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Discoverys Leopard Is a Bit Spotty

4/19/1998 8:00 PM Eastern

Discovery Channel's The Leopard Son traces the
coming of age of a cub on the Serengeti Plain, but its true star is the lavish
cinematography.

The scenery from the location work must have been
spectacular on the big screen. (The Leopard Son was Discovery Channel
Pictures' first theatrical release, in the fall of 1996.) Cinematographers Hugo van
Lawick and Matthew Aeberhard deserve kudos.

But the villain is slow pacing, which calls attention to a
story line that's occasionally a leap.

Of course, the production pace was even slower, with
co-producer van Lawick shadowing the leopard mother and son for about three years to
develop a story line that's a cross between Born Free and The Lion King.

Throughout, narrator Sir John Gielgud, as the voice of van
Lawick, draws parallels between the cub and van Lawick's own son. But the producer
tries too hard to assign human feelings to the leopard.

At one year old, "life was still a game" to the
cub, until his mother, after providing a last meal, disappears. "He was on his
own." About 45 minutes into the story, the weakening leopard son finally makes his
first kill, a gazelle. Then, after the gazelle herds and others migrate, he realizes that
he must follow to survive.

At age two, the leopard returns to his home territory and
spots his mother and her two twin cubs. Here, Gielgud and writer Michael Olmert lay it on
thick. "It's unknown for adult males to return to their mothers," says
Gielgud, adding ominously that adult lions are known to kill cubs. Actually, the cat
barely approaches the twins and doesn't wait for his mother's return from
hunting. So much for a feline "mother-and-child reunion."

Gielgud then increases the sentimentality quotient with
lines like "some lessons are hard," just before the leopard learns that some
lions have killed his mother.

Later, as the son approaches a female leopard, Gielgud
foresees "a new beginning in an old place ... his inheritance."

Discovery has set TheLeopard Son for May 10
at 8 p.m. (EST), with a repeat due at midnight.

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