Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

In 1889 the Brits set out to construct a rail line from Kenya to Uganda. This in competition with the French and the Germans. At the time the African continent was open to colonization, and European countries were invading en masse. During construction of a bridge over the Tsavo River the construction crew, mostly Africans and Indians, was beset by two man-eating lions, who would from time to time attack a worker, sometimes at night in his tent. At one time the Guinness Book of World Records listed this as the worst plague of man-eating lions at 300 killed. That has since been revised, and a figure of about a tenth that is now acknowledged. That’s the basis of this movie. It’s The Ghost and the Darkness from 1996 from Paramount Pictures.

British Army Colonel John Henry Patterson (Val Kilmer) is engaged to manage the project. He leaves behind in England his lovely wife, Helana (Emily Mortimer), pregnant.

Patterson teams up with construction foreman, Samuel (John Kani). Together they vow to finish the project on schedule. Samuel asks Patterson if he is married. Patterson tells him he is. Samuel tells Patterson he, himself, has five wives. He asks Patterson whether he loves his wife. Patterson tells him he does, very much. Samuel mentions he does not like any of his wives.

We get a preview of coming disaster, as tan forms move through the tall grass near the rail line.

The killings begin, as a worker finds himself dragged from his bed in the middle of the night and eaten by a lion.

Patterson has never seen a lion before, but he teams with fellow Brit Angus Starling (Brian McCardie) to stalk and kill the lion. At this, Patterson is successful, and all celebrate the vanquishing of the menace. Then the killings resume.

When Patterson, Samuel, and Starling stalk an attacking lion at the railway station, they spot another on the roof. There are two lions.

Patterson converts a railway car into a killing trap for the lions. A trap door will ensnare the lion, while accomplished killers from among the work crew will shoot from inside their protective cage. It does not work. These accomplished killers panic and fire wildly, hitting the cage bars and nary a lion.

Professional hunter Charles Remington (Michael Douglas) appears on the scene. Together, Remington and Patterson stalk the two lions.

 

They succeed in killing one of the lions and celebrate with champagne and a restful sleep. Patterson has a dream. His lovely wife and newborn son arrive at the railway station, and she waves to him. Then he sees a tan form charging through the tall grass, onto the platform, and attacking his bride.

 

Patterson wakes up and sees Remington is gone. He finds Remington’s body out in the grass, where the lion has left it. Patterson constructs an elevated platform from which to shoot the lion, and he baits the area with fresh kill. When the lion comes it is an even match, and Patterson ends up killing the animal up close and personal with two blasts from a large-bore, double-barrel weapon.

The construction workers, who had fled earlier, return to the job on the train, as well as Patterson’s wife and son. No tan nform stalks from the tall grass. And that’s the end of the movie.

The Remington character is fiction. Amazon movie credits tell that Patterson killed both lions. The movie spends a lot of time with Patterson and Remington tracking the lions and discovering a lion den cave with a cache of human remains. No.

The bit about the accomplished killers in the railway car trap is beyond absurdity, engineered to entrap viewers into some extra suspense and drama. Three armed men unable to shoot a lion through the cage bars is too much a stretch.

The bridge, by now nearly 120 years old, appears in the beginning and end credits of the movie.

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3 thoughts on “Bad Movie Wednesday

  1. Wikipedia:

    “The Tsavo Man-Eaters were a pair of man-eating Tsavo lions responsible for the deaths of a number of construction workers on the Kenya-Uganda Railway from March through December 1898.”

    Your article starts with the typo: 1989.

  2. Pingback: Bad Movie Wednesday | Skeptical Analysis

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