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Sunday, September 25, 2011

My 100 Worst Movies of the 90's - 78 - The Ghost and the Darkness (1996)

Whooo-boy.  If there ever was a sillier film to take place on the Dark Continent, I would love to find it.  What happens with you take the Bridge on the River Kwai and add just a little bit of killer animals?  You get The Ghost and the Darkness, an absurd movie about a crew of construction workers who, while building a bridge in Africa in the 1800’s, are terrorized by two bloodthirsty lions.  Val Kilmer is the chief engineer in charge of the construction project and Michael Douglas is a big game hunter brought on to take out the hungry kitties.

Usually I'd have a second paragraph devoted to elaborating on the plot summary, but I really can't justify it for this movie.  The story of the Ghost and the Darkness is reportedly based in some fact, and the concept of killer lions attacking workers over the period of several months could work, but this movie is bogged down by hammy acting from all involved, likely the product of Stephen Hopkins' direction.  If you don't know how bad his direction can be, then just watch Lost In Space!!!  Still, the film also suffers from a screenplay that just feels thrown together, which is inexcusable considering it was written by William Goldman, who's other credits include Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Marathon Man, the Princess Bride and Misery.  With this pedigree, you think he'd be able to give us a sensible screenplay, but instead we get a mish-mash of cliched interjections and bad scenes where Kilmer's Colonel Patterson will do something dumb, and Douglas' Charles Remington will make a lame comment about how stupid he is. 

The Ghost and the Darkness is saved by some of its unintentionally funny moments.  The film is so badly shot that you can’t really see any of the attacks all that well when they occur.  Instead, the camera shows the lion, shows the victim, a pelt is swung past the camera so fast you can’t see it, you see a hilarious reaction shot of the soon-to-be-dead-man followed by a scene where he either appears to be wiggling a stuffed animal above his head or is just lying in a bloody pool, or sometimes he just disappears. 

The overall production value of the killer lion attacks are on par with a bad Syfy Original (despite this film winning a freaking Oscar for the effects!) and the Ghost and the Darkness was not a small picture, and it did make its $55,000,000 budget back, but not by much.  Still, its obvious a majority of this film’s budget went to the paychecks of its two stars.  The remaining cast are mostly fodder for the lions and includes Tom Wilkinson and Emily Mortimer but they really aren’t given much to do.  This film is all about da lions, yo!  It’s a shame the lions suck, otherwise this might have been a pretty good thriller.

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