Sunday, July 3, 2016

The Legend Of Tarzan!


I highly recommend The Legend of Tarzan. The new movie starring Alexander Skarsgard as the legendary literary Ape Man is one of the finest Tarzan movies I've seen in quite some time. The creators take the character seriously and they show a remarkable respect for the original work of his creator Edgar Rice Burroughs. The movie felt like I was seeing a heretofore unknown ERB novel adapted to the screen, the pacing and plot all felt legit. We get a glimpse of Opar and many other aspects of the novels. They might be changed slightly, but they were there. It's a movie full of adventure, action, and most surprisingly to me given the previews I've seen a tremendous amount of heart and emotion. I don't always tear up at the death of Kala, but this time I did. More after some spoilers.

SPOILERS BEGIN.


The story begins in Opar, not the Opar from the novels, but still and all a mysterious land in the heart of the Congo full of mists and diamonds and weird ashen warriors led by an enigmatic figure in a leopard skin. A malevolent European named Rom agrees to bring Tarzan to this King in exchange for enough diamonds to fund the conquest of the entire center of Africa itself. Cut to England and Tarzan and Jane are confronted with a chance to return to their African homes and do so with a cagey American named George Washington Williams who looks to stop slavery inside Africa. To that end they go to Africa, to their old home with a local tribe and soon the evil men find them and the adventure well and properly gets started.

Tarzan here as played by Skarsgard is a taciturn individual, with a lithe and powerful body which has been woefully scarred by a lifetime of violence. His wife Jane is a beautiful and joyful woman who has utter and complete confidence in her husband and almost seems incapable of succumbing to fear. The natives who populate the story are friendly and open and optimistic by and large and are the dear friends of our protagonists. I know some reviews want to tumble off onto a rant about imperialism and such and how this movie really ought not to propagate those outdated notions, but given that the setting is the 19th Century, the attitudes expressed by our heroes is actually pretty forward thinking. Certainly the racism inherent in the novels is gone save when expressed by the villains. It is never validated, unless someone wants to get into a tiresome analysis of the visuals of a white man leading black men. This is a Tarzan movie and that's unavoidable.

What I liked best about the movie is its structure. I realized about half way through that I was seeing a presentation of the story which resembled the later novels by Burroughs himself. The white villains make off with Jane and Tarzan, beaten and left for dead, follows. We get scenes back and forth keeping up with both parallel narratives until they intersect in a potent finale. Coincidence plays a role in the story and how it keeps tumbling along, but the forward momentum rarely stops.

Some elements of the story were changed, such as how Tarzan fit into the Mangani clan. He's not shown to be able to be his brother Akut, but does need to fight him and then show his obedience. That's different, though the affiliation with his Mangani family is necessary in later battles when they come to his rescue. All the claptrap about the Porters and such is removed as Jane is the daughter of an American missionary and teacher and simply lives in Africa. It makes more sense and simplifies what in this story is merely a origin seen in flashbacks.

Tarzan's relationship with animals is well handled, the animal languages replaced with grunts and other mimicking sounds. The eyes are the portals used to communicate and at one point Tarzan says as much when he encounters Tantor's tribe. It's too bad we didn't get more elephants in this story, but there seemed to be some effort to keep animals more or else in their actual habitats. This is fiction and no one (maybe) would've have objected, but not seeing Tarzan on the back of Tantor was a minor disappointment.


END OF SPOILERS.

The acting in this movie is wonderful, with some folks who talk a lot (Jackson as Williams and Walz as Rom) but others who say little (Skarsgarrd as Tarzan). The relative quiet is pleasant and much is done with the visual dance through some very different and harsh environments. It's easy to nitpick aspects of a story on this romantic scale, elevated above humdrum reality. But that's part of getting the Tarzan story, it's wild romance and mythic connection of man to his world in ways that we can only imagine. Tarzan is us if we'd not been civilized, Tarzan is us free of the chains of polite society; that's his attraction. He's a man who acts and that of course has consequences, but in these kinds of stories that cannot be the focus or the adventure and freedom of this kind of escape would never kick in.


Some reviewers cackle on about his movie plays with the history of Africa. Sheesh as if any of the Tarzan stories had much ever to do with the actual geography or history of the "Dark Continent". ERB tapped into a myth set in a land of vast distances and deep recesses and dizzying heights, a land greater than any actual place on Earth. For those who insist it resembles the real world too much, they are missing all of the point. Too bad for them.


Go see The Legend of Tarzan. Highly recommended. I might see it again.

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4 comments:

  1. Planning on seeing this tomorrow. Looking even more forward to it now! Thanks for the review, Rip!

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    1. It's been a long long time since I had the impulse to sit and watch a movie again immediately, but that was my feeling after seeing this one. The emotional connection was palpable, if that was just me I'd be curious to hear. I might see it in 3-D next time.

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  2. Great review, Rip. And yes, I'd like to see this one again. It's the Tarzan film for which I've long waited.

    Doug

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  3. It is a real gift for Tarzan/ERB fans to get something this faithful, although I hope we get an expanded cut when it hits home video--there were times the movie felt cut down to the bone. But marrying the story with the actual history of the day was a novel concept (both Rom and Williams were real historical figures, both in the Congo at this time), that worked very well in the film's favor.

    But it gets so much right where many Tarzan adaptations have failed in the past, starting with the Ape-man himself. And Jane is both American and blonde! It was the highest-grossing new release of the weekend, so hopefully it won't earn the same scorn of the also-underappreciated John Carter, and perhaps may do well enough overseas that we might see a sequel.

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