November 2, 2015

Blu-Ray Review: ROAR

Starring Tippi Hedren, Noel Marshall, Melanie Griffith, Jerry Marshall, John Marshall, Kyalo Mativo. Directed (?) by Noel Marshall. (1981, 94 min).

Roar is a movie that simply has to be seen to be believed. However, one's enjoyment of the film depends largely on prior knowledge of its notorious (and legendary) production history. Watching it cold means you're simply sitting through another bad movie. And yes, Roar is bad in every wonderful way possible...atrocious acting, stupid characters, silly dialogue and numerous inexplicable scenes which leave the viewer wondering "WTF?"  But this is one disc where you should definitely check out the numerous bonus features first, because the movie is only half the story (and don't worry about spoilers because the plot is almost non-existent).

Roar began as a pet project for husband & wife Noel Marshall and Tippi Hedren (she of The Birds fame). Inspired by their love of African cats and the need to protect them, they cast themselves and their inexperienced teenage children in the lead roles, then Noel basically filmed his family being harassed by dozens of lions, tigers and leopards for 90 minutes. These cats aren't trying to eat them though...they just want to wrestle and play (the only bad guys are a couple of locals who want to shoot the animals, and only appear onscreen for a few minutes).

But the true insanity of the movie is the fact these were all actual untrained animals allowed to run rampant on the set. No special effects or stunt performers were used. So yeah, we're watching a young Melanie Griffith actually being mauled by a tiger. And she was just one of 70 cast & crew members injured during filming. That, along with financing problems, a flood which wiped out everything halfway through production and a truly inept actor/director (Noel Marshall had never attempted either before in his life) turned Roar into an trainwreck.

"Alright, you bad kitties...what'd ya do with the dog?"

It ultimately took ten years and $17 million (a huge budget at the time) to produce and release what essentially looks like a home movie. It has since gone down in history as one of Hollywood's most notorious financial fiascos.

Still, despite how goofy the final product is, one can't help but appreciate Hedren & Marshall's intentions and fortitude (though considering they dragged their kids into this, both may have been just a bit insane). They literally leveraged everything they had to make this film. Previously an executive producer of The Exorcist, Marshall took all his earnings from that film and sank them into Roar. Not only that, as an actor, he was deranged enough to subject himself to more feline attacks than anyone else involved. But it wasn't all for nothing. Admittedly, some of the animal scenes are amazing, and we walk away thinking it it's a miracle nobody was actually killed during production.

All these factors raise Roar above the usual bad movie experience. Sure, we laugh at its narrative ineptitude and may be rendered slack-jawed in wonder at how it ever got made. But at the same time, the personal and financial toll it took to actually get it made renders Roar morbidly fascinating.


  • "The Making of Roar"
  • "Q&A with Cast and Crew" (taped after a revival screening earlier this year)
  • Essay: "The Grandeur of Roar," by Tim League
  • Audio Commentary by John Marshall & Tim League
  • Photo Gallery


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