['Ghost and the Darkness merchandise.]

The Ghost and the Darkness

Updated 7-2-2002. Added the names of Bongo's cubs!

[Bongo, with his trainer Michael

Breaking news. Bongo the lion dies.

Bowmanville, Ontairo, Canada After fighting a losing battle with lung cancer, Bongo the lion died on October 11, 2001. Bongo was one of the two lions who starred in the movie 'The Ghost and the Darkness'. He was also featured in Disney's 'George of the Jungle' and other films. Bongo's keeper, Michael Hackenberger is deeply saddened by this loss of a close friend. A big hole was left in the world of the lion by Bongo's passing.

More breaking news! Bongo is a father!

I have just learned that Bongo had indeed sucessfully mated with lioness Gresil. On December 4th, 2001, Gresil gave birth to four beautiful lion cubs! Everyone around the zoo is ecstatically happy. Bongo left us the best possible gift as he left this world: new life! Hopefully, one of these cubs will grow up to be another Bongo! The cubs (3 females and one male) were named 'Mpenzi' (Swahili for 'Beloved'), 'Malaika' (Swahili for 'Angel'), 'Marjan' (Afghan for 'Precious gem'), and the male cub was named 'Bowman male cub was named 'Bowman' for the Bowmanville Zoo. These lions will be permanent residents of the zoo!

Read the whole story on the Bowmanville Zoo website at www.bowmanvillezoo.com.

'The Ghost and the Darkness' is the 1996 cinematic retelling of the Tsavo Maneaters story. The movie fairly accurately follows the real story with the exception of the addition of an extra major character, and the usual Hollywood embellishments. Briefly, here is the movie's plot:

'The Ghost and the Darkness' is the true story of the construction of a railroad bridge across the Tsavo River in what is today Kenya, Africa. The events in the movie actually took place in 1898. It seems that a pair of lions were killing the workers in large numbers. The project leader, Colonel J.H. Patterson, was doing everything he could to stop these animals, without success. Even the Masai lion hunters gave up! The two lions, both males, were given the names 'The Ghost' and 'The Darkness' by the local natives. After some help from help from a professional big game hunter, the two lions were eventually shot, after killing some 140 people. These lions were mounted, and are on display at Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History.

Fact from Fiction

The story as told in the film is basically accuratis basically accurate. However, I would like to point out some of the 'embellishments' that Hollywood, as usual, has added to the story.

First and foremost, the two lions, both male, were unusual in that they did not have manes. They are of normal lion coloration. However, the reissue of Patterson's book, 'The Man-Eaters of Tsavo', that was done for the movie, claims on the back cover that the two lions were 'white as snow' and 'black as the night'. (Hence the name, 'The Ghost and the Darkness'.) No where is this mentioned in the actual text of the book. Nor do the pictures of the lions in the book show anything like this. To make matters even more confusing, the lions in the movie are maned males of normal coloration!

Colonel Patterson reports that the first man-eater was 9 feet, 8 inches long, nose-to-tail. He also states that the second man-eater was 9 feet, 6 inches long nose-to-tail and 3 feet, 11 1/2 inches tall. These sizes are consistent with normal male lions.

No professional hunter was involved in the real story. Unless, that is that you would want to consider Colonel Patterson as a professional hunter. He was an excellent hunter in his own right, with details of many an expedition recorded in his book. In any case, Colonel Patterson shot both lions by himself. The first lion was almost a lucky shot from his rickety Machan.The second lion required many shots over 10 days to kill it. Both lion kill it. Both lions were, oddly enough, killed over nonhuman bait.

In the movie, it is alleged that the lions were killing for sport. This does not often happen in the real world. Even man-eaters normally kill only what they need to survive. Killing for sport by lions is not mentioned in the book. Indeed, the killing pattern recorded is very consistent with normal lion hunting patterns. There were no mass-slaughters as depicted in the film. Interestingly enough however, a leopard killed all 30 of Colonel Patterson's sheep and goats in one night! Where 'killing for sport' has been observed among the big cats, it has been when a quantity of prey animals was available, and in an unusually vulnerable situation. A good example would be a pen full of defenseless goats. Man was probably considered by the lions as easy to kill, but still quite dangerous.

