Monday, July 4, 2016
NEW "TARZAN" WILDLY GOOD
THE LEGEND OF TARZAN
Starring Alexander Skarsgard,
Samuel L. Jackson,
Directed by David Yates
Written by Adam Cozad, Craig Brewer
Based on characters created by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Runtime 110 minutes
Best Tarzan movie ever.
Partly that’s because no Tarzan movie has ever gotten it right. And consider this: It’s the best one yet, even with a lot of things totally wrong. For example, in the twenty-four books in the Tarzan series, the ape-man is always described as having black hair—“a shock of black hair” is the usual wording—but the actor here is a blonde. Also, Tarzan always strips down to a loin-cloth in the jungle, but the filmmakers have this guy wear little knee-length britches instead. Always in the stories Tarzan has the hunting knife of his long-dead father at his side, plus a bow and arrows, a grass rope, and usually a short spear. But this guy doesn’t carry any of that.
What Alexander Skarsgard does particularly well is look aristocratic. That said, we have yet to see ever properly done what amounts to a Jekyll-and-Hyde-like instantaneous change when Tarzan “sheds the thin veneer of civilization” and rolls around with various beasts snarling indistinguishably from them. The filmmakers may have opted to keep the clothes on Skarsgard, fit though he is, because he might not be quite bulky enough. When they do the next one, if the filmmakers right these wrongs, staying close to the books, using live animals and natural photography as much as possible, plus kick out a drum-heavy, tribal soundtrack, and give the world a truly wild, eerie and explosive Tarzan yell, then that will be the iconic vision.
Wait a second. Live animals and natural photography? Yes. More on that in a moment.
The action is set in 1890. Belgium’s King Leopold has run the country into bankruptcy with investments in the Congo, so he sends his emissary Leon Rom (Waltz) to raid the fabled mines of the lost city of Opar. In this effort, Rom learns from a powerful chief blocking his way that he may gain access to the mines only if he brings the chief his enemy, Tarzan, as payment.
To offset the offensive racist aspects of the Tarzan mythos, Samuel L. Jackson plays George Washington Williams, an actual person fictionalized into a character who tags along because he wants to stop slavery. The problem is he sounds just like Samuel L. Jackson. It’s nowhere near as bad as creating Short Round as a sidekick for Indiana Jones was in Temple of Doom, and we understand the need to address the prejudice, but the verisimilitude doesn’t need extra impairment.
The production value is a breath of fresh jungle air. No other Tarzan movie compares. Greystoke, the Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes has the benefit of being directed by the man behind Chariots of Fire, so that one’s stately, British, and mostly boring. Johnny Weissmuller is an institution unto himself. Whether he performed it or not, his is the best yell, and all of the movies with Maureen O’Sullivan as Jane have a magic glow, but they sure didn’t get Tarzan right.
From the beginning, back in 1918 when barrel-chested Elmo Lincoln first starred in Tarzan of the Apes (based on the 1912 novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs), audiences were impressed with the animals. Now, more than ever, precisely because it runs against expectation, a proper filmmaker could easily spellbind audiences without any computer-generated nature at all.
As the villain, Waltz oozes his patented bad guy charm with customary zeal. Similarly, Margot Robbie makes a suitably lovely yet capable Jane. The branch of apes which raised Tarzan, called the mangani, being neither human nor gorilla, do look more like gorillas than they should, and don’t speak in mangani. (There could be conversations with subtitles.) But hey, at least the filmmakers know to say mangani. With Tarzan movies, that’s wildly rare.
NOTE: The next one should be TARZAN AT THE EARTH'S CORE
It's the one where Tarzan has to go by dirigible to the Hollow Earth of Pellucidar and save David Innes. If they take it dead-on serious, they can use the CG so desperately craved and show all the weird wonders in fine fashion. Plus, it would open a new franchise.
Stewart Kirby writes for