The Ghost and the Darkness (1996)

There is nothing more alluring to me for a night at the movies than a good old-fashioned man versus beast tale. My favourite film has always been Spielberg’s Jaws and forever will be. Even the most ill-advised and derivative of this sub-genre usually end up an easy watch for me. So long as they have a seemingly unstoppable creature and a character or two to root for, I’m usually happy. 1996 delivered the ‘based on a true story’ The Ghost and the Darkness to the big screen and captured my attention immediately. To say it took some liberties with the actual story of Tsavo’s two voracious man-eaters from a time long past is an understatement, but with legendary screenwriter William Goldman behind it, I was surprised when the film tanked at the box office. Equally surprising was that, until this year, this film has never been released in my country or the US or UK on blu-ray. Why? It’s inexplicable to me.

"a rollicking good night at the movies. It’s not Jaws good, but it is a thrilling, (at times) edge of your seat adventure"

Set in 1898, the story follows John Patterson (Val Kilmer), an Irish engineer tasked to build a bridge across a river in Africa to extend the British railway and its interests in the region. Problem is, Patterson is on a tight deadline under the whip of a rather dictatorial boss (Tom Wilkinson) and a lion is making the construction grind to a halt, killing workers nightly. After taking the lion out on his first night, Patterson is confident he will complete his task and build his bridge. Soon after, two man-eaters prove to him his ‘victory’ was nothing of the sort. He killed the wrong lion. There are in fact two others killing in a team, unlike any lions in recorded history and he is in their domain. They rip through his camp with deadly veracity, killing dozens and humbling the engineer. The workers leave, fearing for their lives, and Patterson is forced to hunt the lions almost alone. Even with the aid of a famous American hunter (Michael Douglas) the few that remain find themselves in a battle to the death with a pair of lions that won’t relent.

Let’s start with the good because there is plenty: this film delivers thrills and certainly delivers some appealing and memorable characters. The backdrop of the African landscape is beautiful, alive, oppressive and threatening. There are some truly memorable performances from the likes of Wilkinson and John Kani. The lions, a mixture of real and digital (especially for a mid-nineties flick!) are used to great dramatic effect by director Stephen Hopkins. There are truly effective set-pieces, ratcheting the tension up to eleven. As far as man vs beast flicks go, this is one of the great ones. One of my favourite cinematographer’s, Vilmos Zsigmond, photographed this picture an elevated it above its station beautifully. His threatening angles and sweeping vistas serve to intensify the threat and isolation of the story, upping the stakes. Val Kilmer does a decent job in the lead role, but his Irish accent took his performance down a peg for me. He plays a driven man as well as he does a man out of his depth.The Ghost and the Darkness (1996)

Where the film goes awry is in the introduction of Michael Douglas’s Remington character, both narratively and in his performance. Douglas produced this movie and decided, after Hopkins failed to get his chosen actors to accept the role, to insert himself into the movie. The shifting focus takes away from Kilmer’s character too much and to be frank, Douglas—as great an actor as he is—does a poor man’s Clint Eastwood that doesn’t quite land. It isn’t a terrible performance from Mr. Douglas but it doesn’t suspend disbelief either. Not as well as most of his characters have in other flicks. Also a misstep (and a consequence of studio interference and a rushed schedule from what I’ve read) is the supporting character voiceover, clumsily filling in narrative gaps for scenes that I suppose were cut or never filmed.

But let’s not get carried away in picking holes. This is a rollicking good night at the movies. It’s not Jaws good, but it is a thrilling, (at times) edge of your seat adventure movie that absolutely delivers on a fascinating story. Make some popcorn, turn off the lights, and dip in without fear… Until, that is, the lions show up anyway.

3/5 stars

The Ghost and the Darkness (1996)

Blu-ray Details

Home Video Distributor: Shout Factory
Available on Blu-ray
- May 10, 2022
Screen Formats: 2.39:1
: English SDH
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
Discs: Blu-ray Disc; single disc
Region Encoding: Locked to Region A


This is a Shout Factory release, so it comes as no surprise the picture is outstanding. The AVC encoded source is taken from a new 4K scan of the original camera negatives and, being that this hasn’t seen a release in western countries since DVD, it’s a hell of an improvement at 1080p HD. I wish they had released the film in full 4K (and let’s face it, they probably will after a wait to douple-dip) but this blu-ray is no slouch. There’s no sign of DNR, image quality (even with Zsigmond’s penchant for soft imagery) is crisp. Hair on the lions’ takes on immense detail, as does clothing and the actor’s faces. There is natural film grain present but unobtrusive, leaving the filmic details pristine and beautiful. It’s been over twenty years since the DVD release and this BLU-RAY is a definitive upgrade if you love this movie. (NOTE* The Ghost and the Darkness was release on blu-ray in Germany years ago. This leaves that release for dead.)


We get a DTS-HD 5.1 mix here that more than shows off the many awesome sound elements in this mix, from Jerry Goldsmith’s score to the sub-rumbling growls of the killer lions. Dialogue is concise and centred. Atmospherics, despite no purview for overheads, are richly delivered and make the track a very high-quality surround experience.



  • None

Special Features:

As shit as the DVD. You get a trailer. WOW. Oh, and as standard with most Shout Factory releases, you get a reversible cover art that let’s you pick between the original theatrical poster art or the newer artwork. Meh.

Blu-ray Rating

  Movie 3/5 stars
  Video  5/5 stars
  Audio 5/5 stars
  Extras 1/5 stars

Composite Blu-ray Grade

3/5 stars

Film Details

The Ghost and the Darkness (1996)

MPAA Rating: R for some violence and gore involving animal attacks.
102 mins
: Stephen Hopkins
William Goldman
Michael Douglas; Val Kilmer; Tom Wilkinson
: Adventure; Drama; Thriller
Control Your Fear
Memorable Movie Quote: You build bridges, John. You have to go where the rivers are.
Theatrical Distributor:
Shout Factory
Official Site:
Release Date:
October 11, 1996
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
May 10, 2022
Synopsis: Sir Robert Beaumont (Tom Wilkinson) is behind schedule on a railroad in Africa. Enlisting noted engineer John Henry Patterson (Val Kilmer) to right the ship, Beaumont expects results. Everything seems great until the crew discovers the mutilated corpse of the project's foreman (Henry Cele), seemingly killed by a lion. After several more attacks, Patterson calls in famed hunter Charles Remington (Michael Douglas), who has finally met his match in the bloodthirsty lions.


The Ghost and the Darkness (1996)