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Monday, February 14, 2011
The Last Lions
An Endangered Pride's Last Stand In Botswana
A scene from the documentary "The Last Lions", which opens in New York and LA on Friday, February 18. Beverly Joubert
by Omar P.L. Moore/PopcornReel.com FOLLOW
Monday, February 14, 2011
Balletic, beautiful and entertaining, Dereck and Beverly Joubert's documentary "The Last Lions" plays like a suspense thriller. Shot in Botswana, one of Africa's and the world's most friendly places for lions, "The Last Lions" is narrated by Jeremy Irons, whom the Jouberts have previously worked with. The film opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday.
The documentary observes that the world's population of lions has dwindled rapidly from 400,000 to less than 20,000 in just 50 years. The film's utmost mission is to urgently call attention to the strong possibility of the lions' extinction. To that end, "The Last Lions" urges audiences to get involved by playing an active role.
Shot for two years in Botswana on Duba Island, "The Last Lions" is a sublime palette of images ranging from its sepia-toned start to its more vivid, green and orange shades. It's one of the most colorful, exciting and atmospheric films you'll see all year. I was invested in every single frame of this masterwork. I wore a smile almost all the way through this wondrous, captivating spectacle. Despite its most serious aspects, "The Last Lions" is easily the most enjoyable 90 minutes of film so far in 2011.
The film chronicles Maditau, the lioness who hunts to protect and preserve her male and female lion cubs. Maditau (pronounced Mar-dee-tah by Mr. Irons) has a rival in Silvereye, a lioness wounded in a prior battle. Maditau has several scores to settle, and we are riveted by each encounter on a chessboard-like view of survival of the fittest.
"The Last Lions" is fraught with tension and is best when it displays amazing moments and a watchful eye, capturing the strategy and calculation of its proud animal stars in a graceful and powerful way. Late last month "Nénette" was a fascinating chronicle of an orangutan, a documentary with a static, hypnotic style. By contrast Mr. and Ms. Joubert's film is a spectacle of movement and color. The filmmakers were sometimes as little as 15 feet away from the lions during filming.
Mr. Irons enunciates his evocative and purposeful narration with sly humor, perfect cadence and mischief. Thoroughly enjoyable and excellent, the actor's narration punctuates the film superbly, highlighting the film's best qualities. Audiences will instantly assume that Mr. Irons' involvement was due to his role as Scar in "The Lion King", but the Jouberts have said that Mr. Irons, unprompted, volunteered to be the narrative voice of "The Last Lions".
Each of the film's predatory scenes is a slow-motion ballet filled with grace and apprehension. Carefully shot by Mr. Joubert, a standoff between Maditau and a bull that lasted six hours is condensed into three minutes. It's one of many signature moments of action in a film that feels more like a docudrama than a straightforward wildlife documentary. Whether or not you love or care about animals, you will fall in love with "The Last Lions".
No humans appear during "The Last Lions" and that's by design. The Jouberts, who are conservationists first and filmmakers second, make the point that humans are responsible for the rapid disappearance of lions and that we, and only we, can change that grim reality. After absorbing our sights with such indelible imagery it's hard to be indifferent about the cause that the Jouberts passionately advocate.
"The Last Lions" is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association Of America for some violent images involving animal life. The film's running time is one hour and 28 minutes. The film opens in New York and Los Angeles on February 18 and in San Francisco and elsewhere on March 4.
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