Bill Markham (Powers Boothe) is an American engineer in Brazil, working on a dam project there. It's a long term assignment so he has brought his wife Jean (Meg Foster) and their two young children with him, both of whom are entranced by the rainforest that the workers are in the process of knocking down to make room for the dam. So entranced is Tommy, Markham's son, that he wanders into the jungle and is kidnapped by a tribe who call themselves The Invisible People - will Tommy's family ever see him again?
Yes they will, but not for ten years, as the film jumps forward in time to follow Markham's tireless exploits in hunting down his son (now played by Charley Boorman, son of the director). The Emerald Forest was one of the more blatant attempts at environmentalism brought to us by the movies, and could have been accused of jumping on a fashionable bandwagon, yet there's a disarming sincerity to its depiction of the Amazon tribes as a people under threat from so-called civilisation. Even more than the seventies, the eighties was a time where concerns about the health of the planet were advancing to the fore.
However, there was a touch of subterfuge going on here, as the film explicitly states at the beginning that this is based on a true story. It seems hard to believe after watching it, and once this claim was looked into, it turned out to be a very loose statement of fact - vaguely based on a true story or two, you could say. Nevertheless, the impression was that the message was more important than the medium in this case and as long as the audience understood that the rainforests were in danger then that was the most important thing.
As the decades passed, The Emerald Forest became a favourite on late night television, not because of its right on credentials, but because of the amount of casual nudity on display thanks to the natives. They gallavant around as if they were in the Garden of Eden, but John Boorman and screenwriter Rospo Pallenberg are careful not to paint too rosy a picture, and after it is established that Tommy has been perfectly assimilated, becoming a man in a special ceremony and picking a bride, Kachiri (Dira Paes), the threat is introduced.
Not only in the shape of the rainforest demolition, but also thanks to a violent enemy tribe The Invisible People call The Fierce People; they all seem to speak the same (subtitled) language, incidentally - even Markham knows how to communicate with the Invisibles. Markham soldiers on into the jungle, is captured by the Fierce ones and escapes only to lose his machine gun to them. On the bright side, and by amazing coincidence, he bumps into Tommy by a waterfall who takes his injured father back to his new home where he can be patched up with native medicine.
Tommy is a product of these two societies, but there's no doubt which is the more admirable here, although he has to rely on his birth father than his adoptive father when the women of the tribe are kidnapped for prostitution. The ending is like something out of an action movie, so much so that you wish they'd found another way to resolve it (does nobody call the authorities?), but it does make the point that members of both sides can work together to help save the trees, culture and whatnot. The Emerald Forest is attractively photographed by Philippe Rousselot, but it veers close to hippy dippy pretention, so is perhaps best regarded as an adventure with a moral to be taken away after the closing credits. Music by Brian Gascoigne and Junior Homrich.
British director whose work can be insufferably pretentious or completely inspired, sometimes in the space of a single film. He began his career with the BBC, before directing Dave Clark Five vehicle Catch Us If You Can. Hollywood beckoned and his Lee Marvin movies Point Blank and Hell in the Pacific won him admirers.