Tougher than a jungle, it’s a desert out there! For the “Lions of the Kalahari,” playing themselves in this unusually focused Imax adventure, Charles Darwin isn’t just the name of some guy with a beard, but the author of an abiding principle of survival that’s played out every minute of every day — although not so ruthlessly as to drive families away from megascreen venues showing this National Geographic-sponsored winner.
The central character in “Roar,” set around a shallow watering hole in the middle of a dry pan in central Botswana, is a 10-foot-long leonine behemoth. Our hero is spectacularly lazy; he spends most of his time yawning in the shade while two lionesses, lanky sisters, find fresh springboks for him.
He has managed to maintain his pride for a long three years, and his constant rutting with the older sibling has just resulted in five cubs who bear his superior genes. But off in the scrub, there’s a younger, more volatile male (not played by Colin Farrell) waiting to take over the whole setup — and most likely wipe out the cubs in the bargain.
The larger-than-life story was compressed from two years of constant filming, so there’s some narrative tinkering going on with the images, which are emphatically interpreted in narration from John Hurt soundalike James Garrett.
But what images! U.K.-born NG veteran Tim Liversedge, Roar’s primary picmaker — he produced, helmed and lensed — has lived in southern Africa for more than 40 years, and his intense proximity to these volatile critters is unparalleled. Particularly stunning are the many, mostly bloodless scenes of the sisters going after slow springboks (an oxymoron, perhaps) and, more impossibly, alert giraffes.
Pic’s cat’s-eye p.o.v. makes viewers reconsider their attitudes concerning the wilderness pecking order. Everybody’s usual favorite, the African elephants, here come across as punitive and insensitive; their treatment of the fragile watering hole is about as welcome by the locals as a busload of tourists at a nude beach.
Helping to beef up the fun are some breathtaking aerial shots (mixed with nifty CGI cartography) that perfectly situate the viewer. Unusually clever use of sound produce off-camera roars that gather at the back of the theater and make one realize just how tenuous a lion king’s existence must be.