There has never been, and there will never be, a movie like Roar. Even the tagline is one in a million, “No animals were harmed in the making of this film. Seventy cast and crew members were.” If that doesn’t pique your interest, then you ought to have your pulse checked.
Originally released in 1981—but never in the U.S.—Roar is essentially two stories, one intended and one delivered. Roar was the passion project of actress and animal rights activist Tippi Hedren (famous for her roles in Hitchcock’s The Birds and Marnie) and husband Noel Marshall (one of the executive producers behind The Exorcist). Their goal was to make a sort of hippy-dippy movie that would quell the rampant hunting in Africa by showing that lions, tigers, and jaguars are perfectly capable of cohabitating with human beings. If only people saw the individual personality of each animal, they would cease hunting and embrace their feline friends.
To pull this off, Hedren and Marshall brought along their children, Melanie, John, and Jerry, to give an image of a family that loves lions together, stays together. They lived with wild cats on their property north of Los Angeles (where Roar was shot), but these were not trained animals, and the Hedren/Marshall clan wasn’t anywhere close to being qualified. You might expect that anyone foolish enough to work around wild animals would at least know a few basics, but Roar shows that they are just there, constantly at the mercy of these big cats. There is a whole lot of “Here, try this” as the family does their best to play along.
But lion plus people usually equals lion. Hence, the second story of Roar—the one that actually made it to the screen—of lions, tigers, and a couple of elephants pretty much doing whatever it is they want to do. Including fighting, feeding, wrestling, playing, and looking into the camera from time to time. Even the directing credit went to “Noel Marshall and friends.”
All of this sets up what turns out to be one glorious train wreck from start to finish. The acting is terrible, as is the end credits song, but the genuine fear in the actor’s eyes is as real as anything you will ever see. Miraculously, no one was killed—although the fake blood budget must have been quite low—allowing us to both marvel at and enjoy Roar. At the very least, for being one of the most ill-conceived ideas in the history of motion pictures.
Written and directed by Noel Marshall
Produced by Tippi Hedren, Noel Marshall
Starring: Tippi Hedren, Noel Marshall, Melanie Griffith, John Marshall, Jerry Marshall, Kyalo Mativo
Alamo Drafthouse, Rated PG, Running time 95 minutes, Released in the U.S. May 2015.