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20th Century Fox presents
To Walk With Lions (1999)

"Who will raise their voice on your behalf after mine is carried away? You have every right to be on this earth."
- George Adamson (Richard Harris)

Review By: Jeff Ulmer   
Published: September 10, 2001

Stars: Richard Harris, John Michie, Kerry Fox, Ian Bannen
Other Stars: Hugh Quarshie, Honor Blackman, Geraldine Chaplin, Guy Williams, David Mulwa, Fred Opondo, Tonny Ernest Njuguna, Douglas O. Ayayo, Raymond Ofula, Edward Kwach, Tirus Gathwe
Director: Carle Shultz

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence and brief sensuality
Run Time: 01h:47m:26s
Release Date: September 04, 2001
UPC: 024543021599
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Growing up reading books like Willard Price's Adventure series and watching Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, I was one of many who dreamed of someday moving to Africa to live with the wild animals, and helping to save them from mankind. However, in reality, the closest most of us will ever get to seeing much of the world's wildlife is through TV shows or our local zoos and game farms. Until the 1960s, these exhibits were nothing more than concrete prison cells for their inhabitants, with no regard for the animal's well being, and the countries these creatures belonged to offering them up as curios or trophies for a hunter's mantle. The general public had little awareness of the cruelties routinely inflicted on these magnificent beasts, nor on the problems faced by those still in the wild from the encroachment of Man, who has been either exploiting the animals for their body parts, or driving them to extinction by destroying their natural habitat.

In 1956, George Adamson, a British game warden in Kenya, killed a lioness in self defense, leaving three orphaned cubs. Two were sent off to zoos, but he and his wife Friederike (better known as "Joy") raised the third in captivity, and eventually released her back into the wild. In 1960, Joy became a celebrity with the release of the bestselling Born Free, chronicling the story of Elsa the lion, and exposed the public to the work she and her husband George were doing in the wilds of Kenya. The story also raised awareness of the crisis the African wildlife faced, and as a result of the exposure, zoos the world over began a new era of more humainly keeping their animals. The sequel Living Free (1961) followed, with Forever Free released the following year, the proceeds of which were used to found the Elsa Conservation Trust in 1963.

In 1966, the film version of Born Free was released. While Joy set off on lecture tours following the success of her books and the film, George remained in Africa to tend to the lions, without any of the proceeds from her work. For the next 25 years, he and his bother Terence (who hated lions but loved elephants) continued to rescue lions from zoos and circuses the world over, rehabilitating them to the wild on their wildlife reserve at Kora. To Walk With Lions tells George's story, through the eyes of a young man who would take up his cause.

"Mine was an aimless, self indungent and undisciplined life. I highly recommend it."
- Tony Fitzjohn (John Michie)

As the film opens the English drifter Tony Fitzjohn arrives in town, penniless, but lined up for a job as a safari driver. When he learns the position is gone, he hitches a ride with Terence, who tells him of another opening, not mentioning the fact that the employee he would be replacing was killed by a lion. Arriving at the Kora compound, Tony meets George, who he realizes is the same George Adamson of Born Free fame. Completely intimidated by the felines, Tony agrees to a week's work to raise money to return to England, but soon comes to appreciate what George and Terrence are doing, and stays on to help with the release program. While outsiders applaud their efforts to support and rehabilitate the wild animal populations, locals are less enthusiastic about their presence. The neighboring tribesmen want the lands of Kora for their cattle to graze, poachers are decimating the elephant and rhino population, and armed bandits are invading from the north, posing a lethal danger to the inhabitants. To make matters worse, the level of corruption throughout the region meant that government officials and the rangers hired to protect the wildstock were being bought off by those looking to exploit the animal resources, leaving George, Terence and Tony to wage their own war with the poachers in an effort to save the creatures. Along the way, Tony meets Lucy Jackson, an anthropologist working with the Somali tribesmen. She understands the native's wishes, but also comes to realize what George and Tony are doing is also important. As bandits continue to make their way into the territory, the safety of both man and beast is at risk. As pressure to close the reserve comes from all sides, the Adamsons and their allies face a daunting future in the Kora compound, and without help, face a similar fate to those they are trying to protect.

