When I first hear of Roar, I immediately thought “there’s no way this can be real.” And then I watched it for myself. I’ve seen a lot of shit in my time – I may not even be thirty years old yet, but I grew up in both the VHS and internet era which is a recipe for near-absolute desensitization – but I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen as potent a disregard for the safety of cast and crew as I have here. And then you realize that almost everyone on screen is related to the writer/director! Man, they don’t make ’em like they used to, right?
Roar is on paper a really dumb movie to try and describe. It starts out with text that at least makes it apparent that writer/director/producer/star Noel Marshall was attempting to make a feature that raised awareness about the mass killing of big cats for sport, and there is a very clear claim on screen that none of the animals in the film were harmed during (or by) the production of the film. I do – especially after watching the supplements – believe that Marshall’s heart was in the right place here, but trying to make a film which speaks to the preservation of a species all while allowing those very animals to perpetually attack your family and crew is, well, sort of crazy. But, point taken.
How the movie plays out beyond that is equally confounding. The very skeletal plot merely concerns Marshall’s character who, for some fucking reason, thinks it’s a good idea to live in a ramshackle house overrun with large cats and is having his family come and visit. This includes his wife (Tippi Hedren), daughter (Melanie Griffith) and two sons (John and Jerry Marshall), all of who are Marshall’s real life family as well. It then plays out as some sort of bizarre situational comedy with the wife and kids running and hiding from the cats all while looking all too truly terrified for their lives. It’s like the creature feature spin on Swiss Family Robinson that nobody asked for. Whatever it is, it’s a film almost void of genre or narrative arc. Instead, it exists solely as some strange vanity-passion project cum home movie that just happens to involve giant cats (and some really mean elephants) legitimately maiming the cast and crew. I’m not sure what it is, but you’ve likely never seen anything else quite like it.
Olive Films have released Roar on Blu-ray in the wake of its recent theatrical re-release via Drafthouse Films. This was apparently the result of a new restoration and, while it is likely better than whatever has been circulating for years prior, the transfer here leaves a lot to be desired. The source itself appears to be in good shape, with not too much damage on screen and the colors are sharp which are a nice showcase for the nature footage of which there is plenty. However, there appears to be a lot of excessive DNR going on with this disc. Grain is almost entirely absent at times, especially apparent in close-up shots. Making some of the footage here easy to mistake for something shot now and also gives people a rather waxy appearance that looks awkwardly artificial. It’s certainly watchable, but far from organic and faithful to the 35mm source. Sound fares much better with a nice DTS HD MA 2.0 track that captures all of the roaring in its bombastic glory. If you have cats at home, turn this one down.
Luckily, Olive seems intent on making up for a lackluster presentation with a healthy batch of supplements. Things start with a great commentary track by Noel Marshall, with Tim League quietly moderating. There’s a whole lot of anecdotes by Marshall here detailing the arduous shoot and his reasons behind making it. League helps keep things focused as Marshall can go off on tangents but he is recorded much more quietly making the conversation a hard listen at times. After that we get a half hour “making of” hosted by Tippi Hedren. This seems like it had to be made quite a while before this release as the video seems dated, but the content is great, with much more discussion over the nature of the shoot and this time from different sources. Then there’s a forty minute Q&A with John Marshall at Cinefamily which finds a lot of similar ground covered, but some crew members show up and make things livelier. Following that we get an essay by Tim League which really should have been printed out and included as a physical supplement, but it’s here if you enjoy reading on your TV. And things wrap up with a trailer and photo gallery.
Roar is a rare cinematic anomaly. It just shouldn’t be. But it exists and, as such, we can’t not watch it. If you’ve ever thought that home movies can use more real life terror or the stakes are just not high enough in most creature features, this is probably for you. Olive has brought it to Blu-ray for the first time and though the transfer is lacking, the supplemental package is great. Recommended.