The Ghost and the Darkness
is a 1996 American film directed by Stephen Hopkins
, The Reaping
) and starring Val Kilmer
and Michael Douglas
The movie tells the Very Loosely Based on a True Story
(mis)adventure of John Henry Patterson, a British-Irish Lieutenant Colonel and Military Engineer that is assigned the supervision of a railroad's construction in 1898 East Africa. This mission that seems so easy at first is soon complicated by the apparition of two reckless anthropophage
lions, the Ghost
and the Darkness
, that manage to infiltrate every part of the construction camp whenever they please to hunt the workers. This obviously spreads panic among the men and makes the threat of rebellion likely, leaving Patterson with only the help of his African assistant Samuel and the American hunter Remington to face the lions and save the railroad project before it is too late.
Part because live-acted lions didn't seem much of a threat after theatres had already been attacked by expensive CGI dinosaurs
and alien invaders
, part because the main character (played by the goddam Batman
) was heavily toned down to make room for the originally tertiary character
played by producer Michael Douglas, the film got mixed reviews and a disappointing performance in the box-office. It also won an Accademy Award for Best Sound Editing which is pretty much like winning nothing
. The movie still remains an entertaining adventure movie with that classical feel in it, however.
The film provides example of:
- Animal Nemesis: Patterson becomes obsessed with taking down the two lions.
- Arc Symbol: The beauty of Africa and the dangers lurking underneath is represented by the tall brown Savannah grass. Patterson burns it to flush out the remaining lion. In the ending, he still worrily looks at the grass, afraid something else might jump out of it.
- Artistic License: The real Tsavo maneaters had no manes. Manes look cool, though, and the animal handlers tend to complain if you say you want to shave their lions...
- Lions from Tsavo, which is a particularly hot and arid region, generally have little to no mane because it's cooler that way. The particular pair of maneaters aren't special. The reason the mane is so iconic to the lion in general is because that's what zoos want to keep and what artists want to depict.
- Lions from Tsavo are also far more aggressive and unpredictable. The pair of lions known as Bongo and Ceasar who also stared in George of the Jungle were much safer to work with.
- Babies Ever After: Patterson is reunited with his wife and little child at the end of the movie.
- Bad Boss: Sir Robert Beaumont, and he absolutely knows it. First thing he tells Patterson upon meeting him is that he's a monster and that the latter will grow to hate him.
- Badass: Not just the main characters but Mahina, the guy that killed a lion with his bare hands. It didn't help him much in the end, though.
- Big Bad: The two lions.
- Cannibal Larder: The protagonists find the lions' den while tracking them down, and discover that it is littered with bones of the lions' human victims.
- Catapult Nightmare: Patterson has one (see Narm).
- Deadpan Snarker:
John: I will take care of the lions. You will be safe.
Abdullah: About that, I will choose to remain dubious.
- Samuel delivers most of his lines this way.
Preacher: I will not rest until you are all safely in the fold!
Samuel: (blandly) I have four wives.
- Determinator: The lions, who in turn to fail to realize that when Patterson says he's never not finished a job, he means it.
- Did I Mention It's Christmas?: At one point, apropos of nothing at all, Remington wishes Patterson a merry Christmas.
- Eureka Moment: Patterson's nightmare of the lion jumping out of the grass and killing his family inspires him to burn the grass to flush out the remaining lion.
- Exploring the Evil Lair: Patterson and Remington when they enter in the lions' cave.
- Fake Irishman: Val Kilmer as Col. John Henry Patterson.
- First-Person Peripheral Narrator: Samuel serves as the story's narrator.
- For the Evulz: Implied that's the reason why the lions do their killings. Remington also suggest this when he and Patterson explore their liar full of bones.
Remington: Lions don't do this. Lions... never had a lair like this. They're doing it for the pleasure.
- Great White Hunter: Present and subverted at the same time. Patterson finds his experience as a big game hunter in India to be almost worthless when dealing with the maneating lions and Remington is killed by one of them.
- Idiot Ball: Patterson, an experienced soldier and hunter, decides to change his gun at the last minute and go to hunt the lions without testing it before. Remington calls him on it. Later, all three main characters (Patterson, Remington and Samuel) grab it and decide to party after killing one of the lions, assuming the second will just flee... but instead comes back to kill Remington.
- Hero Killer: Not even great badass hunters like Mahina and Remington can compete against the lions.
- Ironic Echo: "You've just been hit. The getting up is up to you."
- It Can Think: Exagerrated, for the fact the lions can even figure out when you set a trap for 'em.
- Truth in Television: The Real-life Tsavo Maneaters were notoriously hard to lure into traps, many times going AROUND the traps set by Patterson and striking at the vulnerable workers.
- Made of Iron: The lions seems almost immortal sometimes.
- Mighty Whitey: Remington, big time. He is an ex-Confederate soldier living among (and at some point commanding) Maasai hunters, for crying out loud.
- Though he seems to be acting more as their agent to English-speaking individuals, as pretty much the first thing Remington does is negotiate payment for the Maasai, not himself.
- Name and Name: The Ghost and The Darkness are the names given to the lions by construction workers.
- Reality Is Unrealistic: One of the most criticized scenes, the one where a lion falls in one of the traps but the three Indian guards fail to kill him until it escapes... not only happened in reality, but in an even more outlandish way. There were actually like 10 men firing on it, who were agents of the Mombasa police (not just railroad guards), and the only one bullet that made target broke the cage's lock letting the lion escape.
- It's worth mentioning also that the real lions were of a rare stock that doesn't have manes, which is difficult – if not impossible - to "respect" in the films. Hence why they are played by normal maned lions in both films.
- Roger Ebert defined the film as "an African adventure that makes the Tarzan movies look subtle and realistic". Ironic considering it's still Based on a True Story.
- Patterson supposedly killed both lions himself, without the help of any professional hunter. If the story was told as both he and others recorded at the time, people would have been decrying it as a pure ego project on the part of Kilmer, who simply must have forced them to turn the movie into a story about his God-Mode Sue.
- Red Shirt: Indian and African workers.
- Title Drop: "The natives call them The Ghost and The Darkness".