YEAR OF RELEASE: 1984
DIRECTOR: Hugh Hudson
STARS: Christopher Lambert, Ian Holm, Andie MacDowell (voiced by Glenn Close), Ralph Richardson
EDITOR: Anne V. Coates
AWARDS: Best Makeup Artist (BAFTA)
BOX OFFICE: $45,900,000
RUN TIME: 143 min.
VIEWING FORMAT: DVD
After a tragic shipwreck on the coast of Africa, a small orphan boy, John Clayton, is adopted by a family of apes. This film shows the growth of the young John as he tries desperately to be accepted in the ape culture, the only world he has ever known. When John (Christopher Lambert) is an adult, a chance encounter with one man (Ian Holm) leads to his finding his real family in England. Can he assimilate to a society he has never known? Action, adventure, romance, and tragedy all ensue as John continues to discover who, or what, he is.
WHY THIS IS THE FILM OF THE WEEK:
Hugh Hudson's ("Chariots of Fire"(1981)) "Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes" is the definitive screen version of the Tarzan legend. It is one of the most dramatic incarnations of the tale. Shortly following the box office bomb "Tarzan, the Ape Man" (1981), Hudson distanced the franchise from its action and fantasy roots, and grounded it more in the source material. Much influence is also taken from the fictional biography "Tarzan Alive" by Phillip José Farmer. This combination, mixed with the 1980's mentality, brought the character back to his roots as an incredibly intelligent human being, and put forth the classic myth within a scientific context. The screenplay was nominated for an Oscar.
As mentioned in this previous blog post, Rick Baker is an incredibly imaginative and talented make up artist. His talents were put to good use in this film. A mixture of real apes, and costumed actors were used as John's family clan. To the casual observer, it is incredibly difficult to assess which is which. He, and his team, won a BAFTA for their efforts, and also garnered an Oscar nomination.
The performances are of note in this film. John's grandfather, played by Ralph Richardson, was a particular delight. Richardson was nominated posthumously for an Oscar for his role. Christopher Lambert's first English-language film was to be, arguably, his finest performance. He is believable at all times as both the animalistic Tarzan, and also as the upstanding and intelligent John Clayton. The film focuses on the emotional impact of both worlds on this young man, and Lambert continues to exude masculinity, emotional power, and even humor. Lambert would later go on to headline the "Highlander" (1986) and "Fortress" (1992) franchises, and was a go-to action star of the 1980's. In this writer's opinion though, he never reached the heights of this film again.
One fun fact of this film is that it was Andie MacDowell's feature debut. Unfortunately for her, her southern accent was deemed inappropriate for the character, and she was later dubbed by Glenn Close.
This film sets itself apart from all other Tarzan films by grounding itself in reality, showing incredible depth and development in a recognized character, and providing breathtaking location shooting from the African jungles to the English country-side.
This film's standout feature is the character and emotional development of its lead, John Clayton, better known as Tarzan (though never referred to by this name in the film). To show a man acting as an animal is such a difficult task if the filmmaker is trying to stay in dramatic territory. It has so much potential to be funny, but this piece continually makes the audience feel for the character by putting him through many a tragic or exciting circumstance.
His family of apes are characters as well. The audience gets to know them through their interactions with John. This is quite an achievement, seeing as not one line of dialogue is spoken by any animals in the film.
The cinematography is beautiful! For once, a Tarzan film that feels like it takes place in a real jungle. Studio sets were used, but much of this film was shot on location, and it shows beautifully throughout.
The film doesn't get boring as the jungle is left behind. The human, emotional, journey simply picks up and keeps the audience entranced.
This film is Tarzan as an art film. It is beautiful, exciting, well acted, and engrossing. If you have any interest in the Tarzan lore, watch this film. This film transcends genre cliches and stereotypes to give the viewer a one-of-a-kind experience. This is one of the best action/adventure pieces to come out of the '80's.
MY IMDb RATING: 8 out of 10