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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
George Adamson: Is freedom so important?
DVD ReviewGeorge: We'll try again tomorrow.
Joy: We're running out of tomorrows.
With the huge success of the Born Free novels and feature, a sequel was inevitable. 1972 saw the release of Living Free, which continues the story of Elsa, the lioness raised by Joy and George Adamson, who was successfully returned to the wild. Directed by noted wildlife photographer Jack Couffer, who also provided additional cinematography, the film combines the two Born Free followups, Living Free (1961), and Forever Free, while toning down the onscreen drama to lower the rating to a more family-friendly G.
At the end of the film Born Free, Elsa returns to the wild, finds a mate and has her own trio of cubs. As Living Free opens, Joy has been off scouting new locations for animals that are falling prey to the growing number of poachers in their region, but returns to her husband after receiving word that Elsa is dying. Their mother gone, her cubs—Jespah, Gopa, and Little Elsa—are too young to fend for themselves, and the Adamsons had taken care not to acclimate them to domesticity on Elsa's many return visits. Now, they are faced with a dilemma: step in and rear the cubs to maturity, or let them suffer whatever fate may be in store for them in the wild. If they are not accepted into an existing pride, hunger will drive them to scavaging or hunting domestic prey. The choice is obvious, and soon the Adamsons are out hunting for their new den, but meeting with little success.
With the proximity to civilization and the threat from poaching, the Adamsons apply for permission to release the cubs into the Serengeti, where wild game is abundant and man is not. However, there are many complications with the plan, as the journey to their new home is some 700 miles away, and the cubs have to be caught and caged separately to avoid conflict during transport. When the cubs begin attacking the livestock of the neighboring villages, the Adamsons are forced to expedite their capture if they want the cubs to survive, but the process could take months. While Joy sets off to get the cages manufactured, George, after resigning from his job, has to gain the animals' trust and lure them away from the villages, but time is not on their side.
While it still gets by with the antics of the young lions, Living Free doesn't measure up to the rewards of the original. It gets off to a dubious start, spending the first twenty minutes rehashing the story of the first film, both by restaging scenes verbatim with the new leads (opposite the returning Geoffrey Keen and Peter Lukoye), or simply lifting footage from many of the more memorable animal sequences. Once the new thrust of the plot is established, things get a bit better, but it feels like there is too much license taken for dramatic effect, even if that isn't the case. The cubs don't get near enough screen time to fully exploit their cuteness or natural behavior, as the final third of the film is spent trying to lure them into cages. Another liberty in the presentation is the casting of Joy, who in real life would have been in her early sixties, but is played by the thirty-four looking twenty-eight-year-old Susan Hampshire. While Virginia McKenna certainly wasn't the right age in Born Free, Hampshire is a little too glamourous and refined to be taken seriously. The opening theme is also lackluster, and really dates the film. For those who just can't get enough of the lions this may suffice, but the execution just doesn't have the same impact as its predecessor.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: For whatever reason, Columbia has decided to only provide a full-frame version of Living Free. The title sequence shows the proper 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and it's hard to say with certainty whether this is open matte or pan & scanned, as the composition feels either too tight or too top and bottom heavy, depending on the scene.
Image quality is quite good, with well saturated colors and solid blacks, but the variety of source material used creates some fairly jarring discrepancies in the look. The footage obviously newly shot is well defined and clean. Footage from the 1966 film is less punchy, exhibits more grain, and is less focused. Stock photography fairs the worst, and really stands out in context. There is a mild amount of minor print damage, mostly white specs and dust.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: Two- channel mono audio is fine, with no glaring technical defects. Tonal range is adequate, and dialogue is clear and easily understandable. Nothing to get excited about, but it serves its purpose.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu
Scene Access with 28 cues
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Japanese with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Born Free, Fly Away Home
Extras Review: The only extras provided are a trailer and promotional trailers for Born Free and Fly Away Home. Interestingly, the trailers menu has a still from Born Free featuring Virginia McKenna.
Extras Grade: D
Final CommentsLiving Free does an okay job for a sequel, but never quite lives up to the original. Yes, the lions are cute, and the acting passable, but the execution just doesn't gel. It will entertain as is, but may not stand up to repeat viewings, though will probably go over well with younger kids as the animal drama is pretty limited. Columbia's decision to present this only in a modified aspect ratio adds to the lack of recommendation for anything other than a rental.
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