The Ghost and the Darkness Movie Review

Movie Review by Anthony Leong © Copyright 1997

This is the most famous true African adventure. Famous because what took place at Tsavo never happened before. Colonel John Patterson was there when it began, a fine Irish gentleman and brilliant engineer... and my friend. My name is Samuel. I was there. Even the most impossible parts of this story really happened.

THIS MOVIE SUCKS!!! (and you can quote me on that)

One has to look no further than the corny opening monologue and the previous work of director Stephen Hopkins ("Nightmare on Elm Street 5", "Predator 2") to see "The Ghost and the Darkness" for what it really is. This movie, based on true events at Tsavo in Uganda at the turn of the century, has the intelligence of a monster movie and is dressed up as an epic. It tries to be one of those grandiose motion pictures in an exotic locale with hundreds of extras, but falls apart when the screenplay, written by William Goldman (who also wrote "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"), begins to rely on every plot device used in bad horror movies.

Col. John Patterson (Val Kilmer, with a wavering Irish accent), is sent to Tsavo to build a bridge for the first transcontinental railway in Africa. He must finish the job quickly, since the Germans and the French are also trying to do the same thing. "Nothing works here", says his aide, Samuel (John Kani), referring to the racial and religious tensions between the stereotypical lackeys. And if things weren't bad enough, two man-eating lions begin terrorizing the camp, dragging off the hapless victims and devouring them. Patterson comes up with elaborate schemes, which all fail, necessitating the hiring of the great white hunter, Charles Remington (Michael Douglas). And together, they must end the reign of terror of the Ghost and the Darkness.

I will kill the lion and I will build the bridge.
Of course you will. You are white-- you can do anything.

This movie could have been so much more, with the rich dramatic potential of the historical circumstances of turn-of-the-century Africa and the ethnic tensions in the camp. Instead, a cursory examination is given to both, which is quickly forgotten as the movie slips into gore mode. Instead of relying on Kilmer and Douglas running around in the dark with rifles, it would have been more interesting to have some exploration of the hired hands in the camp, and milk the racial strife. Even "Aliens" and "Anaconda" do this to some degree, with characters that undermine the efforts of the others in pursuit of their own agendas.

The characterizations are flat. Patterson has always been fascinated by the Dark Continent, loves his wife very much, is anticipating the birth of his son, and is brave. Remington is brimming with an off-kilter machismo. Everyone else is just scenery. Even the antagonists leave much to be desired. They are phoney-baloney CGI/animatronic contraptions that are only barely covered up by the fast editing.

What is really annoying are the horror movie conventions employed here that substitute for any good writing. Patterson and Remington come up with some hare-brained schemes to catch the two lions, which fail for one reason or another. Patterson faces down one of the lions in the jungle, and his gun jams. Towards the end, Patterson concocts a platform which he climbs up on to wait for the lions. An owl knocks him off the platform and drops him smack dab in front of one of the lions. And when the camera takes the perspective of the lion's point-of-view, you'll swear you're watching "Predator" or "Monkey Shines" instead of the great African adventure that TGATD purports to be.

Now if the lions had been Aliens or Predators, THAT would have been an interesting movie. Instead, it is merely your average creature feature with excessive gore and no redeeming qualities.

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