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Roar | Blu-ray Review

Noel Coward Roar Blu-Ray CoverThe sole directorial outing of Noel Coward arrives on Blu-ray, the infamously troubled production, Roar. The 1981 film received a limited theatrical re-release earlier this year thanks to distribution from Drafthouse Films, which managed to take in over a hundred thousand for the initially maligned film, repackaged as ‘the most dangerous movie ever made.’ Though questionable as an actual piece of filmmaking, it is one of those rare jaw dropping accomplishments, an actual occasion for otherwise hyperbolized language. The lack of narrative hardly matters since you’ll be distracted nearly every single moment as you wonder what the hell everyone was thinking when they made the film.

If you don’t recognize Marshall’s name (this stands as his only directorial effort), it’s because he was actually the husband (initially agent) of actress Tippi Hedren, and they conceived the idea of the film eleven years prior while working on another film set in Africa. Fascinating in the sense of what the film crew was able to actually accomplish, but never justifying the actual means for its existence, it’s simply one of those films that has to be seen to be believed.

Hank (Noel Marshall), a zoologist in Africa, has been trying to protect the native wildcats from poachers and gamers. He’s turned his homestead into a safe zone for the creatures, which have basically taken over. However, he’s been away from his family for a while, and they’re on their way to see him, including wife Madelaine (Hedren), daughter Melanie (Melanie Griffith) and sons John and Jerry (actual children John and Jerry Marshall). Needless to say, they’re a bit unnerved at the state of things once they arrive at Hank’s residence.

Clearly a passion project for Hedren and Marshall (who divorced a year after this hit theaters), everything about the film is upstaged by the cats, who sometimes become shockingly aggressive or disarmingly affectionate. But the actors portraying the ignorant poachers and Noel Marshall himself never seem to very comfortable on film. Marshall in particular proves to be a rather odd presence, but he often can’t even get his lines out before being engaged in some kind of physical scuffle with the animals. Running around with a noticeably bloody hand, his Hank the zoologist looks a lot like a crazed Kris Kristofferson mixed with the fella in Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man documentary. Tippi Hedren and Melanie Griffith are both interesting to see together, but neither has much to do but run away from the cats, and then some elephants. Both actresses sustained threatening injuries, but none compared to those of Marshall and cinematographer Jan De Bont, making his Hollywood debut here, famously mauled and scalped.

In retrospect, it’s not hard to believe that the film bombed at the box office. With filming set back by floods, fires, and with seventy something crew members injured during production, costs all told tallied seventeen million, which were not recouped at the box office. The critical and box office success of 1966’s Born Free may have contributed to the origination of the project, but marketing Roar seemed problematic—it’s not really a thriller (some had compared it to Born Free mixed with The Birds thanks to Hedren’s presence) or even an emotionally gratifying venture (though it does have a well-intentioned message). Basically, we’re watching a family run up and down stairs as they try to elude an endless parade of wild cats, two of them portrayed by known actors, and during its middle section, those knowing the film’s troubled history may be simply looking to catch the film’s bits of actual carnage.

Disc Review:

With the Blu-release courtesy of Olive Films, the title is presented in 2.35:1. A handful of extra features, including material from the recent re-release, add extra flavor, a rarity for many of the distributor’s vintage home entertainment releases. Though this transfer is a welcome improvement from the less than satisfactory prints in circulation previous to the film’s re-release, it is a film much better suited for the big screen due to its achievements as pure spectacle. Audio commentary from star, production designer and art director John Marshall and Tim League (whose essay “The Grandeur of Roar” is also an extra) is available.

The Making of Roar:
Tippi Hedren introduces a half hour feauturette on the making of the film and cast and crew appear to discuss their memories of the Hedren/Marshall household and the making of the film.

Q&A w/Cast and Crew:
A forty minute Q+A with John Marshall in April 2015 at the Cinefamily in Los Angeles following its theatrical re-release finds the star recounting stories behind the filmmaking and growing up with lions in Sherman Oaks on the family ranch.

Final Thoughts:

Though the ends don’t quite justify the means, including the severe human injuries sustained by cast and crew (not to mention the downplayed animal injuries on all of the film’s marketing and publicity), Roar is a unique and unprecedented cinematic experience.

Film Review: ★★½/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc Review: ★★★½/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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