To Walk With Lions is an extraordinary film about an extraordinary man. This true story is extremely moving and often frustrating, as we see the battle these people wage to save the native creatures of Africa. Richard Harris' performance as George Adamson is flawless, and Kerry Fox, John Michie and Ian Bannen also fully embody their roles. The issues presented in the film are as current today as they were in the 1960s, with even my local papers debating how the wildlife displaced by development should be managed. The African scenery is breathtaking, as is the cinematography, which makes it even more disappointing that this film is not presented in its correct widescreen aspect ratio; extremely surprising coming from Fox. I can only assume, based on the "Kids First" logo adorning the cover, that the reasoning behind this is that To Walk With Lions is being targeted at a family audience, which I find somewhat surprising considering the content of the film warrants its PG-13 rating. Though some profanity has been edited (see the audio review), this hardly makes the film suitable for young children, with graphic depictions of slain and butchered animals, people being mauled by lions, ritualistic drunkenness, public urination, blunt sexual discussion, mild nudity and language. That is not to say that the message the film delivers should be discounted, far from it, just that it does require some parental discretion. If it weren't for the aspect ratio presented here, this would get a very high recommendation.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Rationo

Image Transfer Review: To Walk With Lions is a 2.35:1 film, though is presented here full-frame. From comparisons to the trailers available at the official website, it appears some of the sides are missing, with a lot of top and bottom information added, leading me to suspect this was shot spherical rather than in CinemaScope as listed on the IMDB.

The image is clear and crisp with no noticible edge enhancement, portraying the African landscapes beautifully. Colors are rich and deep, with good delineation of the darker end of the spectrum, and solid black levels. Fine grain is well rendered. Had this been in its proper ratio it would warrant an A, however with the composition compromised as it is here, the rating reflects this.

Image Transfer Grade: C


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: Stereo audio is wonderfully presented, with good use of directionality, full spectral presentation, and clear dialogue. The score fits perfectly and foley is very well done. The only oddity were two edits to change the word "f***," which is clearly mouthed by the actors, to "hell." As this would have been the only real use of strong language I suppose this was a ratings issue. Other than that, first rate all the way.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Mom's Outta Sight, Ping!
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: A full-frame trailer for the film, plus trailers for Mom's Outta Sight and Ping! are present.

Brief biographies which are primarily select filmographies are available for the principle cast and the director.

A short biography on George Adamson is also included, though the information provided is surprisingly innaccurate, since this information is contained within the film: Joy Adamson was murdered in 1980, though she was originally presumed attacked by a lion, and George Adamson moved to Kora in 1970, not after Joy's death, where Tony Fitzjohn joined him in 1971.

Given the importance of the work these men have undertaken, I would have hoped for a bit more information, especially the fact that Tony Fitzjohn continues his work in Tanzania to this day.

Extras Grade: C-


Final Comments

This film is wonderful, and a fitting tribute to a man who gave his life to return wild animals to their native habitat. Beautifully filmed, superbly acted and scripted, we are brought into the world of George Adamson, his brother and Tony Fitzjohn on their Kora compound. The adversities they and their companions face is detailed thoughtfully and without exaggeration. A truly remarkable story.

However, the cinematography of this film has been destroyed by excluding a version of the film in its intended 2.35:1 aspect ratio. As a result, I can only recommend this as a rental, as I cannot support DVD releases which are not true to their theatrical presentation. I am hoping that this DVD is an isolated incident, and not yet another studio's misguided attempts at marketing for families by excluding a version in the proper aspect ratio, and also hope that Fox will have the sense to release this correctly at some point.

For more information on the legacy of George Adamson and the wildlife reserve Tony Fitzjohn established after George's death, please visit the Mkomazi website, home of the Tony Fitzjohn/George Adamson African Wildlife Preservation Trust.


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