuring 250 miles broke out, though most of the animals remained unharmed.
Terence P. Minogue composed the film's score and recorded it with the National Philharmonic Orchestra. Robert Florczak (credited in the film as Robert Hawk) provided vocals for original songs such as "Nchi Ya Nani? (Whose Land Is This)", a song with an African-pop style like others on the soundtrack. Both Minogue and Florczak visited the Shambala Preserve to get the inspiration needed for the music's sound.:463 Minogue used a piano that he shipped to the family's ranch to write the music. Percussionist Alexander Lepak used grinding drums and synthesizers to augment dialogue-free scenes, and Minogue's orchestral score was used in lighter scenes. Dominic Frontiere wrote a theme for Togar, the rogue lion. The soundtrack, originally released in 1981, became available online in 2005.
Roar was not released theatrically in North America, since American distributors were uninterested in the film. Hedren said that it was not released in the United States because distributors wanted the "lion's share" of the profits, which were intended for the film's animals.:86 Crew member Terry Albright, who worked on the film throughout its production, said that it was not distributed domestically because the crew (except for de Bont) was almost exclusively non-union.
Roar was initially released internationally on February 22, 1981 by Noel and John Marshall, until its world premiere was held in Sydney, Australia on October 30, 1981.:466 The film was also picked up by Filmways Pictures and Alpha Films, the latter giving it the title Roar - Spirit of the Jungle, for a one-week distribution in countries such as Australia and England. The film was also released in Japan and Germany.
In 2015, 34 years after its initial release, Drafthouse Films founder Tim League expressed interest in the film and Drafthouse bought Roar's rights. It began a limited theatrical run on April 17, 2015 at six theaters across the United States; the following month, distribution was expanded to 50 cities. The Drafthouse re-release used promotional text in its trailers and press materials such as, "No animals were harmed during the making of 'Roar.' But 70 members of the cast and crew were", and called it the "snuff version of Swiss Family Robinson". Hedren canceled an interview with the Associated Press after the Roar Foundation and Shambala Preserve's board of directors asked her not to speak publicly about the film, although she said through a spokesman that its Drafthouse promotion was filled with "inaccuracies".
Roar's worldwide gross (excluding the U.S.) was less than $2 million against its $17 million budget, making the film a box-office bomb. Hedren had predicted that it would be a hit, projecting a gross of $125–150 million, and claimed in 1982 that it was making $1 million a month. Though it was popular in Germany and Japan, performing well at the box office, Marshall never received a domestic distribution deal that allowed a U.S. release. Despite this, John Marshall later said in a Grantland interview that "$2 million is a long way off" due to the film's success in Germany and Japan; the latter's distributor paid $1 million, and Noel Marshall told him that the film made $10 million. It had an opening weekend gross of $15,064 in its re-release, ending with a domestic gross of $110,048.
Roar has an approval rating of 74 percent (based on 23 reviews) on the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, with an average rating of 5.82/10. According to the site's critical consensus, "Roar may not satisfy in terms of acting, storytelling, or overall production, but the real-life danger onscreen makes it difficult to turn away." The film has a weighted average score of 65 out of 100 (based on 9 critics) on Metacritic, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
The film received mixed-to-negative reviews when it was first released. Although Variety gave praise to its intended message ("a passionate plea" to preserve African wildlife), Roar was described as "a kind of Jaws of the jungle" which seemed "at times more like Born Free gone berserk"; its "thin" plot was also noted. David Robinson, on the other hand, dismissed the story and plot, instead choosing to compliment the "superb" animals in his review for The London Times, giving credit to their interactions that "overturns centuries of preconceptions about relationships in nature." Time Out, in a much later review published in 2004, disliked that the film gave an "ingenuous documentary portrait of the Marshalls as mega-eccentrics and misguided animal lovers", and called its narrative a "farcical melange of pseudo David Attenborough and Disneyspeak" with "bizarre contradictions" and "fickle camerawork."
Roar received mixed reviews after its 2015 re-release. Writing for RogerEbert.com, Simon Abrams rated the film a two while giving a mixed reaction; the untrained big cats were the only assets in an "otherwise slack thriller", and some scenes were dull due to their emphasis on "Scooby Doo-like" chase scenes focusing more on the animals than on plot, though Abrams concluded that for animal lovers, Roar was "worth seeing once". Matt Patches, in his mostly positive review for Esquire, said the film works as a "portrait of recklessness and beastly terror", akin to watching a Jackass movie; although "plotless enough" to give animals writing credits, Patches said the film was "shock cinema worth preserving".
On a more negative note, Jordan Hoffman of The Guardian thought the film had little story to offer and described it "a tad incoherent", with Hank's background confusing. Hoffman criticized the film's dialogue, calling a scene of Hedren and Griffith discussing sexuality "undeniably creepy". Expressing her disinterest for the film's lack of a script in LA Weekly, Amy Nicholson noted that many lines spoken by the actors seemed to be rushed to get through a scene; this conflicted with the film's goal, "to prove that big cats are lovable". Rene Rodriguez of the Miami Herald was displeased with the film's footage, saying it was "pasted together into a threadbare story", producing "a hysterically bad, awful movie". Flavorwire included the film in their monthly "So Bad It’s Good" review, and writer Jason Bailey saw Roar as "a cross between a nature special, a home movie, a snuff film, and a key exhibit at a sanity hearing"; much of it according to Bailey was "odd, semi-improvised" dialogue that "consumed" most of the film, and a dedication to animals inflicting "horrifying bloodshed" before becoming "cuddly kittens, accompanied by a sappy string score".
— John Marshall, on why his father Noel stopped making films
After its release, Roar's financial failure hindered the intended plan to fund the animals' retirement. Marshall and Hedren had grown distant by the time production was completed, and they divorced in 1982. Hedren founded the Roar Foundation, and established the Shambala Preserve sanctuary in Soledad Canyon in 1983 to house the animals after filming was completed. As a result of establishing Shambala and rescuing more than 230 big cats, Hedren advocates animal rights and the preservation of natural habitat and opposes animal exploitation. Although Marshall continued to provide most of Shambala's financial support, according to John Marshall he "couldn't be with the animals that he loved and raised". He never directed another film again and later died in 2010.
The film has been mentioned by authors Harry and Michael Medved in the 1984 book The Hollywood Hall of Shame as "the most expensive home movie ever made" due to its inflated budget.:224 Hedren wrote The Cats of Shambala, published in 1985, which told many behind-the-scenes stories and described the many on-set injuries. Hedren stated in her book she and Noel realized that while they accomplished their goal (to "capture wild animals in an astonishing and absolutely unique way"), the story was poorly made and secondary to "the actions, reactions and interactions of the big cats". She also said everyone involved had their lives at risk to make the film as most of the damage was done as a result of "defying the odds" (though some of the people involved later went on to have successful careers in the film industry, including de Bont and Griffith).:260, 285-286 Though the actress said that despite the danger, Roar was worthwhile (although she called it "the toughest movie of my life"). Due to the many injuries on set, the film's re-release trailers and adverts called it "the most dangerous film ever made". After its original release, it has received a cult following.
A non-anamorphic version of the film was originally released on DVD. As copies of the film went out of print, it became a cult item and was listed at high prices on Amazon and eBay. After its 2015 theatrical release in the United States, the film was released in November 2015 by Olive Films for Blu-ray in anamorphic format. The Blu-ray bonus features included audio commentary by John Marshall and Tim League, "The Making of ROAR" featurette, and a Q&A with the cast and crew at Cinefamily in Los Angeles.
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