Congo (1995) – Frank Marshall

A script based on a Micheal Crichton novel, creature effects by Stan Winston, directed by Frank Marshall who has a long association with Spielberg and Amblin, an all-star cast including Laura Linney, Ernie Hudson, Tim Curry, Bruce Campbell, Dylan Walsh and Adewale Akkinuoye-Agbaje. Seems like a sure-fire win right?

I hadn’t watched this one since it came out in ’95, and I’d read the book before that. My rewatch of it now as far more enjoyable and kinder than my experience when I first watched it. As brilliant as Stan Winston was, and his company is, at no point in the film do I believe that the gorillas we are looking at, including Amy, the lead animatronic creation, are real.

And if you can’t buy into their reality, you’re quickly ejected from the film.

And as much as they bothered me this time around, I made an effort to sink into the film, and enjoy the rest of it. And you know what, it’s fun. You can see how Marshall learned from Spielberg, though he lacks the master’s execution. There’s a lot of banter, and eccentric characters populating the story, some fun sequences, and a lot of cool ideas, but it’s all hanging on the effects, and as amazing as they are, these animals just don’t look real enough.

Dr. Peter Elliot (Walsh) wants to take his gorilla, Amy (Lola Noh in the costume) home. He’s taught her how to sign, and has a recognition unit in a backpack that translates her signing into english – so she talks, and that’s awesome! but she doesn’t feel real.

Peter can’t raise the money to take Amy home to Africa, enter a supposed Romanian philanthropist, Homolka (Curry) who will finance the trip – but he has his own agenda, finding the rumoured King Solomon’s mines, and the diamonds held within, known as the City of Zinj.

It seems a tech company is already on the site, having found a bunch of diamonds, and then, somehow, brutally wiped out. The company sends in Karen Ross (Linney) who takes over the Elliot/Homolka expedition, hires Monroe Kelly (Hudson) to guide them and leads them across warring countries and right into real trouble with a previously undiscovered species of gorilla. One bred for the purpose of protection, to the point of committing murder.

The result is a fun movie filled with special effects, mysteries and discoveries (though far too often you can tell they are on a set) and some great character bits. But it was all hung on the idea that the audience would believe the gorillas shown in the film were real. And you just can’t buy into that.

And that really causes the movie to fumble. But if you can get past that, or take it in stride, it’s a fun Saturday matinee kind of movie.

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