20 Years On: “The Ghost and the Darkness”

As exciting as film anniversary’s are sometimes you run into an obstacle that pops up from time to time. The film isn’t remotely like you recall it being. No matter how many times you saw it when you were younger, it just doesn’t come across like you recall. Sometimes that’s the film’s fault. Perhaps it sucks, isn’t aging well, or some other annoying reason that makes you question why you got excited about it in the first place. It’s gotta be one of those, right?

The Paramount Pictures film “The Ghost and the Darkness”, certainly isn’t as entertaining and exciting as I remember it, but I’m pretty sure there’s an underlying reason for this.

This action film stars Michael Douglas (“Ant-Man”, “Beyond the Reach”), Val Kilmer (“Psych”, “The Spoils of Babylon”), John Rani (“Captain America: Civil War”, “Wallander”), Bernard Hill (“Golden Years”, “Unforgotten”), Tom Wilkinson (upcoming “Denial”, “Snowden”), Brian McCardie (“Rebellion”, “Outlander”), Emily Mortimer (“Doll & Em”, “Ladygrey”), Om Puri (upcoming “Gandhigiri”, “Warrior Savitri”), and Henry Cele (“Shaka Zulu: The Citadel”, “Ipi Tombi”).

The film was directed by Stephen Hopkins (“Houdini and Doyle”, “Race”) and written by William Goldman (“Wild Card”, “Dreamcatcher”).

It originally opened on Oct. 11, 1996. It would go on to be nominated for one Academy Award; winning one, one American Society of Cinematographers Award, and one Razzie Award.

Given how old I am, to say that this is a film that I grew up watching, is a bit strange. It’s not exactly something you’d expect a lot of teenagers to be watching. Well, at least ones that are still quite young. I can’t decide if I was fortunate or not to have this in my life as much, but because my mother made to a part of our lives, in whatever way it was she did, I am able to enjoy these types of films. The animal attack/survival films. It’s like with creature features. They’re bad, but so enjoyable! I think that that was half of what made me excited about seeing it again today. I’d get to revisit a film I haven’t seen in a long time, and just enjoy it the same way I did when I was younger. And then, like with many things, the outcome isn’t at all like I expected.

Not even close.

Actually I think, more so than I’d like to admit, but I hated it. This film did nothing for me, even though, somewhere in the back of my mind, I wasn’t expecting it to. But I did hope for a far more entertaining adventure film than I ultimately got.

On that thought, I find that what’s to blame are two things I never thought could be so strong together. The way the film’s story unfolds and the fact that I was as far removed from this film as you could possibly be. Yeah, it’s that sad.

Before I even began to feel pulled out of this mediocre story, I was getting the feeling that something about the film’s pacing was off. It wasn’t even 30 minutes before I discovered that not much was occurring. I wasn’t in need of big explosions, nor expecting it, but I think I found myself discovering that the memory of there being a lot more excitement was just something I made up. There really wasn’t anything exciting outside of all the lion attacks and the hunting for the lions. On this, I can actually applaud Goldman. He was trying to develop characters and give them real purpose. To make it seem, genuinely too, that this is just one man going to work, but his work also has some dangers. I’d say, in some ways, Goldman succeeded, but he also did it in the most boring way possible. By the time I was fully out of the film, I just didn’t care. I wanted the lions to eat both Kilmer and Douglas and let the film be over, but we can’t all get what we want.

I learned this the hard way, which is funny seeing as I’m not some young adult just venturing out into the world through the doorway that is college. No, no I’ve pretty much known this for some time now, but can still find myself in situations where it’s still a surprise. Tragic surprise. I was interrupted so many times. So many people pulling my focus, when all I wanted was to just sit and watch man eating lions kill and eat people. That’s it. Not a lot to ask for. I tried. I can say that. But, sadly, as the less than two hour film went on, I discovered that as much as I was trying, it didn’t matter at all. I may as we’ll have stopped watching for all the good it did me. I didn’t even get that excited about the fact that Douglas was finally in the film, which only came after 46 minutes of the film had gone by. I guess this is another way I wasn’t able to get what I wanted.

I’m not going to say that there’s nothing to like about this film. I don’t have any kind of confidence that there isn’t. My experience is just a twisted one, one that I try my hardest to avoid, and yet it happened. Perhaps someone will find something to like or love about this film. I love that there are some pretty nasty kills and you witness the lions eating various people. They’re gruesome enough, but not overly so. It’s not a “Saw” film. You get the right amount, plus the sound effects are unnerving enough. I guess a slight plus is also the fact that the characters are exactly the types you need. They’re also likable enough, but again, due to the way the story unfolded, even though Goldman tried, there’s nothing about them that makes you truly care all that much. You can try, but I don’t think it’s going to happen.

Celebrating a film’s day of release is exciting, even if you didn’t know you cared that much or wanted to acknowledge it. However, as it turns out, not all anniversary’s are for film’s you’re over the moon about. Which is also something I think I’ve known for some time, but until now, hadn’t had to face head on. With this film’s 20th anniversary now upon is, it’s giving me something new to think about when approaching film anniversary’s. I do just hope that it’s not going to become a common occurrence.


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