The Legend of Tarzan

Sunday , 31, July 2016 6 Comments

Legend of TarzanThere is a new live action movie, The Legend of Tarzan. I caught the attention deficit trailer a few months back, which repelled me. It had the whiff of 300 about it (a movie I despise).

Some positive responses by friends of mine convinced me to take the kids to go see it. Edgar Rice Burroughs is a very important writer in my life. I have dim memories of the 60s T.V. show with Ron Ely. I read Tarzan of the Apes in 5th grade. My middle school years were filled with Tarzan Ballantine paperbacks first with Robert Abbott covers and then with Neal Adams and Boris Vallejo covers. Later on, I read Burroughs’ other series of Pellucidar, Amtor, Barsoom etc. It has been pointed out elsewhere that you would not have Star Wars and a lot of other things in science fiction if not for Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Tarzan has not been well served on the big screen. He was reduced to an autistic monosyllable side of beef by Johnny Weismuller in the 1930s and 40s. Most of the movies were Edgar Rice Burroughsmade on tighter budgets making use of stock footage and studio back lots.

Gordon Scott came close to the book Tarzan in Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure (1959) Tarzan the Magnificent (1960). These were hard-boiled adventures with no fantastic elements present. The 1970s Saturday morning cartoon came close using some Burroughsian locales with visits to Cathne, Pellucidar, the Forbidden City etc with G rated action.

The Legend of Tarzan is set in the year 1890. The movie opens with European soldiers (Belgian or Congo Free State) getting massacred by natives with one survivor, Leon Rum. Rum is searching for the diamonds of Opar. Right off the bat, I have a problem turning Opar from a lost colony of Atlantis to some tribal entity. The native weapons are over the top oversized spear heads that would be useless as a projectile weapon.

Rom makes a deal to deliver Tarzan to the chief who will supply diamonds in return for Tarzan.

Problems: 1890, a little early for Tarzan. Figuring that his son Korak fought in the trenches in WWI, would make him born around 1900 or a little earlier. Tarzan is young when Korak is born. I always figured Tarzan was born around 1880. He is already something of a legend in the movie.


Tarzan is portrayed as an emo 21st Century reluctant hero. He is in England living the life of an English lord. When called Tarzan, he replies “That is not my name.” He resists the idea of going back to Africa. If you have read the books, Tarzan has no reluctance at all with adventures. He seems to spend most of his time as the jungle lord finding lost city after lost city. In the books, Tarzan is constantly fighting to keep a civilized exterior. He reverts to an animal easily.

Alexander Skarsgard does look good as Tarzan. He is scarred up, muscular but not a steroid freak.  Margot Robbie physically is close to the Jane Porter Clayton of the books. This movie Jane’s dialog is a little smart mouthed in comparison to the Baltimore raised Jane Porter of the books.

The first 50 minutes of the movie is rather boring. Too much time is spent in England with John Clayton, Lord Greystoke trying to come to a decision about going back to Africa.

John Clayton, Lord Greystoke and Jane go to King Leopold’s Congo Free State. The makers of this movie decided to shoe horn Tarzan into Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. There are historical issues going on here.

In 1890, King Leopold’s forces were in conflict with Arab slavers, namely Tippu Tip and his son Sefu. This was mostly with proxies. The idea of Tarzan fighting Arab

Congo Free State Askaris

Congo Free State Askaris

slavers in Africa is probably too politically incorrect.

There are white/European mercenaries/soldiers all over the place. Part of the plot is the financing of a 20,000 man mercenary army with diamonds from Opar. European armies do not fare well in sub-Saharan Africa. If you read Byron Farwell’s The Great War in Africa or Leonard Mosley’s Duel For Kiliminjaro, European troops die of disease north of the Zambezi. The Allies had to use African toops to deal with Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck in Tanganyika during WWI. Disease killed more than German Mausers. The European colonial powers used Africans to conquer Africa.

There is one scene where Tarzan blunders into a train car filled with 25-30 European troops. He proceeds to beat the crap out of all them. It does make for a great scene but it is also pure fantasy. The Force Publique, Leopold’s private army in the Congo was comprised of European officers and African troops.

Rom attempts to capture Tarzan, ends up with Jane instead as bait. Tarzan goes on a quest to rescue her, a common plot in the books. I missed having Tarzan running across congo-5-019the African landscape without his spear, bow & arrows, and Bowie knife. Samuel L. Jackson is along for the ride as an American loo king to expose King Leopold’s colonial regime. Natives are being rounded up as slave labor.

We get a Tarzan’s face to face with the native chief who wants him dead. His son killed Tarzan’s fosther mother, Kala. Tarzan responds by killing him. There is another 21st Century emo scene where Tarzan says he has no honor. Tarzan had no regrets about it in the first book.

