Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
This is the story of a young boy who grows up without human contact, in the wild, amidst the apes and other animals of the African jungle. One day, a French explorer finds him and brings him back to civilization so he can claim his rightful inheritance as John Clayton, seventh Earl of Greystoke, a great Scottish estate. Along the way, John (he is never referred to as Tarzan) meets his family, gets “civilized” and even falls in love with Jane. Based on the legend of Tarzan, one of the best-known literary characters in the entire world, by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Originally released in 1984.
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
I have vague memories of first seeing Tarzan on TV in Holland, where I grew up, and he had a chimpanzee with him, named Cheetah. There is no Cheetah in this film. This Hugh Hudson directed film version is the most loyal to the original Burroughs’ novel of Tarzan and it is beautifully filmed and acted. I’ve loved this film since I saw it as a teenager in the 80’s, and I’ve seen it over ten times since. I found it particularly interesting because we ‘civilized’ people have no idea what it would be like to live without amenities, in the wild jungle with apes and snakes and no grocery stores. I thought it fascinating to see how John lived and survived in the jungle. The first hour or so in the movie focuses on this and John’s relationship with his ape family and so there is hardly any dialogue. I never found it boring because although they don’t speak, the apes and John express themselves extremely well. We can feel the love bond that they share.
Christopher Lambert (Tarzan/John Clayton/Earl of Greystoke) is also very good in his first movie role here. He does not do much talking at all, and plays the manly savage role to the hilt, but with childlike innocence when confronted with civilization, humans and the big city. When the French explorer who found him (Sir Ian Holm) teaches him basic words of the English language, Lambert truly conveys what it would feel like for a person to hear and speak words for the first time in their life and his eyes genuinely express this. The third actor who makes up this talented cast is Sir Ralph Richardson who plays John’s grandfather back in Scotland. The interaction between him and his grandson is sweetly portrayed by both characters’ playful, childlike natures. Jane is played by a young Andie MacDowell, whose voice was indeed dubbed over by Glenn Close, and in my opinion, she was just there-- she looked the part, but her acting was not that great in this film. The love story between the two also left me cold.
Let’s not forget to mention the amazing special effects with the apes, so believable that it takes you a minute to realize they are not real. The beautiful, lush landscapes and epic vistas of Africa, combined with the epic musical score and jungle sound effects also created a very atmospheric film with a touching, human story of rediscovering your roots, your family, your language, and then deciding whether or not you want to stay or go back. A classic story and a classic film.
Audio Commentary by Director Hugh Hudson and Associate Producer Garth Thomas: A very well spoken, concise and interesting commentary by both director and producer, this track enlightens the viewer about many of the behind the scenes bits done on this film, as well as some technical stuff. All in all, a very entertaining and informative piece.
We also get the film's theatrical trailer.
The film is beautifully shot, with a talented cast and stunning visual scenery. Don’t get it for the extra features as it only has an audio commentary and nothing else. The general consensus is that this film is the most loyal to Burroughs’ original Tarzan series and for that reason, I think Tarzan fans would appreciate it a lot more. I myself always respect a film’s authenticity if it is based on a book, or a previously written story, because it’s better if it captures the author’s original intent. So if this sounds like it’s your idea of a good time, rent this baby and sit back and enjoy almost two and a half hours of jungle love.
Interesting tidbit: In 1919, thanks to the success of Tarzan, Burroughs was able to purchase a large ranch north of Los Angeles. He named it Tarzana. The ultimate compliment was paid by the citizens of the community that had sprung up around the Tarzana ranch: they voted to adopt the name "Tarzana" when their town was incorporated in 1928.