Sadly, Judge Clark Douglas is now the deposed king of the jungle.
A dangerous journey to adulthood.
Watching PBS' latest Nature installment The White Lions, I was struck by an ominous thought: just how many tragic, unfinished nature documentaries are buried away in the files of PBS, Animal Planet, Discovery, National Geographic and other nature-inclined channels? It's very rare that the chosen "protagonist" of such specials will come to an unhappy end; how many times has Charlie the Gazelle been taken down before his carefully-scripted story arc arrived at its happy ending? After all, the narrator of The White Lions informs us that it's been decades since any white lions have actually survived to adulthood in the wild. As this sobering information is being presented to us over footage of two adorable baby lions wrestling with each other, it's hard not to wonder how many ill-fated white lions the filmmakers have tracked over the years before finally landing on these two scrappy survivors (spoiler alert, I guess).
Like the somewhat more common white tiger, the white lion is a genetic mutation rather than an official subspecies of its own. As such, white lions generally stand out in the midst of more traditional Kruger lions. In fact, a white lion is bound to stand out just about anywhere in South Africa, as their bright white coats don't really mesh with any of their surroundings. One doesn't really think of lions as being particularly vulnerable creatures (they're more or less at the top of the food chain, after all), but when they're young they're susceptible to the attacks of hyenas, leopards and even older lions. Time and time again, we see the two young cubs narrowly escaping peril (largely thanks to the valiant protection of their noble aunt).
The documentary has a tendency to veer between cutesy and horrific, alternating scenes of irresistibly charming lion playfulness with potentially deadly attacks (along with the usual supply of gory "ferocious chowing down" sequences, including a particularly unsavory scene of testicle consumption). It meanders considerably less than some of these documentaries have a tendency to do, perhaps because the filmmakers are attempting to trace a journey from birth to adulthood (with many dramatic incidents in-between) within the span of an hour. It's a compelling watch from start to finish.
The DVD transfer is stellar, benefiting from strong detail and depth throughout. While the Blu-ray presentation is undoubtedly a superior experience, this standard-def version gets the job done. The Dolby 5.1 Surround audio track is solid as well, though the music is trying so hard to recapture the sound of Hans Zimmer's score for The Lion King that it almost becomes distracting. As usual for these Nature releases, there are no extras included on the disc (I do wish they would take the National Geographic approach and at least include a semi-related "bonus episode" to stretch the overall running time to feature length).
The White Lions is yet another winner from the ever-reliable folks at Nature. Check it out.
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