There are some scenes with the Mangani. Tarzan gets beat up quite a bit. The writers seem unaware that Tarzan killed Tublat and Kerchek. The Mangani are made almost identical to gorillas. I always imagined them being between a chimpanzee and gorilla.

The climax is an over the top animal stampede into to the river port. Leon Rum for a second time uses his spider silk rope with a crucifix as a garrote. Rum does come to an appropriate demise though.

This movie left me unsatisfied. You have moments of Tarzan of the books but that is overwhelmed by the reluctant Tarzan and the beat up Tarzan. I detected an underlying agenda to the movie. I will leave the viewers to make their own conclusion.


This was a good looking movie. It wasn’t Edgar Rice Burroughs though. How about a adaptation of Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar? This movie had a bigger budget than Tarzan and the Lost City (1998) but was not especially closer to the ERB Tarzan than that one. Retrofitting Tarzan into pseudo-history does not work. Burroughs did have Tarzan fighting the Germans in WWI in Tarzan the Untamed and the Japanese in Tarzan the Foreign Legion. The vast majority of the novels are lost city yarns. A movie with La of Opar, the beast men, and the gold vaults would be great. We are never going to see it though.

This will probably be the last Tarzan movie made. There has been some outrage that a Tarzan move was made at this day. It is irrelevant how much it may make. Pressure will be applied to prevent another one.

Time for me to reread a Tarzan novel. Perhaps Tarzan and the City of Gold.


  • Hooc Ott says:

    “Problems: 1890, a little early for Tarzan. Figuring that his son Korak fought in the trenches in WWI, would make him born around 1900 or a little earlier.”

    Book says his parents left Dover in May of 1888 for Africa. Mrs Clayton was already pregnant then.

    My guess Tarzan was Born in August or September of 1888.

  • Bill Cavalier says:

    My problem with this movie, aside from another blonde Tarzan who is a big pussy through most of the film, is that the writers have pretty much ignored the great source material. In typical Hollywood fashion, the screenwriters have left Burroughs’ writings in the dust to come up with a stupid, boring plot. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen Samuel Jackson chew up the scenery before like he does in this movie? What exactly was he doing in this movie?

  • Ostar says:

    Screenwriters creed: THEY. KNOW. BETTER. Source is well known and millions and millions of people have enjoyed it for decades? Pshaw.

    The original writer doesn’t have the secret decoder ring the screenwriter does, to improve it by rewriting it as it SHOULD have been written.

  • JEB says:

    Dang. I was hoping for so much more from this movie. I should have known better.

  • Carrington Dixon says:

    Some of the silent Tarzan films were reasonably faithful to the books. Few of the talkies even make a token effort.

  • Ward Orndoff says:

    I guess we’ll agree to disagree about the film; I really liked it myself, though it does update the legend to try to make it PC (unsuccessfully, according to many critics. Tarzan is white, so he is racist by definition). Burroughs does refer to abuses in the Congo in Tarzan of the Apes; that’s why Tarzan’s parents were on their way there in the first place. And he mentions atrocities on the part of King Leopold’s forces, mentioning Leopold by name, when he first describes Mbonga’s tribe. So it’s not like this is a new, different concept just for the movie. As for Tarzan’s age, it simply doesn’t work if you go by the books literally. As you point out, he fought in World War I. And he was in love with Meriem before the war, i.e., before 1914, in Son. So He couldn’t have been born after 1880, despite the date quoted in Apes. One must assume that ERB used fictitious dates as well as names in Apes.
    One reason why Tarzan is reluctant to return to Africa is fear for Jane’s safety, due to Mbonga’s vendetta against him. (Pronti mentioned that at the UK premiere, but everyone else seems to forcus on his reluctance to revert to his earlier life.) There’s a cryptic remark about that in Greystoke Manor — perhaps too cryptic.
    When Tarzan is beaten up as a youth, he is shielding Jane, not trying to fight back, And he is not trying to defeat or kill Akut; he isn’t interested in becoming king of the apes, he is just passing through on his way to rescue Jane by the quickest route possible, and besides, Akut is his brother in the film. He lets Akut vent his anger over his “desertion,”period.
    As for GW Williams, he was real, his trip to the Congo was real, and his open letter to King Leopold brought the King’s forces’ abuses there to light. Of course, that didn’t bring them to a halt in the real world.

    I really disliked the “I had none” (no honor) line too. I realize he wanted a truce, but surely there was a better way to achieve it. Oh well.

    I totally agree with you about the last 2 Gordon Scott films and the Filmation animated series.

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