Although this 1999 picture starts off like a "Ghost and the Darkness" sequel, the film slowly reveals itself to be something less intense, but still mildly entertaining. The film traveled the film festival route from a short period, but still hasn't been able to find theatrical distribution in the US. After it's imminent DVD and Video release in a couple of weeks after this review, theatrical possibilities look to be over.
The terrific actor Richard Harris ("Gladiator") stars as real-life conversationist George Adamson, who ran a lion program in the wilds of Kenya that rehabilitates the animals. John Michie plays Tony Fitzjohn, a wandering worker who stumbles into joining Adamson's program, finding himself amazed by the older man's friendship and appreciation of the beasts; eventually, Fitzjohn continues the elder man's work. As the local government closes in and threatens to shut him down, he also faces the tragic problem of the rise of poaching in the area.
The performances from both leads are quite good, although it's really Harris that steals the show, with a remarkably powerful and touching performance. Michie's Fitzjohn doesn't receive much of an introduction, with a cliched fight scene, but once the character learns more about what Adamson is doing in the wilds to save the creatures, his performance turns more soulful and engaging. The lions also turn in fun supporting performances, suprisingly able to be friendly one moment and agressive the next. The characters are all interesting and engaging; let me put it this way - I didn't wish that the lions would take out any of the actors. The only element that really could have been cut out from the picture is a short, but arguement-filled reunion with George and his wife, which really added nothing to the film. A romance between the Michie character and Kerry Fox ("Welcome To Sarajevo") really doesn't work well, either and the film could have done without it.
Weakly thrown in romances aside, "To Walk With Lions" presents an often entertaining, gorgeously filmed and touching story of one man's quest to save a species.
VIDEO: All studios do drop the ball every now and then, but it's been ages since I can remember a Fox release that I was dissapointed in. Filmed in 2.35:1 widescreen, "To Walk With Lions" is presented here in pan & scan. This is particularly unfortunate given the film's scenery, which is nothing short of spectacular, and should have been available in all its glory. Anyways, aside from that unfortunate flaw, the picture quality is respectable. Sharpness and detail are fairly strong; the darker or dimly lit interiors do tend to look rather murky and the picture overall seems a bit flat, but the brighter, outdoor scenes do fare better.
Problems do appear now and then, but none of these blemishes really took away too much from the image. I didn't see any print flaws to speak of, but I did see a couple of traces of edge enhancement and pixelation here and there. Colors looked fine throughout the film - not quite as rich and vibrant as I've seen the grassy plains of the area look in other pictures, but still pleasant, nonetheless. Although it's unfortunate that Fox did not live up to expectations with this release, the picture quality itself remains decent.
SOUND: The Dolby 2.0 edition is certainly not as enjoyable as a 5.1 presentation would have been, but it's still quite good. The sounds of the wildlife are detailed and often heard; insects, birds, etc are often audible. The music also has nice presence and dialogue sounded clear, as well. A respectable presentation that was quite pleasant.
MENUS:: Nicely animated main menu with scenes from the film playing in the background.
EXTRAS:: Trailer, bios and Adamson profile.
Final Thoughts: Although not without pieces that I (and the story itself) could have done without, "To Walk With Lions" was very entertaining, highlighted by a powerful performance from Harris. This makes Fox's presentation even more dissapointing. Although the DVD is well-priced at $19.99 or less, if the film was originally filmed in 2.35:1, it should have been presented that way here - I can only imagine how great the scenery would have looked. Audio quality was solid, but I would have appreciated more supplements about the real-life Adamson.
The Film ***
Video 80/B- = (320/400 possible points)
Audio: 83/B = (332/400 possible points)
Extras: 70/C = (210/300 possible points)
Menus: 83/B = (166/200 possible points)
Value: 83/B = (249/300 possible points)
FILM GRADE: ***
DVD GRADE: C+