Sunday, March 06, 2011

"The Last Lions", from NatGeo and the Joubert family, follows on "Eye of the Leopard"

I was “adopted” by an unaltered black tomcat in Dallas while living in a garden apartment in 1979, and had the experience of having birds offered as present, car keys picked up and carried around, and plenty of affection.  The housecat is almost the only animal that is both wild and domestic at the same time, and decides when to come in.  Cats, more than dogs, have always seemed to have individual personalities.

So it is with big cats. National Geographic has a documentary film “The Last Lions”, directed by husband-and-wife naturalists Dereck and Beverly Joubert.  The film starts in the style of “2001”, with a spaceshot of Earth and Moon, and a quick global geographical map showing how man’s lights are crowding out wildlife. In 50 years, the world’s lion population has gone down from 450,000 to maybe less than 20,000 (because of human hunting and destruction of habitat).

But this film is indeed a tragic story in terms of individual characters. A lioness and her “husband” are driven out of a pride, and the old man dies. She is left as a single mother with three cubs. The two males are weaker.  She seeks shelter on a swamp island, during which one of the “boys” dies. The film documents her special intelligence in figuring out strategies to hunt from a herd of water buffalo. Like most single parents, she faces grave risks in having to leave her children hidden away alone, which brings her to great tragedy, and seems to leave her alone, without lineage.  (It's tough to see a mother leave her paralyzed daughter to die, but there is nothing she can do.) But then there is a plot twist. She winds up the leader of a new pride, with another female partner (a former “enemy”) raising her remaining male cub, in the natural world’s version of gay marriage (and finally “the kid is all right”).

In fact, the film is almost a moral parable, showing how the animal world seems to impose “natural law” (centering around the survival of the group, and “the natural family”, with procreation ruling everything), and yet provides the final ironic moral twist. Individualism is necessary to survive and be reborn even in the natural world of social carnivores.

And the lionesses really are almost “human”.  A Canadian zoologist on TLC showed how he entered a pride and got accepted as an equal and a member. 

Lions do some things that don't fully make sense from longer term species self interest. Male lions will kill the offspring of rival males, to make sure only their lineage goes on. 

National Geographic’s site “Cause an Uproar”  is here The film offered moviegoers a chance for donation by text message.  (Also, the Facebook site is here).

A similar film from National Geographic was "Eye of the Leopard", also by the Joubert's, reviewed on my TV blog July 7, 2008, about Legadema, the Leopard. It's amazing how filmmakers get so close to the animals living their natural lives out of free will. 

The movie brings to mind Disney’s “adventureland” films in the 50s, especially “The Vanishing Prairie” with Winston Hibler (also “The Living Desert” and “Secrets of Life”).

The film (regular aspect 1.85:1) is in limited theatrical release (PG rating), but had a moderate twilight crowd on a rainy Sunday afternoon at the AMC Shirlington in Arlington VA.  It will soon air on NatGeo and be available on DVD. 

The film seems to be distributed solely by National Geographic (without a partnering Hollywood company).

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