You’re craving an animal in the wild movie that you haven’t seen. Duma (2005) is set in South Africa, and involves a British boy’s obstinate dedication to a pet cheetah. Xan (Alexander Michaeletos) and his parents (Campbell Scott and Hope Davis) rescue a baby cub from the road one night and bring him home to their prairie. Carroll Ballard, working with the same prosaic naturalism of “The Black Stallion,” “Never Cry Wolf” and “Fly Away Home” (my personal favorite), conjures up unforgettable montages of boy and wild animal communing together.
Call it survivalist adventure: Big wide-open horizons, the lustrous but treacherous deserts, the wild species habitat, and the boy and the cheetah in the middle of it. Xan resolves that he must return his pet to the wilderness plains that he came from once. Duma is near adult age, so to the savanna grasslands they go.
The film doesn’t quite have the lyrical harmony in its middle passages that make Ballard’s earlier films so great, because it’s a little weighed down by a new relationship Xan makes with a drifter (Eamonn Walker) and their obligatory shifty friendship. No wonder, the drifter has a cloaked agenda until founded out. The film breathes best during such sequences as when Xan and Duma must outrun some hungry crocodiles, or convert a stalled motorcycle into a land yacht. Like so much of the rest of the film, these are stunningly beautiful set pieces.
I was incredibly disappointed when Warner Bros. decided to not release “Duma” into wide release the year it came out, considering that I’ve adored filmmaker Carroll Ballard’s other works. It had test runs in select cities, fared with decent ticket sales, and was pulled before it ever had a chance of reaching an audience. The film’s afterlife seems is definitively DVD rentals, it doesn’t show up on cable much.
100 Minutes. Rated PG.
FAMILY FILM / MOTHER NATURE / WEEKEND DINNER MOVIE
Film Cousins: “Born Free” (1966, Britain); “The Black Stallion” (1980); “Never Cry Wolf” (1983); “Fly Away Home” (1996).