THE GHOST AND THE DARKNESS, 1996
Starring: Val Kilmer, Michael Douglas, Tom Wilkinson, John Kani, Bernard Hill, and Brian McCardie
The true story about two man eating lions that killed over 130 people over a 9 month period during 1898.
Oscar: Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing- Bruce Stambler
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During the late 1800s, England was in a race with other European nations to be the first to settle much of Africa. To help do this, private financiers worked with the government to help build railroads throughout the continent in order to get their influences around faster. One of these financiers was Sir Robert Beaumont (Tom Wilkinson) who had much of the work in Tsavo (a region in Kenya). After falling far behind schedule, Beaumont hired John Henry Patterson (Val Kilmer), a military engineer who had in the past been in charge of several railways in the past, including India, which was good enough for Beaumont, so Patterson is hired and sent on his way.
Upon his arrival, Patterson is met by Angus Starling (Brian McCardie) and Samuel (John Kani) and is brought to the site. There Patterson meets the campís doctor, David Hawthorne (Bernard Hill) where he finds out that there has been recent lion attacks, something that frightens most of the workers. To ease his men, Patterson promises that he will kill the man eater and later that night, does in fact shoot and kills a large male lion. As he had hope this set the workers at ease and they got back to work.
Within a few days however, fear strikes the camp again when, one of the foremen, a rather large man who in the past had killed a lion with his bare hands, was dragged from his tent. When his remains are found the next morning, Patterson once again tells the workers he will kill the lion. This time he is unsuccessful, and to make matters worse, another man, on the opposite side of the camp was killed during the night.
Things only get worse from here, during the day, as the workers are heading to the job site, they are attacked by two lions, killing several, one being Starling. Patterson attempts to kill them, but is unsuccessful, as they running and hide in the thick brush. Work is stopped on the bridge to combat the two lions, using several tricks and traps, all being unsuccessful. So when Beaumont (Wilkinson) visits the camp, after a few threats to Pattersonís reputation are made, he informs Patterson that he had hired Charles Remington (Michael Douglas), a world-renowned hunter to come and kill the lions.
Soon after, Remington arrives with several Maasai warriors who have come to help kill the lions. Their first attempt however fails, when the lions are flushed from the thick brush to an opening where Patterson was waiting, his gun, which he borrowed from Dr. Hawthorne, misfired and the lions escaped. The Maasai found this to be an unsettling omen and soon left, leaving Remington behind.
Remington concocted another plan, where they moved all the workers that were in the campís hospital to another site, and Remington and Patterson soaked the walls of the old hospital with the blood and body parts of other animals, and waited. This however turns out to be a death sentence to the people in the new hospital, as the lions attack that one, killing everyone, including Dr. Hawthorne in the process. Because of this action, the remaining workers decide to leave the site in fear for their lives, leaving only Patterson, Remington and Samuel behind to contend with the lions.
It is on that first night, that Remingtonís new trap, hiding in a tree, using a baboon as bait, he kills one of the lions. After celebrating that night, Patterson and Samuel wake the next morning to find Remingtonís body had been drug from his tent and killed by the remaining lion. Determined to finish this, Patterson, burns the high grass that surrounds the camp, forcing the lion out. What ensues is a long fight scene where the upper hand changes several times from Patterson/Samuel to the lion. Patterson does eventually kill the lion, the workers return to the site and finish the job on time.
The film is narrated by Samuel who sprinkles in some commentary about how the characters where feeling at times or some background information to help the story move along. He also informs the audience that if you wish to see the two lions can be seen at the Field Museum in Chicago.
This is based on a true story about the Tsavo man-eaters, although several liberties were taken by the filmmakers; the most obvious being the look of the lions. In the film they are depicted as two rather large male lions, mane and all, however in reality, they are actually much smaller than the average lion and are maneless. There is also a debate on how many men the lions actually killed, Patterson claiming it to be 135 but there are also reports of it being only about 35, which is still a high number.
Regardless of the historical accuracy, the film is an entertaining one. The film took home the Oscar for sound editing and probably should have gotten a nomination for cinematography. The film uses several wide shots to try and capture some of the beauty that exist in Africa, none more impressive than the train ride scene Patterson takes to the job site in the beginning of the film.
During its release, the film received mixed reviews, most of the negativity coming from the poor acting job of Kilmer, which earned him a Razzie. With a budget of the $55,000,000 it only made $38.6 million, but it has become a popular rental.
Running at 110 minutes, it feels much shorter due to the flow of the story. I suggest this film, especially to guys that are wanting to get their girlfriends to hold them a little tighter or young boys that want to see some cool violence. Enjoy.