To Walk with Lions, due on Starz! as the final sequel to the 1966 film Born Free, stands in sharp contrast to the original.
While Born Free was sentimental, heartwarming and inspirational, the new movie's storyline is gritty, at times violent and even depressing.
Born Free emphasized Joy Adamson (whose book inspired it), but Lions fits into a new movie trend-led by Space Cowboys and The Crew-of elderly men in the leading roles. A gaunt, white-bearded Richard Harris portrays wildlife conservationist George Adamson and (the late) Ian Bannen is Terence, his brother.
John Michie is the third major character, Tony Fitzjohn, a young man who joins the "two crazy old men." He gradually embraces their love of Kenya's wild animals-lions are George's passion; Terence favors elephants.
George and Joy raised Elsa and the other lions in Born Free, but by the 1980s the couple had split. We soon see why.
Joy, played by Honor Blackman in a brief appearance, argues with George, who calls her "the love of my life but.I would never live with you again." We also learn that Joy had a prior love affair.
At one point, Terence mocks the Adamsons' movie fame and the popular Born Free theme song. By then, however, we already know this film is a far cry from its predecessor.
In what's probably the film's most moving scene, Terence is bereft after he discovers poachers hacking a half-dozen elephants for their tusks.
Throughout, George and Tony fight Kenya Wildlife Service bureaucrats who want to close the Kora reserve. Although their lions occasionally attack people, it soon becomes clear that humans-in the form of poachers and small groups of armed bandits called "shifta"-are the most dangerous predators in Kenya.
Later Joy's 1980 murder, not shown, brings home just how dangerous Kenya has become.
Years later, Tony and his girlfriend Lucy, an anthropologist, plan to establish a new wildlife reserve in safer Tanzania, but George stubbornly refuses to join them.
The movie ends soon after the then 83-year-old Adamson was murdered-shot by the shifta-in 1989.
Though an end craw mentions that that his protégéis carrying on his work-and that Kenya has even asked Adamson's successor to return and re-establish the Kora reserve-a more satisfying ending would have been the addition of a scene or two to bring those elements to life.
Lions, which also followed John and Lucy's blossoming romance, also oddly omits that they have since married.
The only other major character in the movie, filmed on location in Kenya, is the African wildlife and scenery. (Blackman, like Geraldine Chaplin, has little more than a cameo here.) Kudos go to director Carl Schultz and executive producer John Buchanan III.
To Walk with Lions will bow on Starz! on Sept. 9 at 8 p.m.
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