Living free, living freee…
Here's a great idea: take a movie, remake part of it with some of the same actors and some completely different ones, tack on some additional storyline, and market the thing as a sequel. Now, this might work brilliantly if your name is Sam Raimi, but in most other cases it just plain sucks. I'll leave it up to you to guess which category Living Free falls into.
Facts of the Case
When last we saw George and Joy Adamson, they had successfully adapted their beloved lioness Elsa to life in the wild. Elsa had a mate, three lovely cubs, and continued to visit the Adamsons on holidays. Life was good.
Now, however, there is trouble in the jungle. Elsa is sick and dying, and her cubs have developed a taste for goats and other livestock, rather than the wild animals they should be hunting. It is only a matter of time before the local authorities or cranky goat-owning villagers turn them into throw rugs, unless the Adamsons can once again intervene in nature's design and save Elsa's babies from their fate.
There are a lot of things wrong with Living Free, but perhaps the most glaring is the change in cast from the original. Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers apparently could not be convinced to reprise their roles as Joy and George Adamson, so they were replaced with Susan Hampshire and Nigel Davenport. Now, I've got nothing against either Hampshire or Davenport, but they do seem like second-string replacements for the original actors.
This is compounded by the filmmakers' dogged insistence on retelling large portions of the story from the first movie. Fully the first 15 minutes of Living Free's scant running time is devoted to recounting the events of the previous installment. By "recounting" I mean to say "reenacting the same exact scenes with new actors." Evidently the story for this sequel was so thin that it had to be padded considerably with this older material. This strikes me as particularly odd, since this movie, like Born Free, is based on a best-seller by the real Joy Adamson. Are we really to believe that there was only 75 minutes' worth of usable material in her entire book, Living Free: The Story of Elsa and her Cubs,and that it was necessary to pad out the running time with this recycled material? Or, as is more likely the case, did the studio assume that people were too stupid to remember what happened in the first movie and needed to be spoon-fed all of this background? Adding credence to the "stupid audience" theory is the inclusion of massive amounts of expository narration delivered by Susan Hampshire. There was a fair amount of narration in Born Free, but nothing like what we find in the sequel; it's like listening to someone read aloud the instructions to a paint-by-numbers kit.
Also reappearing from the first movie is a lot of wild animal footage. This would not be so objectionable or noticeable if I had not watched the two flicks back to back. Still, it is an indication of what a cheap, rushed project this whole mess must have been.
Living Free was shot in 1.85:1, as opposed to the 2.35:1 aspect ratio of the first movie. The DVD from Columbia TriStar presents the worst sort of bait-and-switch; the opening credits sequence is framed correctly in the theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, but once the credits are done, the presentation switches to a lame hack-and-scan version. At some points the picture is surprisingly good, showing wonderful clarity and fine detail, and certainly better color fidelity and richness than the DVD of Born Free. These moments are few and far between, however, leaving most of the movie to be dark, grainy, noisy, shimmery, and all-around crappy. The presence of the occasional moments of clarity makes the rest of the mess all the more frustrating.
As with Born Free, audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo. As on the previous disc, this is surprisingly good. The audio is a bit limited in range, but comes through pleasantly and relatively clearly. Dialogue is probably not as clear as in the original, coming across as a bit muffled.
Extra content is almost nonexistent. There is a trailer for this film as well as the original Born Free and the Anna Paquin tearjerker Fly Away Home.
Heck, even the title song for this one feels like a pale imitation of the Oscar-winning tune from the original. The bottom line is this: if you saw and liked Born Free, you will probably hate Living Free, since it is such a completely shameless attempt to cash in. If you didn't like Born Free, you have even less reason to watch Living Free.
Guilty! This is one film that certainly deserves the lousy treatment it gets from Columbia TriStar.
We stand adjourned.
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• Theatrical Trailer
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