Most of the attempts at capturing the lions, such as the boxcar trick and the hospital trick, were actually done, but were significantly overdramatized in the movie. (Some were not, such as the adventure on the Machan, a rickety platform from which the first man-eater was shot. But even this event is not completely free of tampering. For instance, the bait used in the film was a live baboon. In the real story, it was a donkey the lions had killed and partly eaten the day before. Also, Colonel Patterson never fell off the machan, as he did in the movie.

Inhe movie.

In any case, a reading of the true story is an absolute must for anyone who enjoyed the film. Is is more interesting, and in some ways even scarier than the movie. The book also describes a lot of other adventures in the African bush. The movie-companion edition of the book also discusses the many other adventures of Colonel Patterson, a most remarkable man. Check out the Tsavo Maneater Resources page for more information about the book. (The title of the book is 'The Man-Eaters of Tsavo', and is one of two books Colonel Patterson wrote. The second book, 'In the Grip of the Nyika: Further Adventures in British East Africa' was published in 1909. Unlike it's predecessor, it never became very popular, and is long out of print.)

How the Film Came to Be

'The Ghost and the Darkness' is the brainchild of well-known screenwriter William Goldman. He was inspired to write the screenplay after a trip to Kenya in 1984. There, the Tsavo Maneater story was told to him at a camp in the Masai Mara. Mr. Goldman found the story intriguing, and wrote that it was one of only two outstanding true stories he has come upon in his 40+ yrars of writing. (The other is 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid', which went on to be an Oscar-winning film.)

As often happens, good ideas don't always get top priority. So, it was 1989 before anything furthefore anything further happened. Mr. Goldman had bounced the idea of doing a film about the Tsavo Maneaters off Paramount Pictures executives at some point during those years. Finally now, they were interested in doing it. Paramount executives invited Mr. Goldman to Los Angeles to formally present his idea.

However, an interesting problem developed just before the trip to L.A.: Mr. Goldman threw his back out. The travel only served to aggravate the problem. But, he made it to Hollywood and presented his idea anyway. Flat on his back. On the boardroom floor! Paramount officials accepted his proposal!!

About a year later in 1990, Mr. Goldman had completed the screenplay. After review by Paramount, they realized this was going to be an expensive movie to produce. So, it needed a superstar for the role of Colonel Patterson. Three unlikely candidates were considered: Mel Gibson, Tom Cruise and Kevin Costner. They figured none of these well-known actors would want the role, because they would be dwarfed by the bloodthirsty lions. But, to everyone's surprise, Kevin Costner not only said 'yes', but he was excited about the role! However, Paramount executives really wanted Tom Cruise to star in the role. Tom wasn't interested. Kevin got involved in another project, not happy he had been turned down after being asked to do the film. This, unfortunately, stalled the project for 5 years!

To make a long story short, Val Kilmerory short, Val Kilmer finally ended up with the role of Colonel Patterson. (He loves Africa!) Michael Douglas would play the role of Redbeard, whose name was later changed to Remington.

Production promptly began. Paramount wanted to produce the majority of the film in Kenya, where the events of the story took place. However, it was discovered that the legal/political climate there was just as hostile as the weather climate, so production was moved to South Africa.

While crews were preparing for their shoot in Africa, the Special Effects people were trying to create Animatronic lions for the film. A great deal of time and money were invested in this project, only to end in failure. The animatronics just wern't real enough. So, the producers realized they would have to use live lions for many of the scenes. After looking all over North America, two suitable lions were found. Their names are Bongo and Ceaser, and they live at the Bowmanville Zoo, which is about 75 km East of Toronto, Ontario. These lions were trained as performing animals at Ringling Bros Barnum and Bailey Circus, but were donated to the zoo in 1988. They had not done much performing since. Michael Hackenberger, the lions' caretaker and trainer spent much time bringing these magnificent lions 'out of retirement' and back into training for the film. Ultimately, he was sucessful, and the lions took a trip to their homeland to act in the film. In case you are wonIn case you are wondering, Bongo is 'Ghost' with his lighter coloration, and the darker-colored Ceaser is 'Darkness'.

