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Warner Home Video presents
"Once, there was a mother cheetah. She loved her cub very much. One day, he got lost, and she cried so long and so hard, that her tears made black streaks down her face."
DVD ReviewDuma is the kind of movie parents complain Hollywood doesn't make anymore, a genuinely entertaining and well-made kiddie adventure that isn't trying to sell you anything. Director Carroll Ballard, working in his element, with animals—he helmed beloved nature films The Black Stallion and Fly Away Home—has made a big cat movie that stands proudly next to his classic horse movie.
Poor little Duma. The cute little cheetah cub is romping around with mom one day when she's taken out by a lion. The orphan nearly gets hit by a car, too, though that turns out to be good luck. Inside are 12-year-old Xan (Alexander Michaletos) and his father, who pick up the animal and take it home to their spacious South African ranch. Xan raises Duma as a pet, and the animal is as friendly and loyal as a dog. But when a tragedy befalls the family and Xan has to move to the city, he decides to take Duma back to the wild rather than risk his capture by a poacher. Thus begins a dangerous adventure in untamed nature.
In terms of narrative, Duma never quite reaches full speed. The story is very familiar, for one, and moves along so quickly that we're never allowed to reflect on the fact that Xan is facing real peril on his journey. Every crisis passes as quickly as it is introduced (or more quickly, in the case of an alligator attack that is threatened as boy and cheetah cross the river—we see the creatures slip stealthily into the water and hungrily ogle the boy's kicking legs, but he simply climbs onto dry land a few seconds later). Somehow, though, I don't think kids will notice, and the spectacle of it all will likely put parents in a forgiving mood, too. Along the way, Xan meets Ripkuna (Eamonn Walker), a vagabond who might turn out to be the greatest threat to boy and cheetah, lending a bit of depth to the proceedings.
This is Ballard's most beautiful film, right from the opening scene, which shows us how the cub Duma came to be separated from his mother. Shot entirely on location in South Africa, it offers stunning landscapes, from lush forests to arid deserts and plunging canyons. Ballard uses the backdrop in interesting ways, too. For a night, Xan and Duma camp out in a downed aircraft, its nose jammed into a dune and the wings providing shelter from the sun. Proving his resourcefulness, Xan is able to construct a sail out of an old parachute, resulting in a memorable sequence of the motorcycle sailing across the sand.
Newcomer Alexander Michaletos is a likeable young hero, and he's obviously very comfortable tussling with the big cat—much like his character, the boy was raised among wild animals on a ranch in South Africa. He handles the more dramatic moments ably enough, too, and it seems credible that he has the strength to survive his ordeal. Eamonn Walker keeps his motivations a mystery, and for a long time we aren't quite sure if he has Xan's best interests at heart, a welcome ambiguity in an otherwise straightforward yarn. Hope Davis doesn't have much to do other than look worried as the boy's mother, but she brings some weight to the underwritten role. Even Duma gets a character arc—as he returns to nature, his hunter's instincts are reborn, though he never loses his obvious affection for Xan, and follows him around like a puppy.
Duma never got much of a chance in theaters—Warner Bros. didn't know how to sell it, and tried a test run in a few cities but were met with disappointing returns (probably because they never really advertised it, but oh well). It's too bad, because a movie like this deserves to be seen. Hopefully, at home, it will be.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B
Image Transfer Review: This is one beautiful movie, and it looks great on DVD. Color are detail are both outstanding; the rich desert reds and browns are as striking as the bright blue skies and green grass of the plains. Night scenes show generally good shadow detail, though some elements, like facial expressions, can sometimes be hard to make out in darker moments.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: This is the kind of mix that enhances the film without showing off. The front soundstage handles dialogue and the brunt of the effects nicely, with good directionality. The surrounds, meanwhile, are used more subtly to immerse you in the African setting (listen for the insects buzzing behind you during the opening sequence). The music is also a highlight, and the stirring vocals are enhanced by pronounced, percussive LFE.
Audio Transfer Grade: A
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 25 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Deleted Scenes
Packaging: Keep Case
Extras Review: The only extras are the trailer and a measly two minutes of extended scenes. I can't help but wonder if Carroll Ballard was too disgusted at the way the studio treated the movie to provide substantial extras. In any case, there aren't any. Nice cover art though. Kitty!
Extras Grade: D
Final CommentsA kid-friendly, occasionally thrilling, and beautifully photographed African adventure, Duma is yet another fantastic family film from Carroll Ballard. It didn't get much of a theatrical release, and the DVD is lacking extras, but don't let that stop you.
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