Like Britain's David Attenborough, where a wildlife programme wouldn't be the same without his dulcet tones, Hugo Baron van Lawick was one of the world's most respected cameramen. Concentrating on the wildlife of Eastern Africa, throughout his career Hugo managed to record the immense diversity of wildlife that Africa, and in particular Tanzania, offered. For more than thirty years he worked close to the grass of the African plains and his experience, and many documentaries, made him one of the best and most renowned wildlife filmmakers in the world.
The African King follows the harsh and competitive life of Addo, a male lion born into a happy and successful pride. Life in the pride is an easy one and the lush wilderness provides the pride with plenty of food. However, as Addo enters his second year, things become much more difficult when the rains fail to arrive. With a serious drought on the plain taking hold, food becomes scarce and the competition for what little resources remain is fierce. So when two strange males arrive and stake their claim to the pride, and with the current dominant male too weak to fight, Addo is forced to flee for his life.
Being a male, Addo is a possible threat to the new males so he will be hunted down and killed. It's only down to the accidental intervention by a group of Masai warriors that Addo is spared. Alone and inexperienced and without his pride to provide him with food and safety, Africa is a harsh land and Addo is forced to scavenge for what little food he can get. After many miles Addo comes across another wandering male lion and, thrilled with their new found friendship, they can go ahead and achieve their greatest aim - to find and take over their own pride. And so the struggle for survival on the Serengeti comes full circle.
With a rich diversity of animals, plus flora and fauna of every conceivable type, it should be a visual delight. And on the whole it is, with some rich and vibrant colours and a wonderful level of detail throughout the feature. Whilst grain can be an issue (and a remastered Blu-Ray release would have simply been the icing on the cake) the print does suffer from some print damage with the occasional dust speck. Never the less, the vista and the various animals are handled with ease and there are no real issues with pixelisation. If you watch Addo on a large screen TV and with an upscaling DVD player you may well be surprised at just how involved in the action you become. It's just a pity the image quality is not better.
Whilst the audio is only a 224 Kbps Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack, it still manages to be wonderfully involving and, when the moment called for it, dramatic to the point of being "edge of the seat" stuff. With some wonderful sounds from the Serengeti inhabitants and the hair raising roars of the lions, it's a fantastic track to listen to. For an even better sound you could try pushing it through your home cinema system and allow it to enhance the audio.
Whilst the menu is static, with the face of Addo staring back at you, is it scored with a haunting and dramatic soundtrack and accompanied by the occasional sound of the Serengeti. However, if I was a cynic, I have to say that it's simply been lifted from the main feature. Still, as with the similar Playing in Savage Paradise release from Universal, the main feature is accompanied by a behind-the-scenes Making Of featurette.
Whilst I always enjoy a well presented and package wildlife programme with a good selection of extras, one of the biggest disappointment with this release is the single twenty-five minute The Making Of Addo featurette. Whilst I appreciate that Hugo's first language, and probably his intended audience, is probably not English, the fact that it's not presented with an English soundtrack is a major oversight. Sure, there's an English subtitle track to help you along, but it's the fact that this package has been squarely aimed at the English audience that ensures that this release looks distinctly like a cash in. Considering the drama and wonderful scenery this disc presents, it's a great shame and a definite black mark against the release.
Overall it, fans of wildlife documentaries will find much to love in this feature. There's no doubt that Lawick's knowledge of the natural habitat of the animals he films ensures that an additional dimension is added to what can sometimes be a boring subject. His features are so well detailed and planned out that it's almost as if the animals are telling their own stories. It's just a pity that the Making of featurette is such a big disappointment.
- The Making of Addo featurette