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DUMA (2005)

DUMA. Feature Film. (2005, 100 mins.) IMDB

...A young farm boy in South Africa raises a cheetah from a cub and releases him into the wild...

T

hey are amazing animals. Swift. Beautiful to look at. The thoroughbreds of cats. The cheetah.

I've always been fascinated by wild cats and cheetahs are no exception. The fastest land animal, they live in Africa which means a constant struggle for survival.

The film opens not with humans, but in the wilds of Africa. We see a cheetah mother and three cubs. In a flash she is killed by a pride of lions. Her helpless cubs are orphaned. I expected the lions to pounce on the cubs, but one tiny cub, chirping as he or she wanders, makes it through the wilderness, through a fence and onto a paved road where we cue the humans.

Alex and his father Peter are out driving in a sports car when they spot the helpless animal and give it shelter. That's the genesis of the story, but this is not Born Free Redux.

The first act flashes by quickly as the father and son and cub have fun. They live on a farm which is the perfect environment, well close to it, for raising a captive cheetah. And in a flash the cute, adorable cub becomes a full grown cheetah.

Father and son plan to set off in a week to release the cat they now call Duma because he's too big and wild, but our story can't happen that way. The father dies from an illness (possibly brain cancer).

This event turns the life of the wife and son upside down. They can't operate the farm and move into the city with the cat. It's a recipe for disaster but it's temporary because they've made arrangements to place the cat in a reserve. Again. Not so fast because we have a story to tell and on the boy's first day at school, the cat follows him much to the consternation of the rest of the school.

There is one scene I love. Our little boy is bullied by three classmates. They have cornered him in a washroom but the moment Duma appears he's saved. Too bad moments in life didn't work out so perfectly. I know a few times when I could have used a pet cheetah in a washroom.

With animal control folks storming the school, the boy and Duma make a run for it and the second act begins. Alex wants to return Duma to the wild just as his late father had planned.

Enter the motorcycle with sidecar. Again another convenient plot device for the story because Alex can drive the thing (his father taught him in Act I) and the cat can ride along side.

Don't get me wrong. It's an interesting and enjoyable movie but it's also just that: a movie and a Hollywood movie.

During this trip many things happen to the two of them and since it's Act II, it's not an easy trip. There's the barren desert to cross. A lack of gas for the bike, food or water. Then a strange black man, Ripkuna, turns up to steal the bike. At once a threat becomes a saviour, an enemy, a friend.

There's a battle between the two. Don't trust him becomes lifelong friends.

But bit by bit, they make it north where Duma opens to his wild instincts and unites with another cheetah. He can return to the wild. Ripkuna can reunite with his family as does Alex.

There is a technical aspect of the film I found wrong and it relates to lions. There is no doubt lions are strong, fierce and can kill any human, but in the wild when a lion or lions see humans, they run the other way. The danger presented by lions to humans isn't accurate. They are a threat to cheetahs.

We do see glimpses of hippos and water buffalo and they are the biggest threat to humans. Why? The stats show it. More people are killed by them than another creature in Africa and it's not a question of more hippos than lions it's that they are big and have horns in the case of buffalo and teeth in the case of hippos.

I also wonder about the ease with which a cheetah raised by humans can so easily go back into the wild. I suspect it isn't easy or perhaps even possible.

So it's not a perfect movie, but it's not a completely predictable movie and it's not sappy à la FREE WILLY with contrived villains.

I shouldn't forget an amazing scene in the film. The father and boy are driving the motorcycle down a long stretch of paved highway. Duma is running with them. At first from the rear, trying to catch up. They are doing 60 km/h. Then faster and faster and the cat zips by. No camera tricks or CGI. You are watching a cheetah run at 70 to 90 clicks. That is an amazing animal.

Posted 2009/01/18 at 12h35ET in Movie Commentary.

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