Spectacular visuals, questionable narration in ‘Lions’

A beautiful movie… and Jeremy Irons


National Geographic knows what they are doing. They have been the standard for nature shows and movies for as long as I have been alive. I can still hum the tune that accompanies their logo right before they blow you away with wildlife footage (ba-ba-ba-baaa-ba! ba-ba-ba-baaa-ba, ba-ba, ba!) so personal you feel like a trespasser. The visuals alone would probably be enough to hold your attention, but they throw in a deep-voiced narrator that speaks with such authority you have no choice but to listen.

Part of knowing what they are doing means having folks like Dereck and Beverly Joubert on their payroll as Explorers-in-Residence. The Jouberts are award winning filmmakers from Botswana, and as you watch “The Last Lions,” it is not hard to understand why they are so highly thought of. “The Last Lions,” which opens tonight at The Gold Town Nickelodeon (171 Shattuck Way), has everything we have come to expect from a National Geographic project.

The visuals, whether it is a slow motion shot of a lion chasing a much bigger water buffalo or a simple African sunset, are spectacular. There is hardly a moment in “The Last Lions” where the real life world of the Botswana landscape does not impress. The Jouberts capture moments from the early morning, from the day time, and from the always spookier night. In every moment, they allow us to follow the lives of these lions. One female lion in particular is the “main character.” She becomes a fugitive early on, losing her mate to an attack from a pride intruding on their territory. “The Last Lions” is really her story, one of a mother trying to keep her cubs alive against unfair odds.

Of course, in order to have a reasonable chance of following that story, we need help. Enter the deep-voiced, authoritative narration. This is expected. National Geographic knows what they are doing.

Unfortunately, when it comes to writing a script, I am not so sure Mr. Joubert does know what he is doing. As narration for a documentary about a lioness in Africa, Mr. Joubert’s script is a bit much. If he ever tires of the Botswana plains, however, I will personally write him a letter of recommendation to be a staff writer on “General Hospital” (never mind the fact a letter from me would do him no good). Melodrama between lions and water buffalo, though?

It doesn’t quite work.

Now, the owner of the deep-voiced, authoritative voice: Jeremy Irons. To me he is equal parts Scar (the villain in “The Lion King”) and Simon Gruber (the villain in “Die Hard: With a Vengeance”). The dude is a villain! No matter what he is saying it sounds just a little bit evil. Still, he does have National Geographic quality pipes. In fact, his unique voice lends credence to the parts of Mr. Joubert’s script that would sound just okay if you or I read it aloud. On the flip side of that, Irons’ voice makes the goofier parts of the script seem ten times goofier than if you or I were to read the same words.

Irons works perfectly if you need to voice an evil, animated lion. He works wonderfully as the bad guy to Bruce Willis’ good guy. As a National Geographic narrator (with a script suited for daytime soaps)? Iffy at best.

Other than a sometimes over-the-top script and a sometimes out-of-place narrator, “The Last Lions” is everything we have come to expect from National Geographic. Tears welled up in my eyes more than once. At times my heart skipped a beat for joy when things went right for our lioness. The whole time, my eyes remained glued to the screen as the wild of Africa was displayed so beautifully it was hard not to drool.

You could do a lot worse than an evening filled with stunning visuals, reasonable Gold Town concessions, and yes… Jeremy Irons.


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