The Last Lions


The Last Lions

This lion just ain't gonna take no bull...umm, well if you look at it from a certain point of view, they actually ARE.

(2011) Nature Documentary (National Geographic) Jeremy Irons (narration). Directed by Dereck Joubert

Fifty years ago, there were nearly half a million lions in the wild. That number is down to somewhere between twenty and fifty thousand, depending on whose estimates you believe. Current estimates have the wild lion population disappearing, possibly within the lifetime of children currently living.

They are being driven out of their natural habitats by the movement of human expansion on the African continent. They are being hunted by farmers trying to protect their cattle from attacks by the big cats; they are also being crowded into places where their food supply is dwindling and where they are competing with other ferocious predators for game.

Irons’ narration tells the tale of Ma di Tau (translated as Mother of Lions in the local language), a wild lioness in the Okavango Delta region of Botswana. She is a single mother of three adorable cubs. Her territory has been invaded by a pride from the North, moving down due to human incursion. She and her mate are attacked; her mate is grievously injured and the mother and her cubs are forced to cross a crocodile-infested stream to get to Duba Island, a large grassy atoll in the river. In rainy season it can be wet and marshy; in the summers the river slows down to a trickle, inviting other predators to visit.

There’s also a largish herd of water buffalo that are the size of VW Beetles and twice as ornery. One in particular, the herd leader who is marked with a noticeable scar across his face, fears nothing or no lion. His horns are nightmarishly lethal, and without a pride to help her in the hunt, Ma di Tau is reduced to nearly suicidal frontal assaults before devising tactics made from desperation; she desperately needs the meat to feed her cubs and if she doesn’t feed them soon, they’ll starve.

Director Joubert and his producer/partner/wife Beverly live on Duba Island and have been naturalist documentarians for a quarter of a century – in fact, Disney used footage they shot to help guide their animators for The Lion King.

Their footage is phenomenal. We get as up close to lions so much so that we become part of their pride, privy to their daily routines and lives. Nature documentaries have a tendency to anthropomorphize their subjects – give them human qualities and traits. This one doesn’t quite resist the temptation, often musing on what Ma di Tau is thinking and feeling through Irons’ solid narration. However some of the prose he’s given to recite is a little bit on the purple side.

There is no sentimentality here. Lions act like lions and when their territory is invaded, a struggle to the death ensues and it is a bloody and savage one. Cubs, unable to fend for themselves, are put in danger and don’t always escape it unscathed. Lightning ignites grass fires; things are eaten by crocodiles or gored by water buffalo. In short, life on the savannah is a harsh one.

But there is also love and affection and while not as much of that is shown in the eagerness of Joubert to make his point about the dwindling population of the magnificent beasts it is nonetheless present, particularly in Ma di Tau’s fierce devotion to her cubs and her willingness to do whatever it takes to protect them. The playfulness is rarely glimpsed but it is glimpsed.

There is definitely a message here and it’s a somber one – the kings of the jungle are disappearing from the face of the earth. It is happening slowly, but when you consider that it only took half a century to kill off nearly 90% of the lion population in the wild, the urgency of their protection becomes clear. The film provides websites and text numbers for donations to an organization dedicated to protecting these big cats, and hopefully you’ll take advantage of them as well (you can get info on their website which you can access by clicking on the picture above).

As documentaries go, this is a solid one. It lacks the grandeur of DisneyNature’s Earth or the humor of March of the Penguins but it tells its story simply and effectively. It also sends its message clearly and that is all you can ask of a documentary.

REASONS TO GO: Beautifully photographed and narrated. Some of the up-close shots of the lions are breathtaking.

REASONS TO STAY: The movie pulls no punches in describing that it’s a jungle out there, even in the savannah; the faint of heart be warned.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some images of animals mauling and killing one another which might get the kiddies a little upset.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Jeremy Irons voiced the villainous Scar in Disney’s The Lion King.

HOME OR THEATER: Gorgeously photographed African savannah worth seeing in all its glory on a big screen.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Hop

Advertisements

New Releases for the Week of April 1, 2011


 

 

April 1, 2011

Yes, this rabbit plays drums. No, it isn't Thumper!

HOP

(Universal) James Marsden, Russell Brand (voice), Kaley Cuoco, Hank Azaria, Gary Cole, Elizabeth Perkins, David Hasselhoff, Chelsea Handler, Hugh Laurie. Directed by Tim Hill

The teenage son of the Easter Bunny decides to take a powder for Hollywood rather than inherit the family business, as it were. While he wants nothing more than to be a drummer in a rock and roll band (which is proof of idiocy – who in their right minds wants to be the drummer?!?), he hooks up with a fellow slacker who accidentally hit him with his car. While his dad is out to retrieve his son and save Easter, teenager E.B. is “impressing” his new housemate by pooping jelly beans. You heard me right. The future of our species is now officially doomed.

See the trailer, interviews, featurettes, clips and promos here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, IMAX

Genre: Animated/Live Action Family Film

Rating: PG (for some mild rude humor)

Insidious

(FilmDistrict) Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Lin Shaye, Barbara Hershey. When a family moves into a new home, their young son falls into a coma shortly thereafter and the house is found to be possessed by evil spirits. After they do some digging, they come to the horrific realization that it wasn’t their house that is haunted. From the filmmakers responsible for the Saw series as well as Paranormal Activity, this is the first release for this new distribution company.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Horror

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material, violence, terror and frightening images, and brief strong language)

Jane Eyre

(Focus) Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Jamie Bell, Judi Dench. Once more Charlotte Bronte’s plucky heroine takes to the screen in search of the mysteries of Rochester, her employer and would-be love until the secrets of her past – and his present – collide in the kind of tragedy that makes bosoms swell and hearts weep.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Drama

Rating: R (for some thematic elements including a nude image and brief violent content)

The Last Lions

(National Geographic) Jeremy Irons. A lioness and her two cubs struggle to survive in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, one of the last remaining homes of lions in the wild. The struggle of these individual lions is used as a metaphor for the struggle of all lions who are in danger of disappearing completely from the wild, causing a massive ecological catastrophe that we may never be able to recover from.

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Nature Documentary

Rating: PG (for some violent images involving animal life)

The Source Code

(Summit) Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, Jeffrey Wright. A decorated soldier is transported into the body of a man during the last eight minutes of his life in order to discover who was responsible for planting the bomb that killed him and many others in order to stop him from planting the next one. However, nobody counted on the soldier falling in love with a woman who died in the explosion.

See the trailer, interviews, featurettes, promos and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: PG-13 (for some violence including disturbing images and for language)