There 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 made 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
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 the 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.