×

The Last Lions

Gripping wildlife docu follows a suddenly single mom's struggle to keep herself and her cubs alive in the Botswana wetlands.

With:
Narrator: Jeremy Irons. (English dialogue)

Gripping wildlife docu “The Last Lion” follows a suddenly single mom’s struggle to keep herself and her cubs alive in the Botswana wetlands. With its anthropomorphized narrative and character approach, the beautifully shot pic is less akin to recent nature features than to the Disney “True-Life Adventures” of yore, albeit with considerably less cuteness; this tough (if seldom gory) tale isn’t for younger children. Sans Imax or 3D, National Geographic project will need strong word of mouth to gain theatrical traction (platform rollout begins Feb. 18), though it’s as deserving of sleeper status as “March of the Penguins.” Worldwide ancillary life should be long.

Opening informs that over the last half-century, lion populations shrank from 450,000 to as few as 20,000. Doing her best to keep the species going is the lioness dubbed Ma di Tau (“Mother of Lions”), who at the start is attacked by an invading pride ousted from their native territory by encroaching human communities. She survives this fierce faceoff, but her mate is mortally injured.

As sonorous narrator Jeremy Irons (who voiced “The Lion King’s” plummy villain) intones, the conquering pride would kill Ma di Tau’s three cubs to “wipe the gene slate clean” if they were discovered. So she must take them into unknown terrain, crossing onto an island whose perils include alligators and buffalo herds, the latter providing both prey and an aggressive, sharp-horned enemy. Adding still more danger, a lioness gang has followed the refugees’ trail, knowing that Ma di Tau’s offspring won’t remain helpless for long.

As directed by Dereck Joubert, the suspenseful narrative brings tragedy as well as a surprising, triumphant late shift in power dynamics. Pic is careful to point out we have no way of knowing how closely these magnificent creatures’ emotions resemble our own, but nonetheless does a fine job stirring strong empathy for our hairy heroine’s travails.

Experts might be taken aback by some atypical behaviors on display here (the production materials note that Duba Island’s lions are indeed unusual in their water hunting and other adaptive habits), and the pic does take a few editorial liberties: It was shot over the course of several years, though events we see appear to take place within several weeks or months. Still, the engrossing results never feel over-manipulated. If narration text occasionally borders on the pretentious, Irons’ richly textured delivery pulls it all off.

Camera, editing and sound design are all tops. Alex Wurman’s score reps another strong contribution, though the expiration date on that wailing-wordless-female-vocal thing must surely be nigh.

The Last Lions

Botswana-U.S.

Production: A National Geographic Entertainment (in U.S.) release of an NGE presentation in association with Wildfire Films. Produced by Beverly Joubert, Dereck Joubert, Lisa Truitt, Chris Miller. Executive producers, Tim Kelly, David Beal, Daniel Battsek, Adam Leipzig. Directed, written by Dereck Joubert.

Crew: Camera (color, HD-to-35mm), Dereck Joubert; editor, Susan Scott; music, Alex Wurman; narrator, Jeremy Irons; sound designer (Dolby SR), Beverly Joubert; supervising sound editor, Juli Vandenberg; re-recording mixer, Mark Phillips. Reviewed at Palm Springs Film Festival (Cinema Safari), Jan. 13, 2011. MPAA Rating: PG. Running time: 88 MIN.

With: Narrator: Jeremy Irons. (English dialogue)

More Film

  • Tokyo Director-in-Focus-at-Japan-Now

    Nobuhiko Obayashi set as Japanese Director in Focus at Tokyo Film Festival

    Indie director, Nobuhiko Obayashi will be feted as the director in focus at the Japan Now section of this year’s Tokyo International Film Festival. The festival will give a world premiere to his “Labyrinth of Cinema.” Supporting his art by shooting commercials, Obayashi is an indie whose dreamy works have influenced numerous other directors in [...]

  • Jimmi Simpson Joins Russell Crowe Movie

    Jimmi Simpson Joins Russell Crowe Thriller 'Unhinged' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Jimmi Simpson will play a key role in “Unhinged,” Variety has learned. He joins an impressive cast that includes Oscar-winner Russell Crowe and Caren Pistorius. Solstice Studios is producing the psychological thriller, which is currently filming in New Orleans. “Unhinged” centers on a woman named Rachel (Pistorius), who leans on her horn at the wrong [...]

  • David Crosby

    David Crosby Says New Documentary 'Remember My Name' Is Like 'Being Naked in Public’

    “It’s not easy. It’s hard being naked in public,” David Crosby, the legendary troubadour of classic rock, reflected at Tuesday night’s New York City premiere of “David Crosby: Remember My Name.” “I don’t know what to do here. There’s no guitars, no drums,” he laughed. Directed by newcomer A.J. Eaton and produced by the legendary [...]

  • Javier Bardem Dune

    Javier Bardem in Talks to Play King Triton in Disney's 'Little Mermaid'

    Javier Bardem is in talks to play King Triton in Disney’s live-action remake of “The Little Mermaid.” Halle Bailey will portray the Ariel, a mermaid princess who dreams of being a human, while Melissa McCarthy is playing her evil aunt Ursula. Harry Styles is also in early talks to play Prince Eric. “The Little Mermaid” [...]

  • UglyDolls

    STX Tries to Put Flops Behind It as It Searches for Star Executive, Fresh Capital

    After a series of film flops and an aborted initial public offering, STX Entertainment is battling mounting skepticism that it can survive in an increasingly unforgiving movie business. As it hustles to find $500 million in fresh capital, the company, which operates in the red according to financial disclosures, is simultaneously hoping to attract a [...]

  • Ryan Simpkins

    Ryan Simpkins Joins Fox-Disney's 'Fear Street' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Ryan Simpkins has joined Fox-Disney’s second installment of 20th Century Fox and Chernin Entertainment’s “Fear Street” trilogy, based on the novels by R.L. Stine. Leigh Janiak is helming all three films. Previously announced cast includes Gillian Jacobs, Sadie Sink, Emily Rudd, McCabe Slye, Kiana Madeira, Olivia Welch, Benjamin Flores Jr., Ashley Zukerman, Fred Hechinger, Julia [...]

  • MPAA Logo

    Motion Picture Association of America Hires Emily Lenzner as Communications Chief

    The Motion Picture Association of America has appointed veteran public relations executive Emily Lenzner as its executive VP of global communications and public affairs. She will report to Chairman and CEO Charles Rivkin and oversee the trade group’s communications team in the U.S. and internationally. Lenzner will start Aug. 1 and be based at the MPAA’s [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content