Customer Reviews: The Ghost and The Darkness
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on May 4, 2005
The Ghost and the Darkness is about the two maneating lions that terrorized the crew building a bridge at a desolate, nowhere place called Tsavo, Africa, circa 1890s, a place that had long been known as an area of active maneating lions. The original account written by Col. John H. Patterson, the engineer responsible for building the bridge and killing the lions (and played superbly by Val Kylmer), is one of the greatest Classics of African Hunting Literature ever written and known very well by legions of non-Bambi outdoor enthusiasts around the world. Subsequent accounts, the best of which is the well-researched wrtiing of 20th Century African hunter Peter Hathaway Capstick in his "Death in the Silent Places" and "The Maneaters of Tsavo" have become nearly as popular.

The movie does take some liberties with events but most of the key scenes in the movie actually happened though perhaps in a bit different context. For example, the movie has the den of the maneaters being found prior to the lions' deaths but it was actually found some weeks afterward. But that wasn't the point in 1898. The cave actually contained (as in the movie) the skeletal remains of hundreds of human victims, so many, in fact, the probability is that den had been used by maneaters for centuries. Not too surprising the crews and locals felt Tsavo was a place of Evil. Adding credibility to the longevity of use theory is the fact that four other maneaters who ran up a score of 50 souls in that same area were killed in a single day by hunter Robert Foran - in 1947. But wait. Professional hunter John Kingsley-Heath killed another maneater there too - in 1965. But wait - Peter Capstick's boss was killed and eaten not too far from Tsavo on Labor Day 1974. That's right - 1974. Where were YOU in 1974?

The African and Indian cultures of the 1890s weren't, and aren't, the United States. The liklihood these two lions would quickly be seen as "more than just lions", as some unstoppable Evil is more like a guarantee. The abject Terror of 2000-3000 African and Indian laborers was a real as Death itself. That Terror is amply displayed in the movie, but is still understated.

The movie's lions, even with their ominous role as "more than lions", act very much like real maneaters did, and do. And when they do it in a joust with unarmed humans, they usually win, bigtime, and assorted gore and human body parts are a consistant by-product of such festivities. I've never never read anything at all about a famous lioneater.

The movie's filming and effects are very good. Michael Douglas, as the ficticious hunter Remington, supports Kylmer well, and with a well-done, darkly amusing style. The "shock" scenes are "SHOCK" scenes, especially one in particular. You will FEEL your blood pressure drop to zero only to be red-lining again in a flash. You WILL hold your breath and you may regain it. Seriously, allowing a young child to watch this is probably not the best of ideas, and not because of the gore but because many of the scenes of the primal, nightmarish Horror these maneating lions deliver take place after dark and "after dark" is already an "iffy" proposition for many kids without the fangs of Hades clashing in their minds. Sweet Dreams.
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on October 17, 2001
The Ghost and the Darkness, an unexpected, dark, tantalising thriller is a total success. I didn't read much into this movie before viewing, but I came out really satisfied and although many critics disliked this movie, I thought it was highly entertaining, well executed and very scary. The film succeeds a lot thanks to the direction and visuals; the lions look truly fantastic! Wow! The other reason the movie really made me keep watching was for the atmosphere of the film. The camera angles, backgrounds, lions POV and stuff like that really gives the movie a real feeling. I personally felt like I was in Africa, running from the Ghost and the Darkness, experiencing the true terror of their roar. The film also gets high marks thanks to its very believable performances. Michael Douglas takes a surprising back seat, but it still a strong character in the film and plays out his tough character well. Val Kilmer is the star though. This is one of his best performances, he masters an Irish accent accurately, is a believable loving husband and a likeable bridge builder. The movie is not perfect however. I didn't really appreciate the voice-overs by the African friend and some of the lion attack sequences are cut too short. Despite that, the film is an atmospheric, amazingly true experience that - if you're like me - will leave you shaking and breathless.
DVD STUFF: 1/5. Theatrical trailer and viewing options. How about commentaries, bloopers or an insight into the fascinating training of the lions? That would give this disappointing DVD way more credit.
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on April 27, 2007
I was merely 12 years old way back in 1950s when I first read the book: The Man-Eaters of Tsavo by Lt.Colonel J.H. Patterson, DSO. Later in life, I wished this book could be made into a movie, and my dream really came true when I purchased the DVD. This movie is based entirely on the book by English railway bridge builder, John Patterson.

Ironically, the pair of male lions as depicted in the movie was borrowed from a zoo farm in Alberta, Canada. These lions were fully mane. But in the book, John Patterson described those two lions as lean and maneless...! As factually, most lions in Tsavo of Kenya don't have the beautiful mane unlike their cousins in other parts of Africa. This is unusual, maneless male lions because only females don't spot a mane. The movie will keep you on the edge of your chair from the beginning to the end - never a dull moment. I consider this as the best thrilling movie ever made in the wilds of Africa, especially at this time when the public is conscious about nature conservation. Too bad that when the movie was made in early 1900s, surround sound was not a popular feature and therefore not included, otherwise the roars of these two persistent man-eaters in the dead of the African night would be very nighmarish in our den when we watch the movie...! Yes, these two lions did chomp more than a hundred railway workers that at one stage they were compelled to quit until the pair was finally hunted down. John finally skinned the two man-eating lions and sold their skins and bones to the field museum at Springfield, Illioness. This pair of mounted, maneless notorious man-eating lions are still there for everyone to see and contemplate.

