Ghost and the Darkness, The (1996)

The Ghost and the Darkness (1996), directed by Stephen Hopkins.

As the narrator says, this is a true story in it's most important aspects.

Two lions, the Tsavo Man-Eaters, terrorized construction workers of an African railway in 1898. They had many strange characteristics, leading to a superstitious panic:

Val Kilmer is likable as the engineer who is going to finish his bridge, evil lion spirits or no. Emily Mortimer, age 25, is his young wife.

Some of the lines were stolen for The 13th Warrior (1999), and Jerry Goldsmith scored both films, reusing some themes. Here he starts with Celtic airs for Patterson, evolving into African and action music.

It's a tremendous adventure story, but I have problems with the film. The real Patterson would have knocked down the Tom Wilkinson character for speaking about his family in the way he did.

More importantly, the screenplay needs doctoring. Writer William Goldman wanted the story made into a film as soon as he heard it. He has a chapter on it in Which Lie Did I Tell?: More Adventures in the Screen Trade.

He greatly admires Michael Douglas both as an actor and as a producer; after all his first film as producer was One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975), a risky and innovative project.

The problem is when a producer acts in his own film. Douglas was not originally going to appear in the movie but they couldn't get the Great White Hunters they wanted, Sean Connery being unavailable, etc. So Douglas finally volunteered.

A producer can be dispassionately good at business and even artistic decisions, but actors are insecure people who need to be loved. Given control they will write up their own parts, invent new backstory and try to build an unnecessary emotional bond with the audience. This can ruin the story. In this case when "Remington" appears he elbows out Patterson, our hero.

Goldman also says "I could have written it better". I think he tends to write down to his audience, going for cheap laughs and the over-obvious. That's more apparent in something like Maverick (1994) than in this picture, but still... Maybe a different director could have done more with it, although one of Goldman's gripes is giving the director credit for everyone else's work -- especially screenwriters.

I don't see a Blu-ray of this available yet. The North American DVD is 4:3 letterboxed. Anamorphic PAL DVDs are available.