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Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, King of the Apes

In the annals of cinema history, few films have ever been more wrongheadly made than Hugh Hudson's 1984 Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, King of the Apes. Just look at the title — it's as if the movie doesn't know which name to go with. Based on Edgar Rice Burroughs' popular pulp-fiction story (though the plot has been drastically altered), director Hudson seems to have wanted to make a serious take on the tale, which robs the film of any of the fun, wit, or panache of the original, or even the Johnny Weissmuller series. The movie begins as Tarzan's parents prepare to travel to the jungle, but when their ship wrecks, they salvage enough to build a home in the jungle, only for both parents to die after conceiving their son, whom they name John Clayton. Fate saves John/Tarzan when he's adopted into an ape family, and eventually he grows up and becomes the king of the jungle (through his proficient use of his opposable thumbs and a knife). But paradise is lost for Tarzan when explorer Capitaine Phillippe D'Arnot (Ian Holm) and his party are attacked by the natives, when Tarzan saves Phillippe and nurses him back to health. Phillippe tries to teach Tarzan the ways of the modern 19th century man, and the two return to his homestead, and his grandfather, the Sixth Earl of Greystoke (Ralph Richardson). Jack tries to fit in with modern society; he develops a bond with his grandfather, who falls in love with Jack's man-child behavior, while he also develops an attraction for Jane Porter (Andie McDowell, dubbed by Glenn Close). But the stuffy suits and the rules of human society frustrate Jack, and he feels he must return to his homeland. A film that could be seen as a metaphor for people accepting who they are, Hudson is so British and serious in Greystoke that even the opening sequences in Africa (featuring the excellent ape suits designed by Rick Baker) are dullish; like Tarzan, he should stick to where he belongs, directing stuffy Oscar-bait like his 1981 Best Picture winner Chariots of Fire. One waits the entire film for something to pop to life, but the story never displays much more than an ounce of fun (some of the scenes between Richardson and Lambert almost kick-start the film). And that dryness might be fine if the drama had a level of profundity to it, but it really doesn't — it's a pulp tale where the fun of it is in enjoying Tarzan's grace and manliness; here Hudson and company turn him into a tortured soul. As such a vacuum of entertainment, it's really easy to compliment everyone else involved; the acting's fine, the cinematography by John Alcott is stunning, and John Scott's score is quite pleasing. The screenplay is credited to Michael Austin, and H.P. Vazak, and in one of the more amusing bits of insider Hollywood dirt, the original draft was written by Oscar-winner Robert Towne. Yet Towne was so embarrassed with what was done to his script by Austin and Hudson that he had his name removed, replaced with a credit to his late dog — rarely has a pseudonym said so much about the final product. Warner presents Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, King of the Apes in anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) and remastered Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. The version is an extended edition that runs eight minutes longer than the theatrical cut. Extras consist of a commentary by Hudson and producer Garth Thomas, and the theatrical trailer. Keep-case.
—DSH



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