This classic movie depicting a strange aspect of yesterday-Africa is historically true and thus highly recommended. So go for it while it is still available. Cheers...!
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on November 13, 2013
Full disclosure: I did not purchase this through Amazon. This review is for the new 2013 DVD. Others have already detailed the acting, plot, etc., so I won't bother. Does this version have superior A/V quality compared with the previous release? Unfortunately, the answer is "no." It's the same disc, just with different packaging. And it has all the same flaws: telecine wobble, overabundance of grain, and poor contrast; it could also use some color correction. But the worst offense is the aspect ratio; the studio slapped a widescreen transfer into a 4x3 format. This means that the image you see on a 16x9 TV is only about half of what should be there. This can be solved by using the zoom function available on most TV sets, but this will a) distort the picture, b) magnify the film's inherent flaws, or c) do both. In 2013, with 16x9 TVs as the standard, this was just inexcusable. Shame on them for this substandard DVD. On its own merits, without consideration of technical problems, I would rate this film at four stars. But it's difficult to enjoy a movie when the presentation is so poor. I'm just glad there weren't any problems with the sound as well. I bought this DVD because I saw "The Ghost and The Darkness" in theater years ago, and liked it. But I can't recommend buying this edition (or the previous one). My only consolation is that it's cheap, so I'm not out very much money. In case you're interested, the only "special feature" is a theatrical trailer.

For those who want more info about the events depicted in the film, there are two books (that I know of) available on Amazon: The Man-Eaters of Tsavo (Peter Capstick Library Series)(in a number of editions), and The Lions of Tsavo : Exploring the Legacy of Africa's Notorious Man-Eaters. To my knowledge, the latter book is considered the definitive history of this incident. The story of the Tsavo lions was also the subject of at least one "Wild Discovery" and "History's Lost and Found" episode. There was a 50 minute documentary made around the time of the film's release, but I've never watched it: Maneaters of Tsavo [VHS].
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on September 11, 2007
Movies don't often scare me. This one did. There was a point in the movie where I actually shuddered. I've been to the Field Museum in Chicago and have seen the lions and read Patterson's account of the nightmare. The Michael Douglas character is added to give the film depth, but it doesn't detract from the story. I disagree with another reviewer who thought Kilmer and Douglas didn't "click" in this movie. The characters are not friends. The feel is that the two men have competing egos but find themselves on the same side of the fence under horrifying circumstances. Highly recommended for the non-squeamish looking for an exciting adventure based on actual events.
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on November 14, 2003
This is a good, old-fashioned thriller about man versus beast. Exciting, well-paced, well-acted (despite Val Kilmer's sometimes wobbly Irish accent). Although based on fact, in plot and structure it resembles Spielberg's Jaws in more ways than one: cunning, ferocious maneater wreaks havoc on a community; civilized scientist/engineer teams up with tough old salt to hunt down maneater; a tense showdown in which.... I won't spoil the ending for you.
This is a good Saturday night movie that didn't deserve all the snide, hostile reviews it got at its premiere.
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on July 2, 2006
This movie is amazing. Very old school, and thats probably what appeals to me most. It is a true story about the lions of Tsavo, and thats absolutely fascinates me! A definate purchase for anyone interested in Africa or wildlife!
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on July 4, 2006
Excellent portrayal of a true story. Douglas and Kilmer are perfect for their roles as big game hunter (Douglas) and construction engineer. The story in itself is magnificient. Great excitement and terrific scenery!
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on August 2, 2001
I rented this movie and was not too impressed. Then I read _The Man-Eaters of Tsavo_, by J.H.Patterson, and rented the DVD again to compare it to the book. Unfortunately I think the film missed the real story. Patterson was not a struggling weakling who had to be saved by an American hunter; he was an accomplished hunter, he stopped the rebellion himself (and it was really a murder plot, not a riot), and he killed both lions himself. Michael Douglas' character never existed and Douglas hammed it up a bit too much, anyway.
The true story was the terror of the nightly raids. Patterson felt helpless as he sat in trees night after night, hoping for a shot at the lions, but then only to hear terrified, agonized screams coming from other parts of camp. Instead of this nightmare, the film focuses on the tension of the hunting expeditions. Val Kilmer mentions 30 dead before we even know the lions have raided that much.
The lions themselves were bigger and more frightening in the book. They were over 9 1/2 feet long, and had no manes so they could crawl through the tight, thorny bushes covering the land. They jumped over 9-foot-tall barricades and dragged their victims around by the throats. The Indian and African workers called them "the demons", so it's a wonder why the screenwriter chose the fictitious names for the film's title.
The killing of the second man-eater is the most realistic because in truth, it took at least a half-dozen shots to take down these beasts, while they were charging at the men trying to kill them. Also the last human death in the story is realistic, because in the book Patterson tells the story of a man who was killed instantly in his bed when a lion bit through his temples and dragged his body out of the tent.
Overall, I wish the screenwriter had focused on the terror of the nightly raids, though it may have been too graphic for audiences. Instead we're left with a mediocre action movie, with a couple of average-sized lions as the antogonists. Nice try.
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on September 21, 2012
This is a very exciting movie about man-eating lions terrorizing men trying to build a railroad bridge in Africa in the late 1800s. I originally had this on VHS then upgraded to DVD. My DVD disappeared, so I purchased the blu-ray version, because this is one movie we watch over and over again. I highly recommend Ghost and The Darkness. Great story and acting.
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