The Oscar-nominated Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes is the next film suggestion from the Sci-Fi Chronicles as I continue my time with Edgar Rice Burroughs most famous creation, in this version portrayed by Christopher Lambert. This film is based in more reality than earlier explorations of the character, and by turns is dark, sad, and always lushly produced. There is gorgeous scenery, great matte work, Rick Baker and his team did some fantastic work in the makeup department, it’s all accompanied with a gorgeous score by John Scott.
In 1885, Lord Jack Clayton (Paul Geoffrey), and wife, Lady Alice Clayton (Cheryl Campbell), are shipwrecked and left to fend for themselves in the jungles of Africa. After the birth of their young son, John aka Tarzan, Alice succumbs to the fever that has taken hold of her, and Jack is killed by an ape. Instead of being killed, one of the apes, who recently lost a child, takes the newborn as her own, raising the boy as a white, hairless ape.
As the boy grows amongst the apes, he fights for acceptance, and also becomes an extraordinary mimic, able to reproduce any sound he is exposed to, he learns to use a knife, reclaimed from the jungle home of his dead parents, and establishes himself as a dominant alpha amongst the beasts. Things are upset for him, as an English hunting party, lead by the Belgian captain, Philippe D’Arnot (Ian Holm) come traipsing through the woods.
When the hunting party is decimated by local tribesmen, D’Arnot eludes them, and is rescued by Tarzan. Philippe teaches him to speak, educating him as best he can, and eventually encourages the ape-man to accompany him back to civilization, to England, and to meet his relatives, who, as the duo travel homewards, have been informed of his imminent arrival. The Earl of Greystoke (Ralph Richardson) is delighted at the discovery of his grandson and happily welcomes him into his home, where he meets the estate’s ward, Jane Parker (Andie MacDowell, who looks lovely in the role, but can’t compare to the acting talent around her, sadly).
Charles (James Fox) is rather upset by the connection and attraction that Jane and John seem to share, as he has designs on her himself, and everything seems to pinwheel out of control as John is exposed to ‘society’ and ‘civilization’ which may end up seeming crueller than the world he left behind. He quickly finds the only real joy he has in the world is in the jungle, and the only real happy emotions he feels centers around Jane…
The film looks gorgeous, and the production value is all there on the screen, with beautiful sets, locations, costumes and makeup. A far more faithful adaptation of the original story than has been presented on-screen before, but I think that may have surprised some folk who were expecting lots of swinging from trees and fights with jungle animals. It’s a strong, gritty, and occasionally depressing film, a far cry from the high adventure that most fans associate with the name Tarzan.