Michael Douglas and Val Kilmer star in THE GHOST AND THE DARKNESS, directed by Stephen Hopkins for Paramount Pictures.

The Ghost and the Darkness (1996, Stephen Hopkins)

There are two significant problems with The Ghost and the Darkness. Its other primary problem corrects itself over time.

The score–from Jerry Goldsmith–is awful (he basically repeats his terrible Congo score). It makes the film silly, like a commercial. A great deal of the film is about the wonderment of Africa, something Hopkins and cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond certainly capture… only to have Goldsmith ruin it.

Second, writer William Goldman thinks it needs narration. It doesn’t. Goldman’s able to get away with a dream sequence here (Hopkins and Val Kilmer sell it) but the narration’s too much. It brings the viewer out of the film, especially at the end; the credits are a disconnect from the film’s final narration.

The third problem is Michael Douglas. When he shows up, he’s basically doing Romancing the Stone, only with an occasional Southern accent. He gets better, but it takes about fifteen minutes and some of it is rough going.

The real draw–besides Hopkins and Zsigmond–is Kilmer (he never screws up his accent). He has an epic character arc in this film and his performance is brilliant. It’s especially interesting to see how he acts opposite Douglas, whose initially bombastic, silly presence should derail Kilmer’s performance. But it doesn’t. Again, some of it has to do with Hopkins, who knows how to shoot these scenes.

Good supporting turns from Tom Wilkinson, John Kani and Om Puri.

The film has some problems, but they don’t come close to overshadowing its achievements.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Stephen Hopkins; written by William Goldman; director of photography, Vilmos Zsigmond; edited by Roger Bondelli, Robert Brown and Steve Mirkovich; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Stuart Wurtzel; produced by A. Kitman Ho and Gale Anne Hurd; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Val Kilmer (Col. John Henry Patterson), Michael Douglas (Charles Remington), Tom Wilkinson (Robert Beaumont), John Kani (Samuel), Bernard Hill (Dr. David Hawthorne), Brian McCardie (Angus Starling), Emily Mortimer (Helena Patterson) and Om Puri (Abdullah).

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