1996, for better or worse (well, worse, let's be honest) brought the slasher back into fatal fashion via 'Scream' but 'The Relic' and this film proved horror and thriller cinema could still function away from the human killer motif, and this is one of those rare occasions where the "based on true events" emblem is a satisfactory addition to mull over rather than a hateful marketing ploy and plea to excuse any run-of-the-mill exploitative humdrum nonsense regarding human-on-human violence and pretending it equals horror and quality.
Here, of course it does, as Michael Douglas's "big game hunter" is breezed in by haughty and cold railroad financier Tom Wilkinson, who's blanching at his hand-picked military engineer's inability to capitalise on a lucky shot that took out a marauding lion, and Val Kilmer's engineer is assuredly put out, but remains in awe of the newcomer, whilst Douglas gives him a withering reception, but grudgingly comes around over the amount of time they have to spend together, and as Wilkinson is still roaring about the railway and a bridge under construction all but being abandoned in the wake of a pair of leonine monsters rampaging about the area, both make quick tacks to track this "Ghost and Darkness" (so-called for their stealth-heavy appearances out of air that strike and kill before anyone can react), which was always going to be the biggest challenge either man had ever faced.
Based on The Man Eaters Of Tsavo by the creaky colonel who had the gall to kill both lions after the carnage said to have killed anywhere between 30-135 railroad workers during the 1898 building of the Uganda-Mombasa Railway in Kenya. William Goldman had wanted to put it to script as soon as he heard the story upon a visit to Africa in 1984 and six years later he presented it to Paramount, who could have killed it dead before it started, for, despite interest by Kevin Costner, world's worst 'actor' Tom Ooze Cruise where who they wanted, but mercy bowed when the wretch turned it down, and then Val Kilmer (who had scarily turned down Ooze's 'Top Gun' role, despite appearing in the same appalling film) desired it. Michael Douglas wasn't first choice either, but Sean Connery and Anthony Hopkins had declined, and whilst Gerard Depardieu was given consideration (interesting!), on came Douglas or in came Douglas, whichever you prefer.
The film is acted well enough, but it's South African actor and playwright John Kani as the Maasai supervisor and the story's narrator who makes the most human and long lasting impression, but Bernard Hill and Brian McCardie also register well, and Emily Mortimer pops up in an early role. The lion scenes are generally shot really well, and the film is rather astoundingly gory, delivering and dissecting more meat then I would have expected. The actual lions of this historical horror are not exactly what you see-the two on film were brother animals hired from a Canadian zoo that also featured in the stupid Brendan Fraser flick 'George Of The Jungle'-the two lions responsible for the myriad deaths of so long past were actually Tsovo natives that barely had any mane, but it's likely, as well as the recorded fierceness of the lions that come from this area, that the studio were afraid barely maned lions wouldn't be taken as seriously or even considered male. Okay, but a little silly, when we know that lionesses are more likely to attack people, what with being more active than the lazier males.
Location work is suitably charming-shot in a game reserve, with many actors portraying the Masaai workers, though there is at least one real tribe in the film as depicted at one of the hunt attempts. The film won an award for Best Sound Editing, though Kilmer would be less happy to have scooped a Razzie nomination, there were also rumours he and Douglas didn't get on, but he was very difficult in those days of the mid-90s, the man seems to have mellowed since, and has been doing largely good film work since the really cool but undervalued thriller/film noir 'The SaltonSea' in 2002.
Both region discs have no extras to speak off so you'll just have to enjoy the film, the same year's 'The Edge' (maybe why Anthony Hopkins turned it down) has a little bit more in the extras department. But films are worthy and great examples of survival horror and adventuring thrillers, and this spirited blackness roars its pride.