Friday, July 08, 2016


Warner Bros. promotional image.

I haven't heard any in-between opinions concerning David Yates' THE LEGEND OF TARZAN but I'm afraid that's where I stand.

Yes, it gives us the John Clayton/Tarzan of the novels, a triumph in itself, and Alexander Skarsgard makes a beautiful Tarzan - his flashback meeting with Jane (Margot Robbie) is perfectly staged. Likewise his reunion with the lions, and the stampede climax is thrilling. But my two complaints are writ large.

Say what you will about the Weissmuller films; they brought a live actor into contact with live animals. Even when he was wrestling with that stuffed alligator, he was actually grappling with something and using Olympian swimming chops to do it. We may be too quick to overlook the fact that imbuing a prop with life is called ACTING. If an actor is replaced, mid-leap, by a computerized replica of himself, manipulated to do what he cannot, I don't know that it can. As a result of LEGEND's emphasis on CGI animals and jungle backdrops and Tarzan action (too closely modeled on Spider-Man, I felt), the film never imparted to me a genuine sense of conflict or risk, nor thus any sense of suspense or anxiety; and it didn't help that the real conflict of the story, the vendetta of the African chief (Djimon Hounsou) over the death of his son, was overshadowed by the increasingly de rigeur villain Christoph Waltz and his smirky quest for the Opar diamonds.

Margot Robbie and Alexander Skarsgard.
But my biggest gripe concerns the film's much-too-contemporary dialogue, which I feel flies in the face of the extraordinary measures taken by the art and effects departments to evoke and sustain a Victorian time frame. Jane's "I don't THINK so, wild man!" made me wince (there's only so much female empowerment that is seemly in a situation like that) and there was still worse to come, not least of all from Samuel L. Jackson. So I suspect the film's determination to "play" to a modern audience is going to be the very element responsible for making it look dated within the next 10 years while films like TARZAN AND HIS MATE, TARZAN ESCAPES, TARZAN'S NEW YORK ADVENTURE, TARZAN'S GREATEST ADVENTURE, TARZAN THE MAGNIFICENT and TARZAN'S THREE CHALLENGES will continue to play as well as they ever have - the latter few standing out, even now, especially now, as the series' real, enduring triumphs of authenticity.

That said, I certainly don't mean to discourage anyone from seeing THE LEGEND OF TARZAN - in fact, I would encourage you to see it. I think you'll enjoy it; I enjoyed it more than these blog notes may indicate. It was only in discussion afterwards that its cons began to outdistance its pluses for me. Its greatest achievement may be that it is actually paced (highly unusual in this day and age) like a real movie - which is sure to drive any ADHD-rattled stimulus junkies in the audience nuts. 

I just wish I could say, whole-heartedly, "See this one, it's great" - rather than "See this one, it's good - and you'll be sending a message to Hollywood that we'd like more of the same, hopefully better."

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