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DUMA – John Debney and George Acogny

September 30, 2005 Leave a comment Go to comments

dumaOriginal Review by Peter Simons

A return to director Carroll Ballard’s favorite subject, Duma is based on the semi-autobiographical book by Carol and Xan Hopcraft, and tells the story of young South African boy Xan (Alexander Michaletos), who adopts an orphaned cheetah and becomes its best friend. This simple, uncomplicated plot is virtually a retelling of Ballard’s previous directorial effort Fly Away Home – albeit with big cats rather than geese – as Xan sets out on a quest to release the big cat back in to the wild, struggles with the sudden loss of his father, and adapts to other difficulties with adolescence and growing up.

While Fly Away Home was a surprisingly moving coming-of-age story, Duma is unfortunately a generally boring affair. The characters never really come to life, despite the generous amount of time that Ballard spends developing them. The plot is far too predictable for its own good; the film dwells on Xan’s rather uninteresting journey, while the story’s more poignant moments, like the death of Xan’s father, are dealt with in a matter of seconds. Xan inadvertently comes across as a selfish kid after he leaves his mother without any indication of where he is going, while his buddy on the road comes across as too much of an untrustworthy partner to accept he is actually one of the good guys. The stars of the show are ultimately Duma the cheetah, and the inspiring scenery of South Africa. Werner Maritz’s cinematography is impressive, but fails to save this movie from being superfluous.

Sadly, the largely ambient score by John Debney and world music maestro George Acogny is equally unimpressive. Essentially made up of synth pads, strings that keep fading in and out, ethnic percussion and African vocals, it does not deliver the standout theme you would expect someone like Debney to come up with. The score is not non-melodic per se, but prefers an atmospheric approach rather than a thematic one. With strong stylistic similarities to Debney’s The Passion of the Christ, Mark Isham’s Fly Away Home, Thomas Newman’s typically sensitive piano motifs, and James Horner’s typical pan flute flutterings, it seems the temp track may also have heavily influenced the soundtrack. The score is set for a release on the Varèse Sarabande label, but judging by its impact on screen, it is not one to wholeheartedly recommend.

Rating: **

Track Listing:

  • Phiry – The Bird Sings (2:44)
  • Duma Orphaned (2:49)
  • Cute Kitten Montage (1:58)
  • Dad Sick (3:17)
  • Move to City (1:16)
  • At School (3:58)
  • Coming Home (0:39)
  • Pushing Motorcycle (2:38)
  • Land Yacht (1:31)
  • Leaving Rip (3:11)
  • Duma Sees Crocs (1:45)
  • Land Yacht Remix (1:03)
  • Croc River (2:46)
  • Change (1:23)
  • Freedom (1:03)
  • Goodnight (0:41)
  • Run to Village (2:04)
  • Xan and Duma Say Goodbye (3:20)
  • Issa Lullaby (1:34)

Running Time: 39 minutes 40 seconds

Varese Sarabande VSD-6701 (2005)

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