DVD Review: The Last Lions

The Last Lions DVDSTUDIO: Virgil Films/National Geographic | DIRECTOR: Dereck  Joubert
BLU-RAY & DVD RELEASE DATE: 1/3/2012 | PRICE: DVD $19.99, Blu-ray $29.99
BONUSES: behind-the-scenes footage, deleted scenes, filmmaker interviews, more
SPECS: PG-13 | 88 min. | Documentary | 1.85:1 widescreen | Dolby Digital 5.1/DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 | English subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

The Last Lions movie scene

Lioness Ma di Tau means business when it comes to her cubs in The Last Lions.

Focusing on a proud lioness and her three cubs in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, The Last Lions is one of the most beautifully photographed nature documentaries I’ve ever seen.

And it offers a helluva story, one that’s at least as engaging as any Hollywood family drama or revenge piece. It follows the struggle for survival of the widowed lioness Ma di Tau (“Mother of Lions”) and her three offspring as they’re driven from their land and forced to confront such formidable foes as a swamp of crocodiles, a herd of buffaloes, a gaggle of stalking hyenas and a rival pride of big cats.

The story contains more chases, fights and overall tension than it does frothy scenes of a mommy and her kids at play. The movie’s episodic narrative is filled with  heroes (Ma di Tau), villains (a scarfaced, hulking buffalo) and others whose story arcs change as the film progresses (a rival lioness previously injured by Ma di Tau). And it’s pretty hard to resist feeling something for the travails of the lions as they let their instincts guide them.

There’s one overriding false note and it’s in the voiceover narration provided by a suave-sounding Jeremy Irons (Margin Call), which insists on “humanizing” the “performers” by telling us what’s going on in their minds.

Coupled with some slick editing, the overall effect heightens the emotional impact — and there’re a lot of inevitable sadness on the kill-or-be-killed African plains — and it comes off as a bit exploitative. They are animals and this is how they live; there’s no need to overdo it with Irons declaring that their struggles are “the eternal dance of Africa.”

Bonus materials on the DVD include the inevitable behind-the-scenes footage and making-of bits (it took the Jouberts years to shoot and edit the film) and a collection of deleted scenes that are as strikingly photographed as the main film.

There’s a conservational angle in this National Geographic movie, of course. After the story proper finishes, viewers are informed that the African lion population is dwindling, having dropped from 450,000 to about 20,000 in the past 50 years. A link to Nat Geo’s Big Cat Initiative is listed for interested parties to donate money or obtain more information.


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About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.