The presence of live lions made the film much more beleivable, and in the end only one animatronic lion scene made it into the movie! Bongo and Ceaser went on to star in another blockbuster film, 'George of the Jungle'. Unfortunately, Bongo died of lung cancer in October of 2001. Ceaser is still alive as of that time. (You can visit the Bowmanville Zoo at www.bowmanvillezoo.com.)

Finally, 12 years and $60 million dollars later, 'The Ghost and the Darkness' finally hit the silver screen. (Just as an interesting point of refrence, another 'lion film' produced about the same time, 'The Lion King', cost $80 million to produce.) While it did not become a mega-hit, it did quite well. It's first-run run was considerably longer than most other non-mega-hit movies. It was still showing in first run 3 months after it's release!

In any case, I highly recommend reading the screenplay for 'The Ghost and the Darkness'. It has been published, and is available at better bookstores. Dewey Gram also has written a novelization of the film. This is also available at better bookstores. Further information about both books is available on the Tsavo Maneater Resources page on this site. An interesting article about the work of Bongo and Ceaser, a Bongo and Ceaser, as well as their trainer Michael Hackenberger appears in the August, 1996 issue of Canada's 'Equinox' magazine.

I recently ran accross a copy of the shooting script for 'The Ghost and the Darkness'. The version of the story depicted in this script appears to be earlier than the aforementioned screenplay, and it is definitely not the version that appears in the film. In my preliminary reading of it, it seems to be more true to the actual story as described in Colonel Patterson's book. It, too is interesting reading and helps show how the concept of a movie continually evolves as it is produced. Information on obtaining a copy of the script can be found on the Tsavo Maneater Resources page.

Technical Notes and Review

From a more technical viewpoint, this is a very well-done movie. The cinematography is very good, with many stunning vistas of Africa sprinkled throughout the film. The acting is above-average. There is very little 'human-to-human' violence and no sex. Christian values are strongly supported throughout the movie. Although there are a few rather bloody scenes in the movie, the producers showed more discretion than is usual today at avoiding excessive goriness. (Still, I would not recommend this movie for young people.)

The historic aspects of the set dressing were well-researched and well-executed. One n well-executed. One notable difference is the completed bridge. The real bridge contained no overhead steel work.

The portrayal of the lions (Other than not being maneless males!) is well-researched and realistic. Of course, some of their action has been overdramatized for the film, but not by much! For instance, in one scene, a lion merely jumps onto a man and runs off. The man, fatally wounded, looks like he was run through a threshing mill. Hollywood, again! (This scene is somewhat atoned for by the Colonel Patterson character (Val Kilmer) quoting Daniel 6:20-22 to the dying man, who was a missionary!)

The film's music is mostly African and captivating. After watching it a couple of times, don't be surprised if some of it sticks in your head! The music from the film is available on CD. See the Tsavo Maneater Resources page for more information.

Last, but not least, is the storytelling. It is important for a good film to have a good story. 'the Ghost and the Darkness' certainly does. The blocking and arrangement of scenes builds up a great deal of anticipation and suspense. The careful integration of acting, cinematography and sound adds much to the experience of watching this film!

The Bottom Line

This is still an outstanding film, even if it isn't in line-for-line agreement with the true account. (The Tsavo man-eaters is Tsavo man-eaters is still to this day the most extrordinary account of man-eating animals ever recorded!) Even if this movie didn't deal with lions, it would still receive a good review from me on account of the excellent cinematography and integration. Consider renting or buying a copy at your favorite video store!


Links to the official Paramount website and other unofficial websites can be found on my Tsavo Maneater Resources page. You can also find here a variety of online reviews, as well as other instering Tsavo Maneater-related links. Also to be found here is the Internet Movie Database listing link for this film.

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