- on Friday, 01 July 2016 16:20
- by Frank Wilkins
Few fictional characters have been through the entertainment wringer as many times as Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan the Ape Man. The subject of dozens of novels, countless comic books, a TV and a radio series, Broadway plays, and more than 200 movies (the oldest dating back to 1918), the feral child raised by monkeys in the jungles of Africa has had every last bit of creative juice squeezed from its century-old legend.
One need look no further than director David Yates’ lifeless rendition, The Legend of Tarzan, for proof that the ape man has lost his swing. Even in our age of imaginative cinematic storytelling and cutting-edge computer generated imagery, where virtually anything is possible, filmmakers are still unable to turn the Tarzan character into anything more than a mumbling monosyllabic hunk of human flesh. To the delight of many though, that hunk of flesh comes in the 12-pack abs of Alexander Skarsgård whose best moments come from his various states of undress.
Yates’ vision, based on a screenplay by Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer, is a selective reflection of Burroughs’ outdated material rather than a hard outline. He tells the story of the man once known as Tarzan, who has since left the jungles of Africa for a life of luxury as a gentrified chap known as John Clayton, the fifth Earl of Greystoke and a member of the House of Lords.
When he and wife Jane (Margot Robbie) are invited to return to his native Congo to serve as a trade emissary accompanied by semi-historical figure George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson), Tarzan soon discovers that there’s more to the invitation than meets the eye. He’s soon investigating troubling developments involving slave trading, diamond and ivory smuggling, and even a sinister plot that involves Tarzan himself.
It seems Belgium’s cash-strapped King has employed the services of envoy Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz) who, in turn, made a deal with local tribal Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou) to turn over Tarzan to settle an old score. Naturally, those behind the plot have no idea what they are abut to unleash.
Yates’ biggest imprint on Tarzan’s cinematic legend is the stylistic choice he deploys to modernize the vine-swinging hero for today’s audiences. No longer is he the pale-skinned middle-aged white man living in a lavishly appointed treehouse that would make the Robinson’s feel at home. No no. This new Tarzan is an abbed-up pretty boy who’s not afraid to get down and wallow in the mud if the circumstances warrant. He swings on vines through the jungle like Spider-man navigating the architecture of downtown Manhattan. But when it comes to dialogue, Skarsgård is better suited for unbuttoning his shirt.
Yates also attempts the same quirky tone of pulpy adventures like Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes and Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger, by injecting the dialogue with a healthy dose of in-jokes and wink-wink humor that never feel quite right. Jackson is the same wise-cracking character he’s played in his last half-dozen or so films, and Waltz seriously needs to pick more diversified roles lest he pigeonhole himself forever in his Inglorious Basterds' Col. Landa bad-guy persona.
Then there’s the super-stylized world of the jungle and its two and four-legged inhabitants created by green-screen and computer generated effects. Not a single real animal was used in the filming of The Legend of Tarzan – and it certainly feels like it, with clunky, robotic movements that are never convincing. And the Planet of the Apes-inspired simians are a strange cross between silver-back gorillas and roided-up chimpanzees. What exactly are these creatures?
When our senses aren’t being constantly assaulted by intrusive sensory overkill, we’re plodding along through a groove-less plot hoping for a moment, any moment that might get our adrenaline flowing. It never comes. Even the jungle itself feels empty and soulless as actors navigate the artificial set pieces trying to avoid the thousand-yard stare. If computerized effects are to be employed to this degree, they’d better be flawless. They aren’t… to an embarrassing level of disappointment.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of action and violence, some sensuality and brief rude dialogue
Runtime: 109 mins
Director: David Yates
Writer: Adam Cozad, Craig Brewer
Cast: Alexander Skarsgård, Margot Robbie, Samuel L. Jackson
Genre: Action | Adventure
Tagline: The Legend of Tarzan
Memorable Movie Quote: "He is no normal man. He was thought to be an evil spirit, a ghost in the trees. No man ever started with less."
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Official Site: http://legendoftarzan.com/
Release Date: July 1, 2016
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: October 11, 2016.
Synopsis: It has been years since the man once known as Tarzan (Skarsgard) left the jungles of Africa behind for a gentrified life as John Clayton III, Lord Greystoke, with his beloved wife, Jane (Robbie) at his side. Now, he has been invited back to the Congo to serve as a trade emissary of Parliament, unaware that he is a pawn in a deadly convergence of greed and revenge, masterminded by the Belgian, Captain Leon Rom (Waltz). But those behind the murderous plot have no idea what they are about to unleash.
Blu-ray + DVDCombo Pack + Digital HD
Available on Blu-ray - October 11, 2016
Screen Formats: 2.40:1
Subtitles: English SDH; French; Spanish
Audio: English: English Descriptive; Audio 5.1
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc
Region Encoding: Region A
Despite the lackluster story that brings nothing new to Edgar Rice Burrough’s legendary character, and questionable visual effects which seriously degrade the look and feel of the digital jungle environment, the entire experience gets a considerable lift by the hi-def treatment from Warner. Our senses are stimulated with perfectly saturated colors that pop while the sound works the entire room, putting you smack-dab in the middle of the Congolese jungle. However, even this spectacularly-handled 1080p treatment can’t mask the film’s shaky CGI and the clunky interactions between humans and the environment. In fact, such a sharp transfer brings even more unwanted attention to the fact that the actors are running around on a green screen sound stage. This is a tricky feature to get just right visually as the cinematography runs the gamut from full jungle darkness to brightly lit outdoor scenes. The transitions are handled expertly as the deep, woodsy darks are jet-black while the vibrant colors of nature never bleed and always feel right.
The Dolby digital 5.1 surround fills the room with authentic jungle noises of birds, mammals, and other critters that lurk and scurry just beyond the frame. The fight scene between the apes and the Ape Man is particularly enveloping as the growls, grunts, screams, and groans push the limits of your sensory capacity. If your system is so equipped, the Dolby Atmos surround feature is a much-welcomed addition as the jungle sounds pierce down through the canopy from above. This is the perfect exposition piece with which to show off your home theater system. Found myself being made fully aware of the immersive experience. Well done on the auditory front!
If you enjoyed the movie in the theaters, or are simply looking for the perfect film to show off your bad-ass home theater system, then the Legend of Tarzan Blu-ray Combo Pack would be a solid purchase. Other than that, there’s really not much to recommend here. Oh, unless Alexander Skarsgård’s abs in 1080p do anything for you.
There are plenty of supplemental features on the the Blu-ray Combo Pack to satisfy any ERB fan and/or hi-def junkie. Particularly curious is a new tagline that shows up for the blu-ray’s release - “A New Threat Awaits.” Undoubtedly a marketing gimmick to pump of the film’s perception as an action film.
Five featurettes that range from the modernization of the classic story to a couple of CGI effects pieces, to a feature on the film’s stunt work get the supplementals started while a brief Public Service Announcement reminds us of the horrible atrocities brought about by the ivory trade.
- Tarzan Reborn
- Battles and Bare Knuckled Brawls
- Tarzan and Jane's Unfailing Love
- Creating the Virtual Jungle
- Gabon to the Big Screen
- Stop Ivory PSA